Any list of the 100 best in their field can start an argument, but when a list of the greatest American cooks started out with J. Kenji López-Alt, I knew it was legit. I discovered López-Alt because he has the answers to kitchen questions I search the ‘net for, even after decades of cooking. I’ve learned a lot about food science from his easy-to-read posts at Serious Eats. Many of the cooks on the list have a full article about them linked, which could keep you busy for some time. For example, I discovered the story of Zephyr Wright, who cooked for Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson for decades.
Wright’s influence extended beyond the White House kitchen. Back when LBJ was in Congress, the Johnsons would drive back-and-forth from Washington, D.C. to central Texas during legislative recesses. Wright suffered so many indignities on those trips due to segregation customs and laws that she ultimately refused to travel by car and stayed in D.C. year-round. While LBJ built support in Congress for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he used Wright’s Jim Crow experiences to shame reluctant legislators into supporting the landmark legislation. After signing the landmark legislation, LBJ gave Wright one of the signing pens. “You deserve this more than anyone else,” he said.