Immigrants in American Cuisine

In every culture across the world, food plays a pivotal role in our understanding of who we are in the world. Its purpose is far greater than that of simple sustenance. Cuisine works as a means of communication that transcends beyond words.

It builds bridges, mends fences, and brings comfort in ways that few other cultural aspects have the power of doing. Cooking, eating, and the rituals that surround food act as an emotional and social language that bring people together.

Food is memory. Food is tradition. Food is love. No matter where you step foot across the globe, the cuisine is going to be a part of that culture’s identity.

America’s earliest roots in tradition and celebration are deeply connected with food. The original settlers bonded over a feast with the native people who lived in the area, eventually evolving into the modern Thanksgiving. As immigrants poured into the New World, they brought their own food traditions.

With the Irish came potatoes, corned beef, and cabbage. The Spanish and French cuisines in New Orleans combined to form creole cooking. Italians brought rich, savory pasta and the Philly cheesesteak sandwich. Small communities of Chinese immigrants opened up shop in California, sparking an American obsession for spices and sauces they’d never had before.

America is a melting pot, both in the metaphorical sense and in the literal sense. Our kitchen stoves, from California to the Midwest, are frequented by foods that have origins far beyond our borders. Immigrants continue to change the way that Americans eat.

The evidence is everywhere. Cookbooks, television channels, and apps feature incredible chefs from other nations bringing their talents and knowledge to our family table. Let’s take a look at four chefs who came to America to share their food traditions:

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Wolfgang Puck

Nation of Origin: Austria

Cuisine: French fusion

Restaurants: Spago, Vert, Chinois, Postrio, among others

Signature Dish: House Smoked Salmon Pizza

Perhaps one of the world’s most ubiquitous chefs, Wolfgang Puck grew up from humble beginnings in the town of Sankt Veit an der Gland. His mother, a pastry chef, gave him his first lessons in the art of cooking. He later began an apprenticeship with Raymond Thuilier in Monaco. From there, he spent a few years in France, honing his skills, then immigrated to Los Angeles at the age of 24. His first cookbook was published when he was only 32 years old, called Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen. Puck went on to open his first restaurant a few years later. This single restaurant soon ballooned into an extensive list of 24 restaurants across the United States and Singapore.

His awards and accolades are expansive. In 1993, Puck was welcomed into the Nation’s Restaurant News Hall of Fame. In 2001, he was awarded Daytime Emmy for his show, Wolfgang Puck. He has received four Michelin Stars: two for Spago, one for CUT Beverly Hills, and one for CUT at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. He has also been awarded a James Beard Foundation Outstanding Service Award. He is also a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the winner of the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association Gold Plate Winner.

Today, Puck stays active with the Puck-Lazaroff Charitable Foundation, which supports the Meals on Wheels program. It has raised over $15 million to bring hot meals and good company to seniors across the nation. He also operates as the Honorary Chair Chef of the Five Star Sensation benefit for The Ireland Cancer Foundation of University Hospitals.

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Giada De Laurentiis

Nation of Origin: Italy

Cuisine: Italian

Restaurants: Giada, Pronto by  Giada, GDL Italian by Giada

Signature Dish: Lemon Spaghetti with Shrimp

Italian chef Giada De Laurentiis can be found nearly anytime you change the channel to Food Network. Her show Giada at Home teaches simple, classic Italian food that’s perfect for every family occasion. De Laurentiis was born in Rome to actress Veronica De Laurentiis and actor-producer Alex De Benedetti. She is the grandchild of film producer Dino De Laurentiis. Dino, in addition to his work on the film set, was a culinary superstar. Giada developed her love for food at her grandfather’s restaurant, DDL Foodshow.

After immigrating to the United States and graduating with a degree in social anthropology from UCLA, De Laurentiis went on to study culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She got her first restaurant job at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. Giada caught the eye of Food Network with her work for Food and Wine Magazine during her time as a food stylist. From there, she was invited to host a cooking show, Everyday Italian.

De Laurentiis has also hosted Behind the Bash, Giada’s Weekend Getaways, and Giada in Paradise. In 2014, De Laurentiis opened her first restaurant, then another in 2018. She has also created a line of kitchen products, including utensils, pots, pans, and sauces sold by Target.

De Laurentiis has won a Daytime Emmy Award for her work on Everyday Italian, in addition to two other nominations for Giada at Home. She has also won a Gracie Award for Giada at Home and has been inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame.

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Roy Choi

Nation of Origin: South Korea

Cuisine: Korean-Mexican Fusion

Restaurants: Kogi Korean Barbeque, Chego, A-Frame, Sunny Spot, LocoL, Best Friend, Pot

Signature Dish: Kimchi Quesadillas

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Roy Choi is best known for his unique fusion of Korean-Mexican flavors that he serves from his fleet of taco trucks. A founder of the gourmet food truck movement, Choi is noted for his unique flavors and “everyman” style of cuisine. Choi immigrated with his parents to Los Angeles in 1972. His family kept busy with several businesses, including a successful jewelry store and a Korean restaurant called Silver Garden. It was here that Roy found his love of food, noting his fond memories of making dumplings with his family. Choi went through a dark period during which he experimented with drugs and found his life meaningless. It was during this time that he began watching Emeril Lagasse’s cooking show, which inspired him to study the culinary arts. He enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, then interned at Le Bernardin.

Once Choi’s internship was over, he began his rise to Korean fusion stardom. After becoming a chef de cuisine for Hilton Hotels, he decided to make the switch to food trucks. He founded Kogi in 2008, later being named one of the top 10 Best New Chefs by Food and Wine. Koji eventually expanded out into several Los Angeles restaurants, including Caribbean-inspired Sunny Spot and Hawaiian-inspired A-Frame. In 2013, he worked alongside Wolfgang Puck to revamp the Hotel Bel-Air menu.

The movie Chef was based on Roy Choi’s work in the food truck industry. He has also been noted by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World twice. He continues to change the way that California sees Korean cooking, most recently with the opening of LocoL in the Watts community.

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Jacques Pepin

Nation of Origin: France

Cuisine: French

Restaurants: Howard Johnson’s

Signature Dish: Dishes made with meat and fish, especially fried clams

Perhaps America’s first celebrity chef, Jacques Pepin was born in Bourg-en-Bresse, France, in 1935. His parents owned La Pelican, the restaurant where Pepin worked and developed his culinary skills. He worked as an apprentice under Lucien Diat at the Plaza Athenee until joining the military in 1956. During his time in the ranks, he worked as a personal chef for several prominent political figures. At the end of his service, Pepin immigrated to the United States to work under Helen McCully, who later introduced him to French master chef Julia Child. During his time working at Le Pavillon, Howard Johnson (of hotel fame) became impressed with his work and invited Pepin to develop a menu for the Howard Johnson’s restaurants.

Pepin has been a star of both screen and the written word. His most famous book, La Technique, is still used to teach French cooking in culinary schools. Its success led to the creation of The Complete Pepin, a PBS series that emphasized the importance of technique in cooking. He also co-starred with Julia Child in the series Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. Pepin’s on-screen appearances further include Jacques Pepin: Fast Food My Way, Jacques Pepin Heart & Soul, and acting as the subject of the documentary Jacques Pepin: The Art of Craft.

Today, Pepin continues his work as the dean of Special Programs at the International Culinary Center, as well as a contributor to the Gastronomy department at Boston University, and quarterly columnist for Food and Wine Magazine.

He has been awarded with three French honors, including a Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a Chevalier de L’Ordre du Mérite Agricole, and a Legion d’honneur. He has received an astounding 24 James Beard Awards, in addition to a Daytime Emmy Award for his work with Julia Child. Pepin serves as the Executive Culinary Director of the Oceania Cruises fleet and has received multiple honorary doctorate degrees for his work in the culinary field.