The Innovators: 16 Chefs Who Kick Serious Ass

We chose 16 chefs to participate in our first-ever bracket vote. (Get started voting NOW!) That means 16 counts of serious badass-ness. And over the course of this week, those 16 badasses are going to be whittled down by you to a mere eight. And then, weekly, from eight to four, four to two, and—logically—two to ONE.

That's the math portion of the day. But one more math thing: If you vote in all the battles, you can enter for a chance to win a trip, with a guest, to the victorious chef's restaurant. That's a trip worth $3,500. That's good math. And you can come back once a day to vote, which means once a day to enter the sweepstakes.

All this week, we're going to be featuring the match-ups and describing in a little more detail exactly why these chefs deserve the lofty and wordy descriptor "The Innovators: Chefs to Watch in 2011." And so today, we will start with Ludo Lefebvre and Michael Voltaggio.

Ludovic Lefebvre: He said "whatever" to being called "chef of the future" by Time Magazine. The first chef to turn a detriment (not having a restaurant) into a spectacle (just cook wherever, whenever, call it a pop-up!), Lefebvre is now traveling the country staging his LudoBites pop-up restaurant for a series on the Sundance Channel called Ludo Bites America. He claims to love to surprise people with his food: Its backbone is French technique and its heart (and whimsy) is inspired by the diversity of Los Angeles. And he eschews all things boring, which includes serving food to rich people. His fans are split into two streams: One side eats at every iteration of LudoBites and causes OpenTable to crash when a new location is announced, while the other side call themselves Ludo Bitches and tweet photos of the chef.

Michael Voltaggio: He makes brioche in a microwave. He left a job as chef de cuisine at José Andrés's the Bazaar to compete on Top Chef (he won the title in 2009; Tom Colicchio told Los Angeles Magazine: "Out of all the cooks that have come through the show, Michael is the most talented—both from a sensibility and technical standpoint"), and he blogs, with his brother Bryan, at Upon feasting on his octopus over "buttered popcorn" purée and his artisanal "Dippin' Dots" at the Langham in Pasadena, where Voltaggio worked until last summer, our editors were compelled to ask: Is Michael Voltaggio the most innovative chef in Los Angeles? He is soon to open his own restaurant in LA, called ink.


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