With the start of spring training, fantasy baseball team owners are putting together their draft lists. The wanna-be execs rank players before they meet with their fellow "league" members to "draft" teams for the coming fantasy season. • And at that draft, there will be food. • Wouldn't it be more useful to draft a fantasy kitchen team? Why not put together a winning group of renowned chefs who can hit it out of the park at every meal? • For our foodcentric draft, we would want all the major cuisines covered, plus the state and local scene. We're going two-deep in the lineup, plus a sleeper in each category. You may not have heard of the sleeper. But we bet you will soon. The criteria for selection is based on kitchen cred and celebrity status. • We know these culinary all-stars will never be cooking under the same roof. Still, we can't help but think of what our favorite heavy hitters could put on our plates.
Kitchen cred: His career started in Clearwater, then went to New York and Paris before he returned to open his namesake Cafe Ponte for fine dining and Ponte's Tuscan Grill, an Italian steakhouse.
Celebrity status: Any time anyone is in town to hock their pots and pans — Hey, there's Wolfgang Puck! — they'll be eating at Cafe Ponte. You may say that's celebrity by proxy. I'd argue it makes him a celebrity among chefs.
Second-round pick: Jeannie Pierola. When it happens, her first post-Bern's project will be the most-anticipated spot to hit the bay area.
Sleeper: David Miller. His Savant in Clearwater recently started giving the diner some choices, but we love the confidence a young chef shows in building a restaurant around a prescribed tasting menu.
Hall of Fame
Turned cooking shows into entertainment, paving the road for the concept of the celebrity chef. We know she died in 2004, but it's a fantasy kitchen staff, remember?
Enjoying that salad of organic vegetables? You probably wouldn't be if it weren't for her and her still-hip-to-be-hippie Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif. She didn't invent organic. She just turned it into a lifestyle.
He made the Food Network work in the early days,
creating a launching pad for the celebrity chefs who came after.
We now have celebrity chefs all over the place, but Puck was a chef who became a celebrity, a minor but important distinction.
Kitchen cred: She's got the nonna persona and four restaurants, including Felidia, which has been a New York flagship for more than a quarter century.
Celebrity status: Her
cooking show, Lidia's Italy on PBS, makes you want to run to the kitchen and start cooking. And she's
the author of a shelf full of cookbooks.
Second-round pick: Mario Batali. You thought Super Mario would be the No. 1 pick here? Even he will tell you it should be Bastianich, one of his business partners.
Sleeper: Marc Vetri. His Philadelphia restaurant has 10 tables and it's not unusual for there to be a celebrity chef seated in at least one of them. He's a chef's chef.
Kitchen cred: His Frontera Grill in Chicago was named James Beard's restaurant of the year in 2007, and it may not be his best. Topolobampo shares the building and ups the ante.
Celebrity status: His PBS series, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, is probably the most credible cooking — and travel — show on television. If only Season 5 were on the Tampa affiliates.
Second-round pick: Susan Feniger and Mary Sue
Milliken. The Too Hot Tamales helped launch the Food Network, and their Los Angeles and Vegas restaurants are still fun stops with serious food.
Sleeper: Aaron Sanchez of New York's Paladar. He shows up on the Food Network on occasion, and made the final four as a contestant on The Next Iron Chef.
Kitchen cred: Three New York Times restaurant critics have given his Le Bernardin a four-star ranking, a status it has maintained since 1995.
Celebrity status: He's a frequent guest judge on Bravo's Top Chef, and when he shows up, watch how the knees of the contestants give. Male, female, gay, straight, they all want to cook for him.
Second-round pick: Thomas Keller. The chef of New York's Per Se and Napa's French Laundry would be the top pick, except that he keeps a comparatively low profile.
Sleeper: Suzanne Goin. This is the deepest position in the kitchen. We're leaving out Daniel Boulud and Anthony Bourdain. Still, we'll take Chez Panisse grad Goin, now with her own Los Angeles hot spots Lucques and A.O.C.
Kitchen cred: His Restaurant August in New Orleans is always mentioned in conversations of best in the country.
Celebrity status: The Food Network's second-generation go-to New Orleans guy (after Paul Prudhomme) and the voice of the region's cuisine.
Second-round pick: Traci Des Jardins. The chef-owner of three San Francisco restaurants, she was Beard's Best Chef-Pacific in 2007 for her work at Jardiniere and took a round off Mario Batali on Iron Chef America.
Sleeper: Scott Peacock. He is Beard's reigning Best Chef-Southeast, has a cookbook and is often a guest on morning shows. Plus, his Watershed restaurant outside Atlanta is co-owned by Indigo Girl Emily Saliers.
Kitchen cred: If he isn't the best sushi chef in the country, he's the most notable. He headed the kitchen at Nobu in New York before opening namesake restaurants there and in Philadelphia.
Celebrity status: As an Iron Chef in the original Japanese version, his battles with Bobby Flay were the show's entree into America.
Second-round pick: Roy Yamaguchi. He's the Roy of Roy's. His association with Outback made his brand accessible outside Hawaii and led to cookbooks, a line of Home Shopping Network cookware and a brief PBS series.
Sleeper: Casey Thompson. She was the fan favorite as a finalist on Top Chef's third season, and turned Dallas' Shinsei into a destination.
Kitchen cred: At her Chicago restaurant, Tru, there is a dessert tasting menu, with an amuse bouche and petit fours that will make you question how full you really are. Plus, she makes her own root beer.
Celebrity status: She has stacks of cookbooks, and her Sweet Dreams was a staple on the Food Network for years.
Second-round pick: Duff Goldman. As the Food Network becomes less and less about cooking, his Ace of Cakes has emerged as a favorite of the new breed of shows. He's part artist, part clown.
Sleeper: Elizabeth Falkner. Her San Francisco patisserie has the coolest name in food, Citizen Cake, and her geometry-defying signature cakes are art. She shows up as a guest on various shows, and has a book out, Demolition Desserts.
Norman Van Aken
Kitchen cred: The Miami chef defined "New World Cuisine," melding the cooking of cultures from throughout the Caribbean.
Celebrity status: When a cooking show needs a Florida authority, it's usually him. He was a James Beard Best Chef-Southeast in 1997.
Second-round pick: Michelle Bernstein. Her Michy's in Miami was listed as one of the Top 50 restaurants in the country by Gourmet. She was a guest judge for the final of Top Chef's third season.
Sleeper: Cliff Pleau. The corporate chef behind the burgeoning chain Seasons 52 (check it out in Orlando) could have a huge hit on his hands with a menu of upscale, low-cal food.