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Top Chefs Who Love Cigars

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

If the chefs who love cigars have one thing in common, it’s that they appreciate that cigarmakers are creating flavors with the blend of tobacco they use to make a great smoke. You know, like chefs use different ingredients to create a cohesive dish. Not surprisingly, chefs are good at distinguishing different notes in the flavor of a cigar, much like they might the hint of cumin in a particular recipe. The other thing that chefs have in common, among themselves and with other cigar lovers, is that they find smoking a cigar to be relaxing. We thought we’d let you know some of the big-name chefs who are also cigar gourmands. Here they are in alphabetical order.

José Andrés

Chef Andrés, 54, is Spanish. He dropped out of high school so he could study cutting edge molecular gastronomy. That has led to dishes like the “liquid olive” and cotton candy around eel. He has taught, along with his mentor, Ferran Adrià, culinary physics at Harvard University.

Andrés loves to smoke great cigars, particularly Cuban Cohiba Behikes, and Fuente Fuente Opus X.

"I like to smoke cigars after a big meal," Andrés told Cigar Aficionado. "Usually, I will skip dessert for a cigar. I mainly enjoy them in summertime, and I love them when it is raining. When it rains, I go outside my home, in [sic] the porch, and I love to light one as I watch the beautiful rain come down."

As of this writing, Andrés, a James Beard award winner, has ownership in about two dozen restaurants around the world. He also founded World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit group that feeds people in disaster zones like floods and war. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for that work.

Mario Carbone

Chef Carbone, 43, is one of three partners in Major Food Group (MFG). He’s the sharp dresser and cigar smoker of the group. His name is also on the Carbone restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, Dallas, and Miami, as well as Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Doha, Qatar. The food is high-end Italian-American, befitting Carbone’s Queens upbringing combined with his experience working in fine dining establishments. Beyond the Carbone restaurants, MFG is into private clubs, hotels and luxury residences. Oh, and other restaurants.

Chef Carbone said his first experience with a truly memorable cigar came after a long meal at The French Laundry, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Napa wine country helmed by Chef Thomas Keller (more on him later).

"It was this long, extraordinary lunch and, afterward, Chef Keller invited us to his courtyard for dessert," Carbone recalled. "I didn't realize Chef Keller had a cigar collection but, before dessert, he took me in and showed it to me."

"He had pre-embargo Cubans. I had a Partagás Robusto—and I smoked the sh*t out of that cigar. I had smoked enough to appreciate a good cigar like that. But I also loved the story of the cigar even more, that it was a pre-embargo Cuban."

Carbone said he doesn’t have a “go-to cigar,” preferring to experiment and try different ones, choosing the best representatives of different brands.

“Then I’ll buy a box of those,” he added, saying he has about 30 boxes of cigars at home.

Michael Cimarusti

Chef Cimarusti, 53, is a genius with seafood. His Los Angeles restaurant, Providence, is consistently ranked at the top of the city’s lists. Cimarusti said his favorite cigar is the Padrón Serie 1926 No. 35. He called it his “go-to cigar” that he enjoys on the ride home from work.

Cimarusti recalled to Cigar Aficionado that he began to smoke seriously when he had “one of the quintessential moments” of his life. He was a young chef at New York’s Le Cirque when some of France’s greatest chefs cooked a meal called “Dinner of the Millennium.” Cimarusti was among the chefs helping prepare the feast, co-sponsored by Marvin Shanken, the publisher of Cigar Aficionado. Cigars were given out at the end of the party. Cimarusti was handed a Partagás Serie D No. 4.

"That was my first Cuban cigar," Cimarusti said. "To this day it's absolutely one of my favorites.”

Thomas Keller

Perhaps the most acclaimed chef in the United States, Thomas Keller has inspired many to go into the restaurant business. He’s been called a perfectionist. He disagrees.

"Perfection is something that you never actually attain," said the 67-year-old. "It's only something that you search for."

Keller’s flagship restaurant, The French Laundry in Yountville, California, is a reflection of the chef’s culinary vision. He fought hard against the “suits” to be able to get to this point.

“I had very clear ideas about how a restaurant should be operated.”

This one operates with a garden to which diners can go after dinner to enjoy a cigar chosen from one of several Elie Bleu humidors. Each box has a flag on it representing the cigars inside. Keller himself began smoking in 1992.

"Personally, I enjoy the Fuente Fuente Opus X Maduro Belicoso with a glass of Macallan's 57-year-old Scotch," Keller shared.

Emeril Lagasse

He was the face of the Food Network, with his signature “BAM!” and “Let’s kick it up a notch,” usually meaning much more garlic was about to be added to a dish. Today, Chef Lagasse, 63, is still on TV but he’s much more relaxed. His catchphrase now is, “It’s all about building layers of flavors.”

That’s a mantra that Lagasse understands also applies to his favorite cigar, the Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Story.

“It’s smooth, toasty and full of nutty, creamy flavors,” Lagasse analyzed. “Although it’s a small cigar, it burns for a good 45 minutes.”

Lagasse has eight restaurants and serves as culinary director for a cruise line. In 2016, he shot a TV show in Cuba. He said he “smoked the hell out of” Montecristo No. 2s.

“Definitely one of my favorites to kick it up a notch with. Paired with an Old Fashioned, it’s perfectly smooth and a bit spicy.”

Charlie Palmer

Chef Charlie Palmer advises that you change up your culinary pairing with cigars. His favorite used to be duck or steak. Go a little lighter.

“Although the obvious choice for most people is red meat, like a nice rib eye,” said Palmer, 64, the James Beard Award winner for Best Chef in America in 1997, “I like something lighter, like a perfectly roasted Mary’s chicken with roasted garlic and fresh oregano.”

Palmer might also suggest you then light up a Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Torpedo, natural wrapper. It’s his favorite, one he usually enjoys after work. Palmer is working on getting a new hotel company going and revitalizing his cigar-friendly bar at the top of Manhattan’s Knickerbocker Hotel. Palmer is also set to launch a small-batch Bourbon later in 2023.

“That’s probably the most appropriate thing to sip while enjoying a Padrón.”

Eric Ripert

Early in his culinary career, Chef Eric Ripert learned important lessons.

"When I was in culinary school, we were allowed to smoke outside," Ripert, 58, recalled. "Once a week, we'd have cigar evening on the patio. I was actually the one to purchase the cigars—from my home in Andorra where they were less expensive—and distribute them to my classmates."

Ripert runs Le Bernardin, New York City’s superb seafood restaurant that has consistently earned a place on the top of most lists and four stars from the New York Times. Ripert tastes maybe 20 sauces on a daily basis. Before each tasting, he takes a bite of Swiss cheese.

"This way, I know what I am tasting," he said. "The cheese is always the same, but if it feels salty or bland, I know my palate is off."

His taste in cigars is one any aficionado might appreciate. Ripert loves Cubans, like the Cohiba Esplendido and Montecristo No. 2, and also “any of the Padrón cigars" from Nicaragua. He likes to smoke “on vacations and weekends, one in the morning and one in the evening. He mostly smokes alone.

“It is a very selfish time of mine to have personal moments of reflection with a cigar, so nothing exciting usually happens."

Marc Vetri

Philadelphia’s Chef Marc Vetri, 56. is busy. Years ago he sold his restaurant group, with the exception of his original Vetri Cucina, to a large corporation. It didn’t go well. Vetri left at the end of his commitment and focused on creating a new empire. Most recently, he opened a pizzeria in Philadelphia, his fourth restaurant in the area. There are two in Las Vegas. He still finds time to enjoy a cigar.

“I have a neighbor who stops over and we have cigars on the weekends,” explains Vetri, who has two James Beard awards. “I’ll have cigars with friends. A cigar lubricates a social situation.” He likes pairing his cigars with amaro, the Italian herbal liqueur.

Vetri’s favorite cigar these days is the Montesino Robusto Maduro, but he likes to drop by Holt’s on Walnut Street to see what else is available.

“If I’m smoking two or three cigars a week, it’s the Montesino,” Vetri said. He does vary the selection. He has a “humidor full of Ashtons. I’ll rotate. I love the ESG, the Cabinet Selection. I might smoke those once a week. The Fuente Hemingway also.” Clearly, Vetri is partial to cigars made by Fuente. Several years ago, Vetri’s friend and Holt’s owner, Robert Levin, took Carlito Fuente to dinner at Vetri Cucina. Carlito handed Vetri a cigar from the “private collection.” Vetri said the personal gesture really impressed him.

“The romance makes it great,” he said. “That’s the cigar I want to smoke.”

Geoffrey Zakarian

Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, 64, could win awards for being the best dressed chef, if such a category existed. On the Food Network’s The Kitchen, Zakarian is often wearing at least a sport coat. Zakarian has three restaurants, one in Dubai, one in Qatar and one in New York. He also appears on other TV shows and has done a podcast. Zakarian loves cigars.

"I'm very interested in the mechanics of a cigar," Zakarian told Cigar Aficionado. "That tells you if it's been made with care. I'm a touch-and-feel person, and I love the feel of the cigar in my hands."

Zakarian has said that his everyday cigars are “an Avo or [Cuban] Hoyo de Monterrey.  I like the Partagás Serie D No. 4. It’s just the right size and strength. I’m rarely disappointed. It’s a great cigar.”                                                         

Zakarian began enjoying cigars as a teenager. His father would smoke them on the golf course when they played together.

"For me," he said, "even today, the sport of golf immediately elicits a desire to smoke a cigar."

Zakarian often begins his day pairing a cigar with a double espresso.

"I'll start smoking at 8 a.m.," he said of the time he’s on vacation, "and won't stop."

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