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I found the word ‘marquee chefs’ in an article in today’s New York times in the following context.

‘From new offerings by marquee chefs to more modest openings in out-of-the-way spots, here are 10 restaurants around the globe to keep an eye on in 2011.’

I consulted Oxford English Dictionary at hand to check the meaning of ‘marquee,’ which it defines simply as 1.a large tent used at social events. and 2. (AmE) a covered entrance to a theater, hotel, etc. Often with a sign on or above it, both of which meaning are irrelevant with chef, if take literally. I interpreted “marquee chefs” here means chefs of well-known restaurants or hotel restaurants. Am I right? Is ‘marquee chef’ commonly spoken in your daily conversation? If not, why did New York Times writer use such a word?

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2 Answers 2

From a similar dictionary as the one you consulted (Oxford American Dictionary):

[as adj.] leading; preeminent : a marquee player.
[ORIGIN: with allusion to the practice of billing the name of an entertainer on the marquee (i.e., awning) over the entrance to a theater.]

Outside of its literal use for theatre actors, I've only seen marquee used this way (as a modifying description) with sports players, like "the marquee stars/names of the hockey/baseball team".

I'd never use it to describe a chef, so personally, it's not a casual phrase, but it's not formal either. Just a slightly bizarre expression in the context of cooking. It's used here it because sometimes journalists prefer to employ somewhat unusual turns of phrase so that their readers don't find the articles tedious, banal or predictable.

I'd say "star chef" or "celebrity chef," especially if the person is well-known on TV. In terms of describing the preeminence of his skills, "finest chef (in town)" is also a widespread expression.

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The marquee chef is meant in the sense of a "name" chef who, if he or she were a movie star, would have a name up on the marquee. Wolfgang Puck is an example of a marquee chef. So is Emeril Lagasse.

Advertising agencies talk about their marquee accounts. The fashion biz talks about its marquee designers. And so on. They are names that bring in business because they are so well known.

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As I had worked in ad agencies, I can imagine the effectiveness of listing 'marquee accounts in n –  Yoichi Oishi Jan 9 '11 at 3:41
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@Yoichi Oishi: If one of these answers does the trick for you, please consider accepting it by clicking the check mark, or at least upvoting it. Your 0% accept rate will make people here feel less like answering your questions in the future. –  Robusto Jan 9 '11 at 4:25
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Robusto, As I was a just 14 days' begginer of making access to this site, I was ignorant of the need to check 'accept' button nor how to vote. Being told the above comment, I for the first time pushed the upward arrow and found that the arrow turns into green. I feel sorry for many answerers who gave me useful input for neglecting to push down vote mark because of my ignorance of the rules. Yoichi –  Yoichi Oishi Jan 9 '11 at 7:28
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Robusto: I tracked back all questions I've made since December 27th, and gave a check-mark to all answeres I've got from answerers which were left blank. I'll mind not to forget to press check mark from now on. Thanks your advice. - Yoichi –  Yoichi Oishi Jan 9 '11 at 7:44
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Robusto: Correction to the above comment. Not only check marks but also up-votes because most answers were informative and very helpful to me. Yoichi –  Yoichi Oishi Jan 9 '11 at 8:29

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