Brennan is the cheese-obsessed chef and owner of the three-star French restaurant Picholine. He also owns the Flatiron bistro Artisanal and the Artisanal Cheese Center.

The son of small-town Virginia restaurateurs, Brennan got his first NYC cooking job as a saucier at Sirio Maccioni's Le Cirque. He later headed off to South of France, where he spent a good part of his 20s and cultivated his famous fromage fanaticism. Brennan returned to the States in the late 1980s and went out on his own in 1993 when he opened Picholine in the shadow of Lincoln Center. A three-star rating from the Times and a "Best New Chef" designation from Food & Wine followed shortly thereafter. He's since expanded his portfolio with two cheese-related ventures: Artisanal, an Adam Tihany-designed brasserie-fromagerie; and the Artisanal Cheese Center, a retail center/educational complex where you can take classes with titles like "Champion Cheddars." Brennan's near-religious love of cheese has permeated all his establishments. Shortly after it opened, Picholine introduced an elaborate rolling cheese cart, which is now one of the restaurant's biggest draws. In order to help diners understand their manchego from their pecorino, in 1994 Brennan hired a full-time maître de fromage, the first U.S. restaurateur to do so. Indeed, until recently, Picholine's Max McCalman was only of two cheesemasters working in the city.

In 2006, Brennan attempted to give the Picholine a more youthful feel with a renovation/revamp, painting the walls bright purple. The redesign gave the restaurant a burst of publicity, and Brennan was nominated for the 2007 James Beard award for Best New York City Chef. (He lost out to David Waltuck.) Also in 2007, Brennan sold off his retail cheese line, selling it to American Home Foods.

Brennan lives in Greenwich with his wife, Julie, who designed Picholine. [Image via Getty]