Beginning in the middle ages with Guillaume Tirel, alias Taillevent (1310 - 1395), and continuing throughout its culinary history with such famous French chefs as Marie Antoine Carême (1784 - 1833 ) and Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846 - 1935), France has often lionized its favorite chefs. This practice continues to this day and not being an expert on such things, I can only site the more mediatized chefs in France of the moment.
Some of the pillars of French chef fame have for many years been Paul Bocuse (born 1926), Joël Robuchon (1945), and Alain Ducasse (1956) . All three of these chefs have parlayed their fame into mini food industries, owning many restaurants around the world and marketing various food products and cooking schools. They are not only good cooks, they are good businessmen.
Of a slightly younger generation, you will find Marc Veyrat (1950), Michel Troisgros (1958) -- the latest in a three generation culinary success story --, and the oft proclaimed "world's sexiest chef", Jean-Christophe Novelli (1961) who has actually made his fame outside of France, notably on the popular television series Hell's Kitchen.
In recent years, we have seen the rise of a new generation of celebrity culinary experts through the power of television and other media. Sophie Dudemaine (1965), Julie Andrieu (1974) and Cyril Lignac (1977) are all well known in France and are truly media super stars.
Personally I have a soft spot for Cyril Lignac. He has a generous and abundant energy and is sounding the alarm throughout France of the nutritional and cultural dangers of our fast food society, that just keeps getting faster by the day. He's a slow down and taste the strawberries sort of guy, or at least he encourages us to be.
To round out this list of famous French chefs, I consulted an article on Gayot.com which lists four rising stars amongst French chefs that might interest you: Yannick Alléno, Christophe Moret, Jean-Louis Nomicos, and Fréderic Robert.
Thanks for sharing your questions with us Hazel. In no way being an expert on the matter, I would love to hear from other readers about their favorite or not so favorite French chef of the moment.