For more than half a century, cooking shows have remained a major staple of our collective television diet—and many of us have come to know and love the many unique characters who have come to define the genre. But as familiar as we may feel with our favorite celebrity chefs, there is a lot more to many of them than meets the eye. From scandals and controversies to hidden talents and surprising past lives, here are 50 hunger-inducing facts about some of the greatest celebrity chefs of all time.
1. Fanny Be Tender
Though many of us today won’t recognize her name, the first modern celebrity chef that TV ever gave rise to was England’s Fanny Cradock—the hostess of the first successful cooking show, which began in 1955 and set the model for the genre that we have all come to know and love. Along with her husband Johnnie, whom she comically bossed around, Cradock created pop culture’s first true cooking dynasty at the time.
This included cookbooks, holiday specials, and everything you would expect a typical celebrity chef to have.
2. All the World’s a Stage
As natural as it seems to us today to put a cooking show on TV, it was not so obvious in the 1950s—in fact, Fanny Cradock initially started her career as a show-business chef by creating a cooking stage show before she realized that TV would be a more effective medium of spreading her brand. This stage show would be just like her future TV show, except for the fact that Fanny would end the show by giving samples of the dishes she prepared to her audience to dine on.
Can you imagine if this had been the style of cooking show that had taken off instead of its TV equivalent? Things might have been a lot more fun—or at least tastier!
3. A Tough Act to Follow
Although Fanny became a beloved cultural icon, it all came crashing down at once after a particularly fateful 1976 guest appearance on the show, “The Big Time.” Following a contest in which a member of the public would be selected to host and cook for a special banquet, Cradock was asked to appear with the winner as an expert mentor.
What happened next was not what the producers of the show had in mind.
4. A Difference in Taste
When Gwen Troake, the housewife who had won the contest, presented her menu to the celebrity chef, Cradock acted in a shocking way—she grimaced, acted disgusted, and brutally insulted the poor young woman’s cooking acumen, completely ruining her long-awaited moment in the spotlight.
The public was so disgusted by Cradock’s harsh and insensitive treatment of this excited and eager individual that their interest in her practically died overnight. One critic even referred to the incident as the most unifying moment in British history since World War II!
5. Don’t Judge a Cookbook by Its Cover
Despite the squeaky-clean public image that Cradock held for most of her TV career, stories have since come out that paint quite a different picture of her. The celebrity chef was married four times—including to multiple people at the same time. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when she finally settled down with Johnnie, the man the public knew as her on-air husband, things did not quite end well…
6. It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye
After many years of building a life and career together, things all came crashing down in a heartbreaking way when Johnnie Cradock came down with lung cancer in 1987. Fanny was extremely squeamish about illnesses and death. As a result of this, she refused to visit him in the hospital while he was sick and didn’t even attend his funeral.
She left him utterly devastated in his final moments.
7. He Cooks in Mysterious Ways
Though she started the phenomenon of the TV cooking show as we know it, Cradock wasn’t quite the first-ever celebrity chef—for more than a decade during the era of old-time radio, a man known as the “Mystery Chef” amused listeners each week by sharing his favorite recipes on the air.
In all those years, he never revealed his true identity to the public—no matter how much the fans probably wanted to know.
8. Mama’s Boy
So who exactly was this Mystery Chef and what was the point of keeping it all a big secret? It turns out the man behind the persona was a former advertising executive named John MacPherson who discovered his love of cooking when he moved away from home. However, due to the stereotypical gender roles of the time, he was extremely shy about what people might think of a male who enjoyed cooking—and especially about what his mother would think of it.
So, he chose to keep his identity a secret from the public.
9. Late Bloomer
The first celebrity chef that many of us today will remember is probably the one and only Julia Child. However, you may be surprised to learn that, until she was in her mid-30s, Child was far from being a celebrity chef—she didn’t even know how to cook until then, and basically lived off of TV dinners!
It just goes to show that it’s never too late to develop your talents!
10. Not Exactly Child’s Play
Julia Child may have been regarded as a hero in the kitchen, but it turns out that she was also a hero in other areas—during her youth, she worked as a research assistant at a CIA-style government spy agency called the “Office of Strategic Services.” In fact, she even met her future husband as a result of that job!
11. Slam Dunk
Her last name may have been “Child,” but Julia was no small lady—believe it or not, our favorite queen of TV cooking was actually 6’2” tall, and had been the star of her college’s basketball team during her youth. In fact, Child was so tall that she and her husband had to order custom-made extra-high countertops for the kitchen in their home.
12. Baby Shark
In a past life long before the start of her career as a celebrity chef, Julia Child once invented an effective shark repellent product that was actually accepted and used by the United States Navy to rescue its fighters from dangerous shark attacks. Those sharks clearly had no idea who they were about to mess with!
13. Looking Out for Those in Need
Julia Child wasn’t just a trailblazer in the world of cooking—she was also one in helping those struggling with breast cancer. As a vocal survivor of the horrific illness and a public advocate for ending the stigma around its treatments, Child helped inspire countless women around the world and eased some of the burden on their paths to getting well.
14. Early to Bed, Early to Rise
Other than Child herself, the best-known female celebrity chef of all time would have to be the one and only Martha Stewart. So what exactly is her secret to success? Well, Stewart is such a workaholic that she is rumored to always sleep with her bedroom lights on for a bizarre reason.
It’s so that she can instantly pop back into her work routine from the moment her alarm goes off the next morning.
15. Reading Between the Lines
If it ever seemed like Martha Stewart was smarter than the average TV host, there may be a very good explanation as to why—and it has to do with a strange habit she picked up as a young child. During her spare time, she would visit her local library, read the first book on the shelf from start to finish, and then go directly to whatever the next one beside it was.
Her goal was to eventually work her way through every single book in the building.
16. We’re in the Money
Things were going so well for Martha Stewart at the height of her career that she decided to turn her iconic cooking and lifestyle brand into a publicly-traded company on the stock market—a move that turned her into the world’s first-ever female self-made billionaire in 1999. Little did she know that her involvement in stocks was about to cause some serious trouble…
17. Prisoner of Love
When Stewart’s broker, Peter Bacanovic, illegally informed her of some private information about what was about to go down at a biopharmaceutical company in which she held a major stake, Stewart sold every single one of her shares in the company in one shot—just a day before their value unexpectedly dropped by 16%.
Needless to say, her suspiciously perfect predictive abilities certainly raised some eyebrows; and it wasn’t long before she was accused and convicted of insider trading. In contrast to her image as a wholesome homemaker, Stewart was sentenced to five months in federal prison.
18. Pain for No Gain
Surely such a positive and motivational character as Martha Stewart could find some kind of meaning or lesson from her unfortunate circumstances as a prisoner, right? Actually, wrong. Stewart calls her prison experience “horrifying,” and now argues that “no one should have to go through that”—with the only exceptions being “murderers” and “a few other categories.”
19. Dining and Diving
Paula Deen is best known as the “Southern Belle” of celebrity chefs and has made quite a successful career for herself through fulfilling that role. Despite very humble origins, Deen has become so wealthy through her TV career that she was able to install a “dive-in theater” in her home. To clarify, yes—as the name implies, this really is a home theater in which one watches movies from a swimming pool.
20. Out of Darkness Comes Light
Despite her ultimate success, life wasn’t always fun and games for Paula Deen—she severely struggled with depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia for no less than two full decades following the early deaths of her parents when she was still just a young lady. In a strange twist of fate, it was during this dark period that, not wanting to leave the house too much, she devoted much of her time to honing the cooking skills that would eventually change her life for the better.
21. It’s a Living
Before she found success as a celebrity chef, Deen went through many short-lived careers and tried out a multitude of odd jobs—including hanging wallpaper, selling insurance policies, selling real estate, and even serving as a teller in a local bank. Who knows what kind of parallel universe we would be living in if Paula had ended up sticking with selling us houses instead of teaching us fried chicken recipes!
22. 100-Yard Dash
Chance can be cruel at times, but at other times it can be downright awesome! In Deen’s case, it was pure chance that made it possible for her to meet the man who would become her husband, tugboat captain Michael Groover. It all started when Deen’s dogs got loose and ran into a nearby yard, which turned out to belong to Michael.
As soon as she entered his yard to chase after them, it was love at first sight.
23. Crossing a Line
Like many celebrity chefs, Deen has a squeaky-clean public image—but it only took so long for some of her dark and terrible secrets to be uncovered. The chef was once sued for racial discrimination, with allegations that included the use of the N-word as well as plans of organizing a slavery-themed wedding. This incident ended up costing her a whole bunch of deals and contracts, including her relationship with the Food Network.
24. Let’s Face It
Sadly, that wasn’t the only time Deen was involved in a controversy over racial insensitivity. In 2015, the chef made some negative headlines once again for showing up at a Halloween party dressed as the iconic I Love Lucy’s Lucille Ball while dressing her son in brownface makeup to play her husband, Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz.
25. Alter Ego
Martha Stewart once dated Hollywood legend Sir Anthony Hopkins, but broke up with him for an unbelievable reason—from the moment she first saw his classic film Silence of the Lambs, she could not stop thinking of him as his character, Hannibal Lecter, instead of as his real self. Talk about a convincing performance!
26. Music to My Ears
As easily-recognizable and iconic as he is today as a chef, Emeril Lagasse almost made a name for himself as a talent in a completely different field—the field of music. A young Lagasse’s musical talents were enough to land him a full scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music—an offer which he decided to turn down in order to pursue his true passion, cooking.
As great as “Bam!” would have been as a song lyric, this was probably for the best…
27. Here’s a Tip: Don’t Do That!
Restaurant mogul and media personality Mario Batali has been accused of stealing tip money from the waiters and waitresses who work for him. Though he likely thought this would be a quick and easy way to acquire some extra cash, the practice ended up costing him more than $5 million once legal action was taken against him for it.
Huh, so crime truly doesn’t pay!
28. Achieving Quite a Feet
Batali is well-known both for wearing Crocs and for loving the color orange, but even his most devoted fans might be surprised to learn just how intense he truly is about this signature dress code of his. When he heard that his favorite shoe company was discontinuing its use of the color orange, the chef immediately ordered no fewer than 200 pairs to ensure that he could maintain his look.
29. Him Too?
As happy as he always appears to be in his signature orange shoes, Batali’s mood must have taken a hit in 2017 when he was accused of harassment by no fewer than four women at the height of the #MeToo movement. The seriousness of these allegations, as well as a lackluster apology that included a promo for one of his dishes, resulted in the end of his job at the Food Network.
30. Quite the Experience
The era of the Food Network has changed the face of the TV chef game forever and given rise to countless new celebrity chefs over the years—as well as countless new scandals, surprises, and strange twists to go with them. One of the most epic examples of this is the story of Robert Irvine, the former host of Dinner Impossible who quickly rose to fame before falling in shame.
Everyone was amazed at the background that brought Irvine to the Food Network—including his knighthood, his having cooked for four U.S. presidents, and his having prepared Princess Diana’s wedding cake. There was only one problem—none of it was true! As soon as the public became aware of that fact, Irvine was removed from his TV hosting duties.
31. Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee
As both a morning show host and a celebrity chef, Rachel Ray is a woman with many admirers. Nevertheless, there is one surprising area in which her talents are unexpectedly lacking. Although she teaches recipes to millions of her TV viewers, Ray admits she is atrociously bad at making coffee. I guess we all have our weaknesses!
32. Shark Tank
As scary as coming face to face with the formidable Gordon Ramsay must be for a lot of people, he may have met his match while working on a documentary in Costa Rica. Ramsay was held at gunpoint and doused in gasoline by a group of Taiwanese gangsters who thought he was competing with them in the cruel and illegal racket of shark-finning.
33. Career Goals
Prior to his legendary cooking career, a young Ramsay had dreamed of growing up to be a professional soccer player. Though he was good enough to have been scouted as a prospect by the Glasgow Rangers, a devastating knee injury prevented him from being able to pursue this dream as an adult. Nevertheless, Ramsay has always remained physically active—even running in two Ironman World Championship marathons.
34. You Get What You Deserve
Ramsay may love his kids very dearly, but one wouldn’t know it from a cursory glance at his will. Despite a net worth in the hundreds of millions, the chef is not leaving any of his wealth to his offspring. Why? Because he doesn’t want to “spoil” them by granting them a fortune they did not earn—and to prove he’s serious about this, he doesn’t even let them sit with him in first class when flying on family vacations!
35. Caught Red Handed
Though he prides himself on being a family man, Gordon Ramsay has not always lived up to the values he publicly espouses. In 2008, his family was rocked by utter scandal when the media reported an alleged seven-year-long affair between the chef and Sarah Symonds. Ironically, Symonds is a spokeswoman for the cheating site Ashley Madison.
The affair was uncovered when the chef and his mistress were spotted checking into a London hotel together.
36. Battle of the Bakers
With so few celebrity chefs in the world compared to the rest of the population, they must all be pretty close, right? Turns out nothing can be farther from the truth—especially in the case of Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali. In one of the most epic celeb feuds in recent memory, Batali decided to ban Ramsay from all his restaurants over the fact that Ramsay called him “Fanta Pants.”
37. Getting Schooled
With acclaimed restaurants across the USA and a large fan base among TV audiences, Bobby Flay is quite an accomplished person—even by the standards of celebrity chefs. Nevertheless, there is at least one area in which he is slightly less than an overachiever. Flay dropped out of school at the age of 17 and never went back or completed his diploma.
38. All in the Family
Because Rachael Ray has been married to the same man for so long–a rarity in the entertainment business), many of her fans have wondered why she has never had any children. As it turns out, it’s all for a heartbreaking reason. Ray has said that, because of how much time she spends on her work, she feels that she would not be able to devote proper attention to kids.
Therefore, she chooses not to have them and to devote her spare time to her pet dog instead.
39. Too Little, Too Late
While not typically the most controversial celebrity chef in the world, Food Network host Ina Garten is guilty of making one very sad situation far worse than it needed to be. When a six-year-old fan of hers was struggling with a life-threatening case of leukemia, Garten callously rejected not one, but two requests from the Make-a-Wish Foundation to grant the poor boy a meeting with his hero.
By the time the scandal made headlines and Garten scrambled to undo the PR nightmare the story had created for her, she was told by the boy’s family that her visit was no longer welcome.
40. Getting Choked Up
Nigella Lawson is a popular celebrity chef in the United Kingdom who hosted the Nigella Bites cooking show. In a bizarre 2013 incident, it was reported that her husband was spotted grabbing her by the throat in the middle of lunch—a very serious allegation. The couple got divorced shortly after the incident, but not for the reason you’d expect.
Rather than Lawson leaving her husband over the fact that he choked her, it was actually the husband who initiated the couple’s breakup. His reason? He was disappointed that Nigella did not defend him from attacks in the media over the choking incident, which he insists was merely a “playful tiff.” It’s probably an understatement to say she’s better off without him.
41. Burning Love
Jamie Oliver, also known as the “Naked Chef,” is certainly among the most popular celebrity chefs of our time—but he may just take his own nickname a little bit too seriously. When he once tried to impress his wife for Valentine’s Day by cooking her a meal in his birthday suit, he accidentally burnt his private parts in the process.
I guess it’s safe to say that Valentine’s Day was ruined!
42. Getting Personal
Burning himself awkwardly was not the only weird experience Oliver has to boast. He was once offered an opportunity to cook on TV with a particularly unpopular and rare ingredient—human flesh. Yes, you read that correctly. Thankfully for his own reputation—and probably for the good of society as well—Oliver turned the offer down.
43. Ingredients Unknown
One of the most popular celebrity chefs in recent years was the late Anthony Bourdain. His unique fusion of food and travel made for some incredible entertainment. Though he traveled all over the world and tried all kinds of exotic dishes throughout his career, there was one unexpected food that he considered among the most disgusting he had ever tried.
What food was that, you wonder? A simple, everyday Chicken McNugget from McDonald’s. Bourdain found McNuggets to be particularly unappetizing because, in his words, “scientists are still wondering” what they’re made from. He even went as far as to compare them to the time he ate a grilled warthog rectum! Ouch…
44. It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s…a Celebrity Chef!
As far as hidden talents go, Bourdain had one of the most surprising of all—he was an artist who, as a kid, had always dreamed of one day becoming a professional comic book author. Even though he ended up becoming a chef instead, his original dream never died completely—Bourdain ended up co-authoring a graphic novel for DC Comics in 2012.
45. Gone Too Soon
In one of the most tragic developments in the history of the cooking industry, the beloved chef Anthony Bourdain was found dead in a French hotel room in June 2018, following an apparent suicide. There has been much discussion since this incident about what might have led him to it and what can be learned from it, but one thing is clear—the world lost a unique and amazing talent who can never be replaced.
46. Horsing Around
You’d be hard-pressed to think of a more popular celebrity chef right now than the one and only Guy Fieri—yet the world almost missed out on the opportunity to experience his talent. As a young child, Fieri’s life was nearly on the line when he was trampled by a horse that he had fallen off of. Following emergency surgery, Fieri survived—but he has a massive scar on his stomach to this day.
47. From Hero to Zero
Despite his popularity on TV, not everyone out there is a fan of Guy Fieri—in fact, he once received a shocking review from a New York Times food critic that was so negative, it’s hard to believe it could possibly have been intended for someone like him. Believe it or not, the review gave Fieri’s restaurant a rating of zero stars.
Fieri was having none of it and insisted that the journalist was biased against him, accusing him of planning the rating before even trying the food.
48. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Have any of you ever wondered what ever happened to ultra-popular celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse? He was one of the biggest stars in the history of television cooking shows. In the early 2000s, he and his classic catchphrase “Bam!” were everywhere in the food world—but nowadays, most of us never even hear his name mentioned anymore.
It turns out that a combination of several unrelated factors all came together around the same time to inadvertently derail this former media king’s TV career about a decade ago. After dealing with several unexpected business setbacks and a series of tragic losses in his personal life, including his mother and his mentor, Lagasse suddenly found himself out of the spotlight and decided to move on from his high-profile life.
49. Hell’s Legal Team
There is perhaps no celebrity chef more famous than Gordon Ramsay. Love him or hate him, few can say they have never heard of him. But while many out there hate him for his aggressive public persona, at least one person hates him for a different reason—he was sued a few years back by a former high-level employee of his.
The allegation? That Ramsay had discriminated against her and unfairly fired her because of her gender. But this saga had yet another strange twist to it—the woman who sued Ramsay was also having an affair with his father-in-law at the same time.
50. Leaving Without Dessert
Though Flay’s third wife, Law & Order star Stephanie March, may have seemed perfect for him at first, things between them did not end well. After Bobby slept with his secretary, failed to assist Stephanie during a medical emergency, and skipped his tenth wedding anniversary to attend a festival by himself, March couldn’t take it anymore.
It launched one of the wildest celebrity divorces of all time.