24 Fascinating Facts About Celebrity Chefs


Guy Fieri once officiated 101 gay weddings in a single weekend.

1.

Gordon Ramsay almost died while hunting puffins in Iceland for his show The F Word.


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He fell down a “280-feet drop” and, as if that weren’t enough, landed in “freezing cold water.” He told the Telegraph that as he tried to reach the surface, “I thought I was a goner. … They say cats have nine lives. I’ve had 12 already and I don’t know how many more I’ll have.”

Ramsay was rescued by his crew after 45 seconds of struggling, who “chucked him a rope and pulled him to safety.” During the same shoot, he had to get stitches for a bite on the nose given to him by “an angry puffin.”


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Ramsay described the birds as “very tasty,” though difficult to cook (and catch, apparently).


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2.

Jamie Oliver is dyslexic and finished reading a book for the first time when he was 38 years old.


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The book was Catching Fire, the second installment in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. Oliver told the Evening Standard, “I loved disappearing into a story.”

3.

Speaking of Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, the pair have a “long-running feud,” according to the Daily Beast.


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Allegedly, it all began when they filmed a show called Food Fight together in the late aughts. “Relations were so bad by the end of filming” that when Ramsay and Oliver refused to be photographed together, the show was forced to photoshop separate images of the chefs into the same shot for promotional materials.


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Ramsay once described Oliver as a “one-pot wonder,” while Oliver said he believed Ramsay lashed out at him because he’s jealous of his success.


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When Lewis was in her 30s, she moved to New York. After she got a job doing laundry, she was assigned to iron (for the first time in her life) and got fired after only three hours. So, she began a new life as a seamstress, “copying Dior dresses” and constructing the “African-inspired dresses that became her signature.” And after getting married, Lewis became the chef at Café Nicholson, a trendy spot opened by an antiques dealer in 1949.


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Pictured is Christian Dior with two models wearing his designs. 

In the 1970s, Lewis was “sidelined by a broken leg” and used the free time to begin work on the cookbook that would become her influential debut: The Taste of Country Cooking. The success of the book led her back to the restaurant industry, and she worked at one restaurant — Brooklyn’s Gage & Tollner — “for almost 20 years.”

In 1990, Lewis met Scott Peacock, “a young, white, gay Southern chef” who became her close friend and eventual caretaker. Their close partnership and seeming lack of much in common led them to be nicknamed “The Odd Couple of Southern Cooking.” Peacock lived with Lewis for the final six years of her life, until her death in 2006 at the age of 89.

5.

Remember when Marilyn Hagerty, the restaurant critic for the Grand Forks Herald newspaper who became famous in 2012 when her enthusiastically positive review of Olive Garden, which she described as the “most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks,” went viral?


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None other than Anthony Bourdain wrote the introduction for her book.


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The book, Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews, was published by “Bourdain’s imprint with Ecco,” and Bourdain called Hagerty’s writing “the antidote to snark.”

In his introduction, Bourdain wrote, “Anyone who comes away from this work anything less than charmed by Ms. Hagerty —and the places and characters she describes — has a heart of stone. This book kills snark dead.”


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6.

In 2015, Guy Fieri officiated 101 gay weddings in a single mass ceremony. Fieri acted as the officiant “in honor of his late sister, a lesbian.”


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The event was organized by fellow celebrity chef Art Smith to celebrate the legalization of gay marriage in Florida. Smith told the Associated Press that he chose 101 couples specifically because he wanted to draw parallels to the Disney film 101 Dalmatians, since the state’s anti–marriage equality attorney general, Pam Bondi, was “our own Cruella De Vil.”


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During an appearance on Sunday Today, Garten said that while she “loved” her gig at the Office of Management and Budget, after three years of it, she realized “nothing’s happened.” So she took a chance on buying a “small specialty food store” in New York state called — what else? — The Barefoot Contessa.


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She ran the store until 1996, and after she sold it, she wrote The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. It became a hit, the Food Network came calling, and the rest is history.


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8.

On his first date with his future wife, actor Stephanie March, Bobby Flay roasted a chicken…


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…but he accidentally “allowed the bird to go up in flames,” according to an interview with Good Housekeeping. Apparently, he was too “distracted by March’s charms” to focus on the whole cooking dinner thing.


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9.

Before she mastered the art of French cooking, Julia Child mastered the art of American espionage.

Since Child was 6’2″, and therefore too tall to serve in the military, she joined the “Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was the forerunner of today’s Central Intelligence Agency.”


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Child first worked as a research assistant for General William J. Donovan, who led the OSS. She later moved to the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, where she “helped develop shark repellent,” a “critical tool during WWII.”


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During the last years of the war, Child worked in Ceylon (which is now Sri Lanka) and China. She was the chief of the OSS Registry, a position that granted her “top security clearances.”


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It was during her time with the OSS that Child met her future husband, fellow officer Paul Child.


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10.

Rachael Ray was bullied by other children for bringing a sardine sandwich for lunch on her very first day of school.


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She told NPR, “So I came home that day being the stinky girl in the funny clothes with the funny shoes. … And I was crying. You know, that kind of choking crying, where you sound like a gasping seal or sea lion or something?”

Her grandfather told the young Ray, “There’s plenty in life that you have no control over that you will cry about. Certainly your vanity should never be one of them, you know?”


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11.

When AOL asked Rocco DiSpirito what most people didn’t know about him, he replied that at one point, “I was considering priesthood.”


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12.

Thomas Keller, the chef behind famed restaurants The French Laundry and Per Se, worked as a consultant on Ratatouille.


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According to Grub Street, Remy’s famous ratatouille “isn’t ratatouille per se, but vegetable byaldi, a kindred Turkish dish.” Keller served a version of the animated masterpiece at The French Laundry.


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For reference, here’s ratatouille:


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And here’s vegetable byaldi:


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And here’s Remy’s version:

13.

Jiro Ono, the master sushi chef profiled in the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, cooked president Barack Obama’s first meal in Japan when he visited in 2014.


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Obama was sitting down at Sukiyabashi Jiro, “a tiny space in a subway station” with three Michelin stars, within “90 minutes of arriving in Tokyo.” His dining companions were Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, American ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, and national security advisor Susan E. Rice.


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Obama summed up the experience by saying, “That’s some good sushi right there.” During a television appearance, Abe said, “President Obama told me that, ‘I was born in Hawaii and ate a lot of sushi, but this was the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life.’”


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14.

Tom Colicchio almost made a cameo appearance in the pilot episode of Sex and the City, but the sequence got cut due to some serious bad luck.


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During a Hot Ones interview, Colicchio recalled that the day before the crew was set to shoot at Gramercy Tavern, the restaurant where he was working, he “sprained my ankle so badly I couldn’t walk” while playing basketball. Then there was a fire in the kitchen exactly where they were planning on filming.

When host Sean Evans asked if he was disappointed at the time, Colicchio responded, “At the time, who knew it was going to be a hit? It was a pilot.” At Evans’ prompting, he said that it was “probably more painful now.”


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15.

Marcus Samuelsson was a 24-year-old with only $300 to his name when he moved to the US from Sweden.


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He moved to work as a sous chef at Aquavit, a restaurant famous for its Swedish cuisine. Samuelsson grew up in Sweden after being adopted, along with his sister, from Ethiopia by a Swedish couple. Prior to the adoption, their mother died of tuberculosis, and the siblings were “separated from their biological father.” The children also caught — but survived — tuberculosis.


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Pictured is one of the dishes Samuelsson prepared while a chef at Aquavit. 

When Aquavit’s executive chef died, Samuelsson got promoted, and at 24 years old, “became the youngest chef to ever receive a three-star review from the New York Times.”


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16.

Antoni Porowski, the resident food expert in Netflix’s Queer Eye, has a close personal (and professional) connection to his predecessor: Chopped host and the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy “food and wine connoisseur” Ted Allen.


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Allen and Porowski met “at a cookbook signing in Brooklyn,” and Allen subsequently hired Porowski to be his personal assistant. In this role, which Porowski stayed in for three years, he also prepared meals for Allen and his husband.


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Allen told Vanity Fair, “He’s an excellent cook and taught me a lot. … A lot of the stuff he does is what I call comfort-food bliss…he’s a cook with a point of view, and I appreciate that.”


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Along with Lagasse, the hotel boasts figures such as Malcolm X…


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…and Ho Chi Minh as alumni of its “top-notch kitchen and wait staff.”


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18.

David Chang once wrote for GQ that he adores cheap beer.


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According to Chang, “Singha, Tecate, Miller High Life” and all other “cheap, watery swill” are “the champagnes of beer.”


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His “ironclad argument” for his cheap beer preference is that it “pairs really well with food. All food.”


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19.

One of Sohla El-Waylly’s first gigs in the restaurant industry was at the Cheesecake Factory, where she worked part-time while attending the University of California, Irvine.

20.

At the beginning of his career, Eric Ripert worked for Joël Robuchon, a notoriously strict and temperamental chef.


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Ripert told the New York Times, “Everyone dealt with the pressure differently. Some guys shook all the time. Some went downstairs and cried in the stairwell. I saw a few guys punch the walls. Some guys suffered crippling anxiety attacks.”


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He added that he still has nightmares every few months where “I fail in America in my career, and I go back to work for him.”


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21.

Carla Hall, who first rose to prominence as a contestant on Season 5 of Top Chef, revealed in an interview with NPR that her path to the kitchen included pit stops in two very different industries: modeling and accounting.


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Hall attended Howard University and got a degree in accounting, after considering and then rejecting a drama major, since she’s “so darned practical.” After graduation, she got an accounting job, but after passing the CPA exam, she decided to move on from a field she hated.


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She decided to pursue modeling in Paris, after having done smaller shows around Howard and where she was living after graduation in Tampa.


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It was while Hall was “searching for falling in love with a job” that she discovered her passion for food and cooking. After selling lunches to office workers for a few years, Hall attended culinary school and started her catering business.


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22.

Barbara Lynch’s enraged boss, Todd English, once dumped a plate of pasta on her head when her earring fell into the dish and was pointed out by a customer.


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When Lynch told English that she was leaving to be the head chef at another restaurant, he “flung a Coke bottle at her head.” Since leaving that job, “Lynch has been in charge of her own kitchen ever since.” She told the New York Times, “It’s not about me anymore. It’s about the next generation. We need more women in this business.”

23.

One of Barbara Lynch’s mentees was Kristen Kish, the winner of Top Chef Season 10. Lynch, who had a guest appearance on the previous season of the show, insisted that Kish try out.


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While Kish initially “had no interest in being on television,” Lynch told her, “You have to do this. You’re young, beautiful, and know how to cook. Now own it. The world is your oyster.” Lynch told the New York Times, “I knew she could win.”


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At first, Achatz’s doctors said that in order to give him a 50/50 chance of surviving for more than two years, they needed to “cut out his tongue and replace it with muscle from another part of his body.” Instead, Achatz enrolled in a clinical trial that “agreed to treat him with radiation and chemotherapy,” which damaged his tongue and esophagus and “completely destroyed his taste buds.”


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His cancer ultimately went into remission, and Achatz regained his sense of taste “one flavor at a time.”


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