Reality television has proven to be a really great place for chefs to strut their stuff over the years, and audiences have taken to it. There’s even such a thing as a sexual attraction to food, and it was satirized in a South Park episode called “Crème Fraiche,” where Randy became obsessed with the food-related programming on TV. There is enough of it. For starters, you’ve got cooking shows, where you can sit back and watch chefs work their magic and whip up something delicious, presented step by step so that you can maybe make it yourself at some point, if you can be bothered. And then there’s talent competition shows, like American Idol but for cooking. And then, from those two formats, certain chefs can become celebrities and go on to star in their own shows where they might go around America inspecting failing restaurants or invite other celebrities to come and cook with them. There’s something about chefs and the culinary arts that have captured an audience of millions and deified a bunch of different chefs. And speaking of those chefs who have seized millions of TV viewers and become gods of the screen, here are the 15 greatest.
15. Marco Pierre White
Marco Pierre White has a reputation for being the “enfant terrible” of the British culinary world. The term “enfant terrible” is taken from French and it literally means “unruly child,” but it refers to an unorthodox genius who is rebellious or offensive. That’s Marco Pierre White for you! The Australian MasterChef called White the godfather of modern cooking, and he’s trained a bunch of fellow celebrity chefs, including Mario Batali, Gordon Ramsay, Curtis Stone, and Shannon Bennett (three of whom now join him on this list). In 1999, he retired and gave back his Michelin stars, saying, “I was being judged by people who had less knowledge than me, so what was it truly worth? I gave Michelin inspectors too much respect, and I belittled myself. I had three options: I could be a prisoner of my world and continue to work six days a week, I could live a lie and charge high prices and not be behind the stove, or I could give my stars back, spend time with my children, and re-invent myself.” He chose option C.
14. Wolfgang Puck
Wolfgang Puck is a jack of all trades in the world of food: celebrity chef, restaurateur, cookbook writer, product licenser, businessman – even an occasional actor. He’s acting in everything from Frasier to Tales from the Crypt (in which he appeared as himself alongside the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jack Nicholson). Puck has a Michelin star, a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Service Show, and a James Beard Foundation Outstanding Service Award, and he’s been inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame (which makes him the celebrity chef equivalent of a Lou Gehrig or a Chuck Berry). His signature dish is the House Smoked Salmon Pizza at his original restaurant, Spago. Also, here’s a fun fact about Wolfgang Puck for you: his favorite food is macaroons. Fascinating.
13. Curtis Stone
Curtis “The Quiet Terminator” Stone is an Australian chef and author from Melbourne who was given his nickname after his performance on the third season of Celebrity Apprentice, which was won by Poison lead singer Bret Michaels and hosted by the future President of the United States, Donald Trump. Anyway, Curtis Stone is one of the biggest names in food out there. He may have lost Iron Chef America to Bobby Flay, but hey, it’s Bobby Flay. Even if you’re second to Flay, it’s still a towering accomplishment. For years, Curtis Stone has been the ambassador (read: the face in TV advertising) of Coles Supermarkets in Australia, and he’s also written a bunch of cookbooks, with his 2013 cookbook What’s for Dinner? going on to become a New York Times bestseller.
12. Emeril Lagasse
It is estimated that the Emeril Lagasse brand – his merchandise, his restaurants, his books, his television programs, everything with his name on – generates a revenue of $150 million every year. He’s famous for his Food Network shows Emeril Live and Essence of Emeril, his bestselling cookbooks, and his catchphrases, “Kick it up a notch!” and “Bam!” Lagasse is known for his work in the Creole and Cajun styles of cooking – and, to a lesser extent, the Portuguese and French styles – as well as his own, entirely original style, the “New New Orleans” style. He also won a regional James Beard Award. As an activist, he was one of the main celebrity personalities who used their platform to raise awareness about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
11. Guy Fieri
Guy Fieri was actually born Guy Ramsay Ferry – but there’s already a famous chef by the name of Ramsay, so he had to change that. Fieri has hosted game shows, written a bunch of books, and appeared on a number of TV shows. He’s also the co-owner of three restaurants in California and his name is on separate restaurants in New York City and Las Vegas. Fieri is so famous on the Food Network that they have named him the “face of the network.” According to a report on Fieri in The New York Times, the chef can be credited with bringing food-based TV shows into the mainstream by bringing an “element of rowdy, mass market culture to American food television,” and that his “primetime shows attract more male viewers than any others on the network.” Dudes love him.
10. Mario Batali
Mario Batali is not only a world famous chef, writer, and TV personality, but he also owns restaurants in New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Boston, Singapore, and Connecticut. He’s also a social activist and outspoken critic of fracking. He said that the hydraulic fracturing method of natural gas extraction could “do serious damage to the agricultural industry” of New York and “hurt businesses, like ours, that rely on safe, healthy, locally sourced foods.” He’s also a philanthropist in that he founded the Mario Batali Foundation, which provides funding for a number of children’s educational programs, as well as pediatric disease research. He’s got a good sense of humor, too, as he’s appeared a bunch of times on The Daily Show and also guest starred on The Simpsons in the Halloween special episode “Treehouse of Horror XXVIII.”
9. Masaharu Morimoto
Famous for his work with Japanese fusion cuisine, Masaharu Morimoto is a Japanese chef who was born in Hiroshima and went on to become the star of the original Japanese version of Iron Chef and the U.S. spin-off Iron Chef America. Morimoto has been professionally trained in the art of sushi and traditional Kaiseki cuisine. He started as the head chef of an exclusive Japanese restaurant called Nobu, and has since gone on to open his own restaurants in New York (where he has a whole bunch of them, like three or four total), Philadelphia, Mumbai, New Delhi, Boca Raton in Florida, Tokyo, Napa Valley, Hawaii, and Walt Disney World in Florida. He also played himself in a season 1 episode of Hawaii Five-0, which was shot on location near his Hawaii joint.
8. Giada De Laurentiis
Born in Italy, Giada De Laurentiis is a chef and a food writer, but she’s best known as a TV personality. She hosts her own show on the Food Network (as they all do) called Giada at Home. She also helps out with NBC’s Today, working as a contributor and stepping in as a guest co-host when duty calls. She’s also a businesswoman, having founded her own catering business in the form of GDL Foods (named after her own initials – spreading the De Laurentiis brand). The shelves in Giada De Laurentiis’ house must be full of prestigious and shiny awards: she’s been graced with the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lifestyle Host, with two other nominations that didn’t lead to a victory, as well as the Gracie Award for Best Television Host. Plus, in 2012, she was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame. Quite an honor.
7. Rachael Ray
No one quite knows how to develop a brand around their own name like Rachael Ray. She’s got her name on books, TV shows, magazines, businesses – pretty much everything you can have your name on, she’s got her name on. She’s got a talk show called – you guessed it – Rachael Ray. She’s the star of three shows on the Food Network, too: 30 Minute Meals, Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels, and $40 a Day (in each episode, Ray visited an American, Canadian, or European city with only $40 to spend on food). And that’s not all – she’s got her name on even more TV shows than that, like Rachael Ray’s Week in a Day, Rachael vs Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off, and Rachael Ray’s Kids Cook-Off. As a television personality, Ray has won three Daytime Emmy Awards, and she’s also the founder of the magazine Every Day with Rachael Ray.
6. Nigella Lawson
The daughter of Nigel Lawson, who used to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigella Lawson is a behemoth personality to be reckoned with. She’s one of the biggest celebrities in the whole of the UK. Beginning her career as a restaurant critic, Lawson then wrote some bestselling cookbooks, including How to Eat and How to Be a Domestic Goddess, the latter winning her the British Book Award for Author of the Year. Her Channel 4 show Nigella Bites was a big hit, and its companion cookbook – a winner of a Guild of Food Writers Award – was yet another bestseller for the chef (overall, she’s sold more than three million cookbooks worldwide). With shows like Nigella Feasts, Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen, and Nigella Express, she’s become a huge star on the Food Network and BBC Two, and she’s got her own range of cookware products that’s worth £7 million.
5. Bobby Flay
Bobby Flay is one of the names dropped by Adam Scott’s douchebag characters in the movie Step Brothers when he’s asked about his fishing trip with Mark Cuban. He says, “Well, not just the Cubes, but Chris Daughtry, Jeff Probst, super chef Bobby Flay. I mean it was insane, it was almost too much.” See how Bobby Flay’s name was last? They do say that you should save the best until last. And did you also notice that he was referred to as a “super chef?” That’s because he’s super. He’s a star of the Food Network and he’s also the owner and executive chef of many great restaurants across America: Mesa Grill in Las Vegas and the Bahamas, Bar Americain in New York and Connecticut, Bobby Flay Steak in Atlantic City, Gato in New York, and Bobby’s Burger Palace in nineteen spots across eleven U.S. states.
4. Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain learned his culinary technique at the brilliant Culinary Institute of America, and he cut his teeth working in some of the finest restaurants in the world – he worked at Brasserie Les Halles for years. Now, Bourdain is one of the most influential chefs the world over, having broken out into the public eye with his book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, published in 2000. He dominated the Food Network with his show A Cook’s Tour, and then he took on the Travel Channel with Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, which ran for many years and explored many different cultures and cuisines. And then he took on CNN (he’s cast his net wide with these networks) with his show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Bourdain isn’t just a chef, either. He’s a smart guy. He’s written some lesser known fiction and historical non-fiction.
3. Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart isn’t just a chef. She’s an entrepreneur. She founded Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, a company that’s found huge success in a number of different industries: broadcasting, e-commerce, merchandising, publishing, all kinds – everything that serves the Martha Stewart brand. She’s the author of a ton of bestselling books, as well as the Martha Stewart Living magazine. As with all famous chefs, she’s hosted some very popular TV shows. Yes, she’s faced criminal convictions over the ImClone stock trading case and that was messy, but she didn’t let it deter her and she’s had a comeback in full force. She’s still on TV: in the strangest combination of people maybe ever, Stewart is currently hosting a cooking show on VH1 with rapper Snoop Dogg, called Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.
2. Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver is known for cooking English dishes, and that’s proven so popular that he’s become the face of many TV shows, such as Jamie’s Kitchen, and restaurants across the world – he’s the face of the UK cuisine. He’s worked as a sous chef, a pastry chef, a TV chef – all kinds. He’s written cookbooks that have become number one bestsellers in the UK. Oliver’s in the game for more than just fame and kicks, too – he’s started up a campaign called “Feed Me Better,” with which the plan is to feed British schoolkids with healthy food, rather than their usual combination of junk food and straight sugar. “Feed Me Better” has been endorsed by the British government itself. The chef has been invited to 10 Downing Street by the Prime Minister, he’s been honored as a Member of the Order of the British Empire, and he won the 2010 TED Prize for hosting his own TED Talk.
1. Gordon Ramsay
Gordon Ramsay’s the best. He’s the mack daddy of celebrity chefs. He’s on a crusade to rid the world of bad dining experiences. In his shows Kitchen Nightmares and Hotel Hell, he’s going from establishment to establishment, banishing frozen food, overcomplicated menus, and poor management, to ensure that everyone who pays good money in a restaurant or hotel gets the service they deserve. And on his show Hell’s Kitchen, he’s on a quest to find the next generation of great chefs. He’s molding the future of the culinary world so that even after he’s dead, the food will be good. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the great food shows that Ramsay is responsible for, and that’s before you mention all of his Michelin stars and award-winning restaurants.