20 Times A TV Chef’s Scandalous Behavior Almost Jeopardized The Food Network’s Sterling Reputation

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There’s a reason why cooking has been described as the new rock and roll. Indeed, when it comes to controversy, scandal and general tabloid-baiting drama, the music world has arguably nothing on the current crop of celebrity chefs. And unfortunately for the once-squeaky clean Food Network, it seems to have employed the majority of them. Here’s a look at 20 cases which made the headlines.

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20. Robert Irvine’s resume lies

It’s not exactly uncommon to add the odd white lie to a resume to impress a prospective employer. However, Dinner: Impossible star Robert Irvine took embellishing your career achievements to another level. In 2008 it was revealed that the chef had claimed to have worked on Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding cake, a total fabrication. And yet this wasn’t the only fib Irvine told.

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Indeed, Irvine also stated that he’d been responsible for feeding no fewer than four U.S. presidents, and that he’d been knighted by the Queen. Once the news emerged, the Food Network replaced him with Michael Symon. However, the channel would later invite him back, and he’s remained a fixture there ever since.

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19. Paula Deen’s diabetes

As with many of the Food Network’s chefs, Paula Deen’s recipes are often laden with sugar. Therefore, few were particularly shocked when the cook revealed in 2012 that she had Type 2 diabetes. But the plot thickened when The New York Times discovered that Deen had been diagnosed three years before her announcement. There was suspicion in the air.

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And it emerged that alongside her sons, Deen had signed a deal with pharmaceutical firm Novo Nordisk the same year her diagnosis went public. The company was behind a new injectable and non-insulin form of medication to treat diabetes. So many criticized Deen for appearing to profit from a condition that her own food could have exacerbated.

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18. Graham Elliot’s tip pooling controversy

Graham Elliot, a one-time contestant on Iron Chef, was accused of pooling tips at his eponymous restaurant by no fewer than 14 waiters in 2012. Gregory Curtis, the former employee who filed a lawsuit, claimed that staff at the Chicago eatery were required to pool all their tips together. This money was then evenly distributed among all staff including cooks and food runners.

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However, this practice is only legal under federal law when it involves employees who would normally receive tips. Unfortunately for food runners and cooks, they don’t fall under this category and so shouldn’t have benefited. So Elliot settled with the disgruntled waiters who believed they’d significantly lost out on their wages.

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17. Anne Burrell’s employee discrimination

Anne Burrell fronted several Food Network shows including Secrets of a Restaurant Chef and Worst Cooks in America. However, she first found fame on Iron Chef America as a sous chef under Mario Batali. And it seems as though his temperament rubbed off on her judging by the lawsuit filed in 2009.

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Burrell was accused of making derogatory remarks about many of her employees’ private lives and physical appearances at the West Village eatery Centro Vinoteca. Interestingly, she appeared to take aim solely at her female members of staff. Burrell has never spoken publicly about the allegations or the settlement she reached with those affected.

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16. Ina Garten’s Make-A-Wish snub

Ina Garten has built her reputation on being the kind of eternally cheerful and comforting mother figure that could solve any problem with a decadent calorific pie. However, it turns out that the Barefoot Contessa perhaps isn’t as sweet as we first thought. In fact, she’s turned down the Make-A-Wish foundation twice.

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In 2011 the charity contacted Garten to arrange a meeting with Enzo Pereda, a six-year-old diagnosed with leukemia. At the time the chef was busy on the promotional trail for one of her books and so gave a “no.” She once again disappointed her young fan when she declined a second time a year later. It was only when her refusals went public that Garten relented. However, by this point Pereda had decided he’d rather swim with dolphins.

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15. Geoffrey Zakarian’s bankruptcy

Geoffrey Zakarian’s 2011 victory on Iron Chef: Super Chefs was perhaps slightly soured by the fact he’d already declared bankruptcy. The Food Network regular had found himself in financial difficulty after being sued by several ex-employees at his Country establishment. The lawsuit reportedly requested Zakarian to dish out $1.25 million in damages and penalties.

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Zakarian was accused of falsifying pay records, skimping on the overtime pay of his staff and even docking wages for food that they never actually had. Each and every allegation stemming from the now-closed restaurant was denied by the Chopped star. But he didn’t have the funds to fight the lawsuit and so was forced to file for bankruptcy.

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14. Anthony Bourdain’s criticisms

The late Anthony Bourdain was never afraid to tell it like it is. And he appeared to take great delight in blasting the stars of his former TV home, the Food Network. Yes, Sandra Lee, Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri are just some of the famous faces who found themselves at the receiving end of Bourdain’s sharp tongue over the years.

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Even when Bourdain was offering a compliment to a Food Network star, he couldn’t resist throwing in a sly dig, too. In 2016 the star revealed to Atlanta magazine that he was a big fan of the Barefoot Contessa, aka Ina Garten. But Bourdain then added, “She’s one of the few people on Food Network who can actually cook.”

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13. Giada De Laurentiis’ rumored affair

Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay certainly got tongues wagging when they both left their respective partners around the same time in 2015. The former filed for divorce from Todd Thompson, while the latter split with Stephanie, his third wife. De Laurentiis had previously been linked with famous faces including John Mayer and Matt Lauer. But it was her fellow Food Network star that tabloids believed had prompted her divorce.

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However, speaking to Andy Cohen on his Bravo show, De Laurentiis refuted all the rumors involving herself and Flay. She told the host, “Well, we’re very good friends. We’ve worked for many years together, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen because I’m smarter than that.”

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12. Guy Fieri’s sexism

Guy Fieri doesn’t appear to be the most politically-correct Food Network star. The host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives has previously been accused of making homophobic and sexist remarks away from the cameras. And according to former producer David Page, editors had to work overtime to ensure Fieri’s wandering eyes never made it to air.

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Page told Minneapolis City Pages in 2011, “Any time any woman mentioned ‘cream,’ Guy went into a sexual riff. When cutting the show, you had to tell the editors to watch Guy’s eye line, because it’s always on breasts.” Page also appeared to reference Fieri when he summarized, “Almost everyone who becomes a star in television develops an abnormal sense of self.”

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11. Bobby Flay quits during filming

Iron Chef Showdown star Bobby Flay certainly knows how to make an exit. The chef was half-way through filming an episode of the Food Network hit in 2017 when he suddenly took off his apron to reveal a shirt emblazoned with a surprise message: “This is my last Iron Chef Battle ever.” According to Vanity Fair, no one but Flay himself knew about the stunt beforehand.

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Flay later appeared to backtrack in an interview with People, telling the magazine that the apron-yanking was just a joke. However, the star never returned to the show. And a year later Flay had reportedly explained to fellow Food Network star Michael Symon that Iron Chef Showdown’s relentless schedule had caused him to make such an attention-grabbing statement.

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10. Mario Batali’s lawsuit

Mario Batali has been one of the Food Network’s most troublesome stars over the years. And in 2010 he made the headlines for his alleged involvement in a tip-skimming scandal. Yes, the chef was accused by several employees at his various Big Apple restaurants of taking up to five percent of the money servers were tipped with. This was reportedly then used to help top up the salaries of his sommeliers.

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Now, the class action suit took two years to resolve. And in 2012 Batali and his business associates agreed to pay those affected a total of $5.25 million. No fewer than 117 different plaintiffs were involved in the suit which was launched by ex-waitress Stephanie Capsolas and former kitchen runner Hernan Ricardo Alvarado. Both had previously worked at Babbo, Batali’s flagship restaurant in the West Village.

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9. Cat Cora’s DUI

Cat Cora was lucky to avoid a stint behind bars following a DUI conviction in 2012. The Food Network star was twice over the legal alcohol limit after crashing her vehicle into a BMW in Santa Barbara. Cora was given a suspended prison sentence, probation for three years and a fine, as well as being ordered to attend DUI school for nine months.

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But Cora was deeply apologetic for her conduct in a statement released after the verdict. She said, “I deeply regret my decision to drive that evening after my designated driver became unavailable. I learned a very important lesson from this experience and take full accountability for my actions. This will never happen again.”

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8. Josh Adam Garcia’s lies

Many viewers of The Next Food Network Star’s third season found themselves rooting for Josh Adam Garcia due to his inspiring back story. The contestant, also known as JAG, claimed he’d served in Afghanistan with the marines and was now attempting to transfer his skills to the kitchen. However, it turned out that the then-25-year-old had embellished his military experience somewhat.

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The Army Times reported, “He [Garcia] didn’t spend nearly two years in the infantry. He didn’t deploy to any war zone. And while it’s unclear whether he was ever a corporal, what is clear is that the Corps showed him to the door nearly eight months early, as a private. Oh yeah, and he never finished culinary school in New York.”

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7. Giada De Laurentiis spits out own food

Giada De Laurentiis may look like she enjoys tucking into her own dishes on her Food Network shows. However, according to an insider quoted by Page Six, the chef rarely lets her lips get anywhere near the food on camera. In fact, when it comes to close-up shots, De Laurentiis allegedly uses a double to eat for her.

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Of course, there are moments when De Laurentiis is filmed eating a forkful of food with her entire face in view. But allegedly, instead of swallowing, she will spit the food back out into a bucket off camera. De Laurentiis’ representative branded the claims “absurd” but conceded “she doesn’t eat and swallow every time” as there are up to ten takes for some scenes.

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6. Rachael Ray’s questionable dog food

Rachael Ray is renowned for her love of animals almost as much as her passion for food. But in 2018 she came under fire for her combination of the two. The Food Network star had created her own brand of dog food, Nutrish, which claimed to be full of natural ingredients. However, Nutrish soon found itself facing a lawsuit over concerns that it was more chemically-induced than advertised.

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Glyphosate, a type of herbicide which can be found in weed killers, was alleged to be one of the ingredients, contradicting the brand’s natural claims. Thankfully for Ray, the case was later dismissed and pet retail giant Petsmart announced that it would be standing by her product. However, following a spate of bad reviews, the media attention surrounding the lawsuit undoubtedly damaged the chef’s dog food venture.

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5. Marcela Valladolid’s affair

You get two Food Network stars for the price of one in this particular scandal. Mexican Made Easy host Marcella Valladolid was married when she was appointed a judge on CBS’ The American Baking Competition in 2013. She was joined by the also-attached Paul Hollywood, who would later appear on the Food Network UK’s Paul Goes to Hollywood. But the pair soon had more than sweet treats on their minds.

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Indeed, Valladolid and Hollywood reportedly wasted little time in making their professional relationship a romantic one. And both of their respective partners filed for divorce once word got out. Valladolid would later find love with a new man, while Hollywood’s wife agreed to take him back. However, the British baker would once again be sent packing after being caught kissing a TV show contestant.

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4. The Neelys’ fake happiness

Lasting for 11 seasons, Down Home with the Neelys presented its husband and wife stars Pat and Gina as happily married. Everyone was left stunned, therefore, when the couple announced they were going their separate ways, both personally and professionally, in 2014. But it turns out that their picture perfect relationship had all been a front.

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Yes, because in 2018 Gina told People magazine that she’d been on the verge of divorcing Pat before they landed the TV show. And the former bank manager revealed that, in reality, she’d found the whole experience of being a TV personality highly stressful. Even so, following her split with Pat, Gina popped up on Bravo dating show To Rome for Love.

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3. Jamie Oliver’s cultural appropriation

A simple Jamaican-inspired dish saw Jamie Oliver accused of cultural appropriation in 2018. The Naked Chef was attempting to showcase his love of Caribbean food by launching a product named Punchy Jerk Rice. However, Oliver’s lack of Jamaican heritage and ingredients saw many come out in protest over its authenticity.

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Even a British MP waded in on the argument. Yes, Dawn Butler, whose parents hailed from Jamaica, called Oliver out for his apparent act of cultural theft. The chef who claimed to have taught Oliver how to make jerk chicken the true Jamaican way also voiced his displeasure. In response, the Brit said that he was only trying to pay tribute to the cuisine he loved.

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2. Nigella Lawson’s drug use

Nigella Lawson is viewed by many as one of the most prim and proper TV chefs on our screens. So it came as a shock when the domestic goddess admitted to taking cocaine. The British national treasure told a U.K. court, “I have never been a drug addict. I’ve never been a habitual user. There are two times in my life when I have used cocaine.”

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Interestingly, Lawson made the confession during a court case involving two of her ex-assistants. Sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo had been accused of stealing six-figure sums from the chef. However, they claimed that Lawson had given them permission to spend the money if they kept her drug use a secret. The pair were later found not guilty.

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1. Ree Drummond’s culturally-insensitive remarks

The episode of Food Network show The Pioneer Woman that got Ree Drummond into trouble actually first aired in 2012. But it took a repeat screened five years later for the chef to be called out for the culturally-insensitive remarks included. And the whole drama revolved around a plate of chicken wings.

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In one scene Drummond dishes out some chicken wings of the spicy Asian variety to her family. But after they turn their noses up at the food, the star retorts, “I’m just kidding, guys! I wouldn’t do that to you!” Drummond then brings out some Americanized chicken wings to replace them. Unsurprisingly, this led to calls for stronger representation of Asian culture on the channel.

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