These days, you can be a celebrity for lots of reasons. Actors, musicians and politicians can be worthy of the title. Some even become celebrities purely based on who they are related to in the entertainment industry.
Ever since the invention of the Food Network and other cooking channels on TV, chefs also have the chance to become celebrities. They have their own TV shows on a variety of networks, they release cookbooks and they go on tours to meet their fans. When they have their own restaurants, the business does well just because the celebrity name is attached.
But, just like with all other types of famous people, celebrity chefs have the chance to incite a bit of controversy and scandal. They may have shady business practices, poor cooking techniques or bad interactions with fans or employees. These controversies can even hurt their careers long after they’ve occurred.
Read on for our list of 5 celebrity chef scandals and controversies.
5. Guy Fieri Accused of Homophobia
Known best for his Food Network show, Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy Fieri is a bit of an every-man and seems more approachable than other celebrity chefs out there. Yet, when it comes to interacting with the chefs and restaurant owners that he meets on his show, there are rumors that he’s less than friendly to certain groups. In 2011, word got out that Guy is particularly uncomfortable when it comes to gay people. David Page, a former producer for Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, told the Minneapolis City Pages, “Guy had decided that the two men running the restaurant were life partners. He said, ‘You can’t send me to talk to gay people without warning! Those people weird me out!'”
Page wasn’t the only one to say this about Guy Fieri. Another producer for the show, Kari Kloster, said, “From my memory of being a field producer it’s just well-known to me among the crew that Guy has a problem — if there was a homosexual in a restaurant, as the main character, the shoot went different.” This hasn’t seemed to hinder Guy’s career, though. He has a new show on Food Network called Guy’s Grocery Games.
4. Nigella Lawson Accused of Drug Abuse
2013 was a pretty terrible year for food writer and TV personality Nigella Lawson. Pictures were caught of her husband choking her outside of a London restaurant and she quickly filed for divorce. It got even worse in November of 2013 during a trial against two of her and her ex-husband’s former personal assistants. The Grillo sisters were sued for fraud for stealing the couple’s credit cards and using them for personal purchases like vacations and designer handbags. The Grillos’ defense was that they were allowed to use the credit cards this way as long as they hid Nigella’s drug use.
Nigella’s ex-husband, Charles Saatchi, had an email added into evidence in the trial, where he says that Nigella has been “off her head on drugs.” While Nigella admitted to doing cocaine two times in her life, she said, “I did not have a drug problem, I had a life problem,” intimating that the two times she did cocaine was in response to how turbulent and abusive her marriage was during the summer of 2013. The Grillo sisters were acquitted in December, 2013 and Scotland Yard decided to not prosecute Nigella for drug abuse. As of now, it’s hard to tell whether the drug abuse allegations will have a lasting effect on her celebrity chef’s career long past the end of the trial.
3. Geoffrey Zakarian Gets Sued, Files for Bankruptcy
Most people know Geoffrey Zakarian from his position as a regular judge on the popular Food Network show, Chopped. He’s also an Iron Chef, author and restaurateur. It’s the restaurateur part of his career where the controversy and scandal comes in. In 2011, nearly 100 of his former chefs and employees of the now-closed Country restaurant filed a class action lawsuit against Geoffrey. They alleged that, among other things, he never paid his employees overtime and he deducted wages for no legal reason, according to Eater.
While it may first seem like a few disgruntled employees, it’s hard to argue with his former business partners, who have sided with the employees rather than with Geoffrey. The business partners not only say that the employees are right in their lawsuit, but that Geoffrey also stole from Country by giving away meals to friends and family, using the company credit card for non-business purchases, and putting his wife on the payroll, for instance. In response to the lawsuit, Geoffrey Zakarian denied any wrong-doing and filed for bankruptcy–which seems odd since he’s such a prominent television personality. You’d think that he’d be making quite a bit of money from all his television appearances on Food Network, as well as the other restaurants he owns and works in.
2. Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares Allegedly Fake
Gordon Ramsay is known for being a bit of a jerk to the people on his numerous television shows. He’ll yell and use curse words in the kitchen, reducing some chefs to tears. But that’s not the main controversy that this celebrity chef has had to deal with. Instead, he’s been accused multiple times of staging his reality television show, Kitchen Nightmares. In the show, Gordon visits real restaurants that are on the verge of closure. He inspects the restaurants, finds their faults (often it comes down to dirty kitchens and terrible management), and fixes what he finds. At the end of the episodes, the restaurants are much better off because of his intervention.
Over the years, Gordon has been a part of several lawsuits over Kitchen Nightmares. In 2006, he filed a suit against The London Evening Standard for an article they wrote alleging that some scenes filmed in the restaurant Bonaparte were fake. Gordon won that lawsuit. Then, in 2007, Martin Hyde, who got fired from the restaurant Purnima during an episode of the show, filed a lawsuit against Gordon. He stated that “some or all of Kitchen Nightmares are fake.” Although the case was dismissed, theories about the realness of the show have been debated by fans and critics ever since.
1. Paula Deen Uses “N-Word”, Loses Contracts
Paula Deen, the celebrity chef best known for her southern charm and liberal use of butter and oil, is no stranger to controversy. She has been criticized in the past for how unhealthy her food is, especially after she revealed that she had been diagnosed with diabetes. All of that pales in comparison to the aftermath upon the public hearing of a lawsuit brought against Paula in June of 2013. A former employee brought up charges of racial and sexual discrimination. During her deposition, Paula admitted to using the “N-word” in the past.
That little admission under oath had a very large impact on her career. While the case was dismissed with prejudice–meaning that it could be filed again at a later date–a large number of fans and critics of Paula’s were still outraged and labeled her a racist. Because of this backlash, she lost many contracts, including her main employer, Food Network. Other contracts that stopped because of this controversy include Target, Walmart, QVC, Home Depot and Sears. Paula even released an apology video where she stated, “I beg for your forgiveness … please forgive me for the mistakes that I’ve made.”