With the recent release of indie film Chef to generally good reviews, the world of chefdom is explored once again, albeit in a totally different light than the delightful Julie & Julia of 2009 that told the story of the charismatic icon Julia Child. Over the past two decades, Food TV Network and its offspring The Cooking Channel have not only revealed cooking tips and techniques from top chefs from around the world but given viewers a glimpse of the frequently abrasive personalities of the men and women who cook some of the best food on earth.
While it’s hard to discern if these irascible chefs are playing up their less desirable traits for high ratings or are truly mean and nasty people, the end result makes for highly entertaining TV that never fails to include a helpful culinary tip or technique.
Arguably the most sarcastic chef on television, Bourdain‘s comments as one of the judges on the cooking competition show The Taste are brutally honest and equally as entertaining. He makes no bones about his prejudices and freely shares them with the contestants. Bourdain is especially critical of those who do not eat meat, as expressed in his bestselling book Kitchen Confidential: “Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein.”
Pastry chefs by nature are generally perfectionists at the very least and often emerge as OCD poster candidates. That personality trait results in sweets and desserts that are as visually stunning as they are dazzling on the palate. As a judge on MasterChef Australia, world renowned pastry chef Christy Tania settles for nothing less than perfection, dressing down contestants with such brutal comments as, “I’ll just chuck it out and you can do it again,” after sampling their attempts at creating perfect choux pastry to recreate her signature dish, Mango Alfonso. Although Tania claims the delicate pastry is easy to make by following 10 easy steps, her abrupt tone makes contestants cower.
Probably the most famous TV chef with hit shows including Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, MasterChef and MasterChef Junior, Ramsay’s foul language in the kitchen is legendary. The worse a contestant performs, the more four-letter-words Ramsay spews in his criticism, which often includes denigration of mental acuity and physical appearance. In one of his most memorable moments, Ramsay brought a blind contestant to tears on MasterChef, but the tears flowed because eventual winner Christine Ha was so moved by Ramsay’s spot on verbal description and praise for her sublime apple pie.
Huang always seems anxious to stir the pot and create friction. He’s provoked the masses with harsh criticism of popular chefs like David Chang and Marcus Samuelsson, accusing them of exploiting ethnic food through elitism as well as taming certain dishes to please delicate Western palates. Huang once called Food Network TV favorite Guy Fieri a cruel joke (although he now calls him a friend) and also regularly speaks out on troublesome topics like shark fin soup, interracial dating, and TV shows he finds snobby and cliquey. Love or hate his personality, his cooking skills are hard to find fault with.
Once the handsome young rising star of the latest generation of celebrity chefs, DiSpirito’s ascension to fame quickly went to his head. Seemingly overnight, DiSpirito’s charm soured into smugness and his love of self cost him both restaurants and TV shows as he rode roughshod over chefs, wait staffs and fellow restaurateurs. Bobby Flay‘s early reputation for arrogance slowly dissipated over time but DiSpirito continues to irk followers and kitchen pros from coast to coast. Maybe a heart to heart with Flay would put DiSpirito’s haughtiness in remission.
The angst of being critiqued by cake decorator extraordinaire and renowned judge on Food Network Challenge Kerry Vincent is almost palpable; beads of sweat are often visible on the brows of contestants as the outspoken Aussie Outback native examines every detail of the contest submissions. Vincent takes being called “the Simon Cowell of cake” and “the dominatrix of decorating” in stride, defending her straightforward, often brutal critiques as honest and constructive. But with a 15 year undefeated record on the international competition circuit and an incredible 25 years of sugar art experience, it’s hard to argue, much less defend yourself against the author of Romantic Wedding Cakes.
Known by the moniker Miss Nasty,” this native New Zealander has achieved larger-than-life status as a judge on the UK cooking competition show MasterChef: The Professionals. As one of London’s top female chefs, Galetti’s severe stares and animated facial expressions reveal her disapproval of dishes before she utters a word. Add dialogue to her critiques and the disapproval ratings soar, nearly bringing many contestants to public weeping.
Gordon Ramsey’s best known for his loud boisterous, rowdy kitchen rants, while Bastianich‘s most famous for his disdainful deadpan expressions and sneering persona. When Ramsay queried where his fellow judges would place the blind MasterChef contestant in a Michelin-star ranked restaurant, affable chef Graham Elliot responded she’d be best utilized at the end of the line making final taste tests before serving. True to his brutal brand of criticism, Basticanich snarked that Ha’s talents would be best applied in the coat check room of a restaurant.
Best known for creating and building the Momofuku restaurant empire, Chang’s reputation for flying into rages in the kitchen was established early on. His vicious management style create a high turnover at his restaurants but didn’t deter him from opening one after another around the world, each more successful than the last. His outbursts were punctuated by foul language; one famous quote on the TV show Treme became legendary: “Let’s put pork in every f**king dish.” Rumor has it Chang is trying to mellow with age and has vowed to try and be more of a leader by example than a tyrant who rages at employees when they fail to meet his standards.
Chiarello’s smooth boyish features belie his reputation for being arrogant and overbearing. In addition, he reportedly lures patrons to his restaurant through shallow small talk, embellishing stories about his past achievements, and delivers less than stellar dishes at prices more inflated than his ego. When he competed in 2009’s Top Chef Masters, he was labeled a sore loser when he blamed his loss on being so much older than the other contestants, although most cooking professionals agree that your skills generally improve with age, not deteriorate.