Celebrity chefs are a major force in pop culture today. Sometime during the last ten years it has become unbelievably cool to be a chef. An industry once dominated by chain-smoking alcoholics is now being overrun by wannabe Gordon Ramsay and Guy Fieri types. The trailblazers in this list have led the way. Unfortunately, the spotlight has either inhibited their ability to cook, or worse, they were never actually a great chef. This is a look at the ten most overrated celebrity chefs out there.
The celebrity chef lifecycle starts with television, either as a cameo, judge or contestant on a cooking reality show. Next they get their own cooking show and become known more as a personality than an actual chef. Some in this list have gone on to host game shows and get paid to talk about anything but cooking food.
Just missing the list is Nadia Giosia, known as Nadia G., is the host of Nadia G’s Bitchin’ Kitchin and Bite This With Nadia G. Important to note: being sassy doesn’t automatically make you a great chef, or even a good one. Eddie Huang is often referred to as a great celebrity chef, but he is really just more of an entrepreneur, an ex-attorney that learned the restaurant business. A good back-story (stand-up comic and drug dealer) doesn’t make you a great chef.
This list has world renowned chefs that have gotten too big for their britches, television personalities acting as great chefs and Anthony Bourdain, because he really is everywhere. Here are the top ten most overrated celebrity chefs.
10 Guy Fieri
I am always weary when a person is referred to as a colorful personality. Fieri is definitely one of the most overrated chefs out there today. He was the winner of Next Food Network Star and parlayed his ten minutes into what already feels like forever. Fieri has hosted several television shows and even a game show. He is known as a rock star chef due to his punk look and wild personality and has even written several books. Its clear Fieri can cook, but his game is much more style over substance. Today Fieri spends his time on television traveling to diners and talking local comfort food. A pretty fantastic gig, but not someone you should look to as a leader in the culinary world.
9 Paula Deen
Deen is known for two things, first her Southern cooking shows on Food Network and secondly, for her racial rants and views. The first is what we are here for. Southern cooking can mean a lot of things, but in the case of Deen the priority appears to be comfort and the promotion of heart attacks. Anyone can make food taste good with ingredients packed with fat and sugars, but the truly elite find other ways to make the taste happen without their patrons clutching their chests. Deen is clearly a successful television host who relates to her audience, no one denies this. Referring to her as a top chef should never happen.
8 Robert Irvine
Irvine could be a wrestler in the WWE known as “Chef.” He seems to be as known for his cut muscular arms as he is for his cooking. Don’t get me wrong, Irvine is a decorated culinary professional who has worked internationally including Europe and the Far East. Where the problem lies is with shows such as Dinner: Impossible, Worst Cooks in America where Irvine comes off as the defector chef who knows everything. Sure, it may make for good television when “everything” about the way something is cooked is “wrong”, but these shows are embellished and the impact from one person is never what it seems.
7 Sandra Lee
Some have the title of Celebrity Chef pushed upon them as is the case with Lee. The Emmy-nominated Food Network host has a large audience that follows her every word regarding all things kitchen and home. Her methods are not fancy, in fact they are simple. She caters more to “meals on the go” and best meals for kids. She is also really big into money saving ideas for cooking and the home. Lee has nothing to do with the current genre of celebrity chefs and belongs more to the Martha Stewart gang (minus jail time of course). To recap: Lee is widely respected, does a lot of good things and should have Celebrity Chef ripped from her long list of titles.
6 Bobby Flay
Despite not needing any help, let’s face it – Bobby Flay is an awesome name that just screams chef! Flay is a world renowned cook that has run kitchens and restaurants since his teenage years. Flay’s go-to process is adding zest and making food come alive. Flay has clearly earned his bones and should be part of the “celebrity” chef world, but you know what he isn’t - a god. What overrates Flay (and ironically leads to his success) is his arrogance and know-it-all attitude. Hey, it’s okay if someone disagrees with you, Flay. Note: It does not appear to be okay.
5 Rocco DiSpirito
There are many ways to get celebrity status; one of the easier ways is to be famous in New York City. Since 1988 (on his own since 1995) Rocco has worked in New York as a chef and/or restaurant owner. Known for a style of combining French techniques with Asian ingredients, DiSpirito won awards for most exciting young chef (2000 Gourmet Magazine) and nominated as best chef (2000, 2001, 2003 James Beard Foundation). However, what many remember and why DiSpirito has been overrated since, happened in 2002 when he was named People Magazine’s sexiest chef alive. It’s not necessarily DiSpirito’s fault, there is no way to not be overrated once you are given that title.
4 Gordon Ramsay
If you go to a restaurant and hear a rant full of F-bombs you can blame Ramsay. Those F-bombs always existed, but not at the decibel level Ramsay taught the future cooks of our generation. After not being able to make it as a soccer player, Ramsay turned to cooking where he achieved critical acclaim and respect. In both the UK and America Ramsay and his rants have been center stage for television shows Kitchen Nightmares, Hell’s Kitchen and many more spots where he plays more of a judge role. In 2010 Ramsay was at the top of his game, since he has continued, but has become a caricature of what made him the famous. Now his shows are predictable and the F-bombs appear scripted. This may have more to do with reality television in general, but regardless also makes present Ramsay incredibly overrated.
3 Mario Batali
I’ll admit, part of Batali’s inclusion on this list has to do with the pony tail, and that is something I need to get over. He is the leader of a restaurant empire, king of cooking media and always one of the first names that come to mind when someone brings up great American chefs. Too many awards can inflate an ego and Batali has won a lot of awards, including GQ’s Man of the Year and Best Chef of New York (James Beard Foundation). Surround Batali with other chefs and he becomes even more overbearing with his opinions and unbearable ego. We get it, you are a great chef, but that doesn’t mean you are the best at everything. Batali is good, but not as great as he thinks. He may be the best chef sporting a pony tail, but he is not the greatest chef of all time.
2 Rachael Ray
Ray has a lot of supporters and a lot of detractors. Her supporters are where she gets way overrated because they place her on the highest pedestal. It’s easy to dislike people when others place them so high. Ray has built a personal empire built on cooking shows, books and daytime talk show. Just remember she got famous with “30 Minute Meals” and “Best Eats In Town On $40”, that’s not exactly culinary genius and anyone categorizing Ray as a celebrity chef should really choose their words more closely. We don’t call David Letterman a weatherman (his first television job) so we shouldn't refer to day-time talk show host Ray as a celebrity chef.
1 Anthony Bourdain
Even Bourdain might agree he has always been more of a cook than a chef. World traveler and best-selling author, Bourdain's career took off when he was an Executive Chef at New York City’s Les Halles restaurant. A fancy title that translated to: line cook hooked on heroin. He used this as a basis for his book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly and quickly found fame and a gig as a world traveler who loves to sample food and alcoholic beverages. Bourdain is everywhere. He still has his travel shows, is a judge and even tours if for no other reason than to share his dislike for Paula Deen. Bourdain is the guy you want to have dinner with, but if you look closely there are probably a million more people qualified to cook that dinner.