Secrets of the Kitchen: Celebrity Chef Stories

The first thing many of us think upon turning out televisions to a cooking show is, how do they keep their kitchens so clean? How do these miracle makers keep their sets, and themselves so together? But, as life has taught most of us, everything is more than surface deep. Celebrity chefs, like all flavors of celebrities, find their way to the headlines sooner or later. Whether it’s a scandalous exposé or a drama-filled interview there’s always something cooking.
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Below are just a few of the spicier stories that these cooks would rather we didn’t still remember. But when they all keep coming back on TV how are we really supposed to forget?

Fake it While You Make it

Star, Robert Irvine, was exposed in 2008 as being faker than the icing roses on a birthday cake. He was fired from his show on the Food Network for faking his resume. These weren’t small fibs or inconsistencies either. Irvine claimed he had baked the wedding cake for Princess Diana’s wedding and that he had been honored as a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

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Obviously, his history and his credibility came under scrutiny. It wasn’t just British royalty the chef claimed to have served, but he even insisted he had been working in the kitchens at the White House as well. In the end Irvine had actually, at one point, been employed at the White House. The Food Network gave him his job back a year later.

The Least Talented Chef Ever

Andrew Zimmerman had no respect in 2009 when, the Bizarre Foods host said a few not too kind things about fellow celeb chef Tyler Florence. It was that year that Florence found himself starring on the reality show, Momma’s Boys. Zimmerman took out his disrespect in writing on his blog, letting his followers know how little entertainment he found on his TV. “Monday’s episode featured the world’s least talented TV chef, Tyler Florence, once again churning out the questionable cooking advice and the leading the ladies through a menu of the Mom’s fave recipes.

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Watching Florence wolf down the food, stare and ogle every [expletive] that strolled by his cutting board and play the role of local TV stud was high-comedy of the highest order,” he wrote. Harsh words for such a small time show.

The Past Lives of Paula Deen

Back in the days of 2013 Food Network megastar Paula Deen could not remember what century she was working in. A former employee, Lisa Jackson, who had managed Deen’s restaurant, Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, sued both Deen and her brother, Earl “Bubba” Hiers. The siblings were accused of being both discriminating on the basis or race and sex in the workplace.

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The accusation specifically stated that Deen had wanted to throw her brother a wedding in the “Southern plantation style.” What did that mean exactly? It meant black men dressed in bowties and jackets acting as waiters. But when Deen was talking about using black men in bowties, she did not use the term, “black men.”

This Chef Avoids Her Own Food

It was a few years ago that an unnamed source let Page Six know that famed chef Giada De Laurentiis does not eat her own food. Even those “tastes” she takes on her famed television show are, shall we say, fake. Onset she has a “dump bucket” where she spits those little tastes between takes.

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That’s pretty gross. It’s always weird behind the scenes on television shows I guess. Sometimes it would be better not to know. But hey, no wonder she stays so skinny.

Bobby Flay vs. Giada De Laurentiis

2014 was not a great year for celebrity chef marriages. Both Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay divorced their spouses, Todd Thompson and Stephanie March respectively. Rumors swirled that the two were planning to be together, but the timing, in the end, was only a coincidence. Though, the pair had been spending a lot of time together for work.

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De Laurentiis actually stopped talking to Flay after the pair competed together on Iron Chef against Mario Batali and Rachel Ray. Batali and Ray came out on top and, it seems, Flay didn’t take the loss as seriously as his cooking partner had hoped he would.

A Very Complicated Divorce

When Bobby Flay left Stephanie March it was his third divorce. March claimed that Flay had been involved with numerous other women during their marriage (De Laurentiis not included.) Their separation was a bit dramatic to say the least. While March never mentioned De Laurentiis she did claim that, among his multiple affairs, Flay had been involved with actress January Jones. When Jones was in a car accident in 2010 the first person she called was Bobby Flay.

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No one seems clear on the reason, or at least no one is saying. Flay did show up on the scene, though, which didn’t help his case with his wife. To this day Jones has not named the who is the father of her son. Flays name comes up quite a bit in the gossip.

A Bad Mouth

Host of both “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef,” and, ” Worst Cooks in America,” Anne Burrell was a regular sight on culinary TV. However, employees who once worked under Burrell, not on TV, but under her at Centro Vinoteca in New York City, where Burrell worked as executive chef. Employees came forward in 2009 with stories of verbal abuse and discrimination against female employees.

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Burrell was accused of using derogatory language, and criticizing the appearance of female employees over their work performance. Burrell left Centro Vinoteca in 2008, a year before the allegations surfaced.

Martha Stewart Says Stay in Your Lane

It’s impossible to ignore the one and only chef and homemaker extraordinaire Martha Stewart. It’s also impossible to ignore her opinions, especially when she calls out other well-known superstars. Stewart at the time was not pleased the A-lister Gwyneth Paltrow was making the transition into home décor. ” If she were confident in her acting, she wouldn’t be trying to be Martha Stewart,” Stewart said of the actress.

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Taking aim at Paltrow where she hopes it would hurt, in the kitchen, Stewart engineers the “conscious coupling,” dessert, as a call out. Paltrow raised the bar with her response when she presented her recipe for the “jailbird cake,” an obvious reference to Stewart’s insider trading and stay behind bars. Those five years are something Martha Stewart will always have the Paltrow will never even attempt to take away.

“Good Try, But You’ll Never be Me”

After spending five years behind bars Martha Stewart returned to her celebrity status and didn’t waste any time letting her feelings be known. First off, calling out celebrity chef Rachel Ray as a “hack.” In Martha’s mind she just wanted to make clear that Ray was neither a real baker of a real chef. She called out Ray’s most recent cookbook as a mere carbon copy of Ray’s last cookbook with a few edited recipes.

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Rachel Ray did not appreciate the newly released Stewart’s fighting words. When she was asked what she thought of the newly vocal Stewart Ray had a few questions. “Why would it make me mad? Her skill set is far beyond mine. That’s simply the reality of it.”

Flay Finishes Early

“Iron Chef” suffered another awkward episode in 2017 when Bobby Flay threw off his chef’s jacket in the middle of a show. Beneath his jacket, the famed chef wore a t-shirt that read, “THIS IS MY LAST IRON CHEF BATTLE EVER.” While Flay considered the stunt some good publicity, The Food Network did not agree with the star. He had not checked with any executives about his antics beforehand.

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There was no way to blur the words and the network was forced to air the episode. It’s not clear how the incident really ended. Flay later claimed he never intended to quite The Food Network. He even agreed to return to “Iron Chef” is he was asked. Why did he want to leave in the first place? Claims have surfaced that say the show’s schedule was just too physically demanding.

People Hear What You Say

Deen did admit, during a deposition, to using the “n-word” sometime in her past. She claimed, however, “That’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the 60’s in the south.” The attorney representing Deen in the case claimed, “Ms. Deen does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable.”

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Eventually, the entire case was dismissed, but it was too late for the Paula Deen empire. The Food Network fired Deen and her products were later dropped by sellers including Target, Sears, and Walmart. The only product in the Paula Deen line that remained were her cookbooks.

What About Diabetes?

Paula Deen continued her honest admissions in 2012 by telling the world she had been diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes. What better way to educate the world about diabetes than to become the spokesperson for a daily insulin injection? (Victoza by Novo Nordisk). Well, actually, it’s even better to release a line of flavored butters, because obviously that’s what diabetics need more of. Well, at least butter helped make Deen’s career.

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Obviously, there was some criticism that, even after her own diagnosis, Deen continued to push her less than healthy food lines. But that’s what she’s been known for, right? Deen’s cooking has long been criticized for its unhealthy standards.

The Show Must Go On

“Down Home with the Neelys,” was a popular program on The Food Network that premiered in 2008, starring Gina and Pat Neely. Despite their on-camera charm and family-friendly attitude, it’s been said that Gina and Pat actually hated each other, for the entire run of their show. The couple was together for 23 years before Gina filed for divorce in 2014.

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Gina went on to tell People Magazine that she, “Never wanted to be a TV chef. I was a branch manager at a bank. I was going to divorce Pat prior to the show.” Gina went on to work in TV over at the Bravo Network. She had not spoken to Pat since the divorce.

What’s Happening in Napa?

Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello was a hit on The Food Network. Another hit took place in 2016 when Chiarello was pulled over in Napa California by the Highway Patrol and arrested for both drivings under the influence and possession of substances. The celebrity chef was taken to Napa County Jail before posting bail and being released. Chiarello announced that he planned to refute the Highway Patrol’s charges.

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He didn’t know that his driving would soon be the least of his legal troubles as he was later involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit that two former employees filed against him.

Racism isn’t a Joke

Pioneer Woman star, Ree Drummond projects a clean life, free of gossip. However, the pioneer herself has come under some serious questions recently. In a 2017 episode of her show, Drummond presents her guests with a special dish of Asian Hot Wings. Her husband and his guests are not very complimentary of the dish. “I don’t trust them,” one diner says, before even tasting the wings.

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Drummond quickly pulls out a tray of traditional Buffalo wins before anyone else is given the chance to either insult or sample the Asian Hot Wings plate. “Just kidding,” she says, as her guests reach for the Buffalo recipe. On-screen this gesture gives off a rather anti-Asian message. While Drummond has heard the accusations of racism, she has never commented on the incident.

Referencing Expletives

Tyler Florence did not take Zimmerman’s insults well, reaching out on his own Facebook profile to say, “Normally I have pretty thick skin when it comes to blogs and what people think. It is a free country after all, but this guy Andrew Zimmerman, the guy who eats dried camel [expletive] for a living, has decided to dis my life’s work… I guess it’s hard to have a sense of humor when you’re on your 10th take of eating Yak [expletive], smiling to the camera, wondering where your life went wrong.”

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He wanted to have the last word in the matter and went on to call for an end to the argument or “feud” as the entertainment industry likes to call it.

Ramsay vs. Fanta Pants

Gordon Ramsay is known for his over-the-top temper, but his particular dislike for one, Mario Batali, came with a less than an endearing nickname. Ramsay referred to Batali as, “Fanta Pants.” The name reference Batali’s preference for dressing in very bright orange shorts. Again, Ramsay is known for insulting the world at large, and contestants on his show in particular. But Batali wasn’t feeling love and subsequently banned Ramsay from ever entering one of his restaurants.

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While there has been no word on the status of this ban, Batali did once say he thought he’d get along with Ramsay if they did meet in real life, perhaps at a bar.

Rough Recipe: Gordon Ramsay And Drugs

While filming Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay decided to walk out on Amy’s Baking Company. In the end that was not one of his best decisions. The episode aired back in 2013 and is the first time we ever saw Ramsay give up on helping a restaurant. The aftermath was its own dramatic story. One of the owners, Sony, was threatened with deportation due to drug distribution in Israel.

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His wife, and restaurant namesake, Amy spent some time behind bars for misusing social security numbers. Sony tried to ruin Ramsay’s reputation later on, claiming, in a video, that the famed chef had made a move on his wife during filming. He claimed that Ramsay always made moves on the wives of restaurant owners. In the end it was Sony who had the real problems.

Guy Fieri Could Have Said That Better

On-screen Guy Fieri gets along with everyone. Behind the scenes, it can be a very different story. One producer on his show “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” has let the public know that if Fieri is filming an episode with a gay chef, the star must be informed beforehand. Fieri has been quoted as saying, “you can’t send me to talk to gay people without warning! Those people weird me out.”

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The producer, David Page, spoke to City Pages about the rule. Representatives, and Fieri himself, deny the claims, and the quote, and say the star has never used derogatory words or behavior on set.

Who’s Reading Your Emails?

Once again we are back to our old friend, Gordon Ramsay. Once, some time ago, Ramsay was a business partner with his father-in-law. Father-in-law, Chris Hutcheson, worked with the famed chef until 2010. Why? Because in 2010 Hutcheson discovered that Ramsay had a mistress who was also stealing money from the chef.

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In his rage Hutcheson hacked into Ramsay’s email to get every tiny detail he could on the situation. This was not a great idea though, as it landed Hutcheson in jail for six months. Can’t imagine the next holiday season in the Ramsay house.

Always Tip Your Servers

Graham Elliot rose to fame as a contestant on the popular show, Iron Chef. He gained fame in a less fantastic way when, in 2012, several employees sued the chef for tip pooling. Tip pooling means all staff was required to combine their tips at the end of an evening, according to waiter Gregory Curtis. That pool of tips was then redistributed amongst employees. Tip pooling in and of itself is not illegal, but giving every single employee a take is not.

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Tips, in general, are not provided to cooks or runners. Elliot, however, included cooks and runners in the tip pool. Thirteen employees are currently a part of the lawsuit hoping to get back some of their lost wages.

A Book of Stolen Recipes

Let’s jump back now to the long-forgotten decade of the 1980s where chef Richard Nelson reigned supreme. In 1984 Nelson published his cookbook, “Richard Nelson’s American Cooking.” It wasn’t really all Richard Nelson’s book though. Over 40 recipes in its pages were allegedly stolen. Why? Nelson studied under famed chef James Beard, he had the chops to do his own thing, we can only guess he did it for money.

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The quick money grab was never to come through, as the book was immediately pulled from stores. The book contained over 500 recipes, why he needed to include 40 falsified pages we may never understand.

A Badly Made Cake

In 2009, television star Sandra Lee thought it was a good idea to make, what she called, a Kwanza cake. She intended for the recipe to celebrate African American culture. To so do she included angel food cake; store-bought frosting, pumpkin seeds, corn nuts, and apple pie filling in the dessert.

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The dessert was called, “a pile of ridiculousness slathered in despair and sprinkled with nonsense nuggets,” by the AV Club. Jessica Harris, a professor at Queens College, and an expert in the African diaspora, also indicated that the cake lacked any authenticity.

Rule 1: Keep Your Hands to Yourself

Only two years ago, in 2017, John Besh faced accusations of harassment from 25 employees. The accusers claimed that dealing with sexual advances was a regular occurrence in their jobs. The damage was extensive, and an apology from Besh did not good.

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Besh was all but edited out of a previously filmed episode of “Iron Chef” on The Food Network. He appears in a few background shots, but is basically, and understandably, absent from the episode as a whole.

Drink in the Kitchen Not in the Car

Cat Cora, a star of “Iron Chef,” was in a car accident while driving her BMW with a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit. Cora was, “In 2012 Iron Chef star Cat Cora was “wavering around the road… she’s just been very aggressive,” a 911 caller said. Cora was taken to the drunk tank after submitting to a breathalyzer test at the scene of the accident.

 

The chef was later sentenced to a fine, three years of probation, and nine months of DUI school. Her jail sentence was suspended. The star later apologized and promised to hold herself accountable in the future.

A Lap is Not a Chair

In 2014 Chrissy Teigen was caught on camera sitting on the lap of celebrity chef, Michael Symon. The two took the photo during a beach volleyball benefit tournament, for the Armed Forces Foundation. Symon was a married man at the time, but thought it was brilliant to post the photo on his social media. The shot started a flood of messages to Symon, many calling him a terrible husband and a pig.

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The chef ignored the trolls and went on to write, “wow some ppl have 2 chill a bit… liz [his wife] is WITH me… & chrissy is a friend…” It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s obvious the star didn’t take the scandal too seriously.

Jamie Oliver Insults a Nation

What do we recognize Jamie Oliver for? Supposedly it’s his healthy recipes and the lifestyle that goes along with them. However, back in the year 2014, Oliver offered up what he intended to be a new recipe for jollof rice, a culturally significant West African dish. Many African food bloggers very quickly raised questions about the name Oliver had stolen for his dish because it did not at all resemble the jollof rice they knew.

 

Whatever it was Oliver was serving it was not a real representation of their culinary culture. In the words of Ver Kwakofi of the BBC Africa, “the danger is that in five years, his version will become the official one.”

Paella or Death

Once again Jamie Oliver angered an entire culture when he dared to add chorizo to his paella recipe. Spain, like the African food bloggers before them, was horrified. “They went medieval on me,” Oliver told Graham Norton on his show. He was on a trip to discuss childhood obesity in Canada when he made the unfortunate recipe suggestion.

 

The chorizo kept Oliver in the news for weeks, but not in the meaningful way he had originally intended. But the celeb refused to apologize, to writers or the Spanish country as a whole. “By the way, just FYI, it tastes better with chorizo,” he said.

Note to Self: Pay Your Employees

Back in 2011, Jeffery Zakarian came up against a lawsuit from his employees who said they had not been paid what was owed to them. 150 employees of Zakarian filed suit for $1.25 million claiming they had neither been paid fair wages or overtime. Zakarian specifically submitted false pay records. Zakarian was almost ruined by the suit and the publicity.

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He was forced to close his Country restaurant inside the Carlton hotel and declare bankruptcy. The case has not been settled yet, but no one should ever underpay their employees or, well, you may get what you deserve.

The President Sues Jeffery Zakarian

He wasn’t President yet but, during his campaign, Donald Trump had a deal with Jeffrey Zakarian to open a restaurant in one of the many Trump properties. After she made some unfortunate comments about Mexicans (that would not be his last) Zakarian pulled out of the deal with the Donald. What happened next? The Don decided he needed to sue Zakarian for breach of contract.

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Zakarian stuck to his guns about refusing to work with Trump saying, I “do not in any way align with my personal core values.” The case is still pending. Zakarian and famed DC chef Jose Andres have also counter-sued the president.

America’s Most Dangerous Chef

The late Anthony Bourdain was always one of Paula Deen’s loudest, and most famous critics. He once spoke to TV Guide and said that Deen was, “the words, most dangerous person in America.” He said that, due to her fat-heavy recipes and her unashamed presentation of such foods, maybe, “I could think twice before telling an already obese nation that it is okay to eat food that is killing us.”

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Deen wouldn’t budge; rather she came out to claim that her foods were both budget and family-friendly. Bourdain never backed away from a fight, and Deen was not the only Food Network personality that he feuded with publicly.

Highway to the “Terror Dome”

Some seven years ago, in 2012, Anthon Bourdain came up against Drivers Dine-Ins star Guy Fieri. That was the year Fieri used his star power to open the much-maligned “American Kitchen and Bar” IN New York City’s Time Square. Bourdain quickly took to the airwaves where he upped the ante on insults, calling the restaurant a, “terror dome.”

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His specific complaints against Fieri included, “He single-handedly turned the neighborhood into the Ed Hardy district which I’m a little pissed off about … [Customers] see him eating cheap food on TV, they go in, and it’s what? $18 for a [expletive] hamburger?” This was not the first, or the last time, Bourdain came up against the frosted blonde Fieri.

Bourdain had a Bone to Pick

In a 2015 interview with GQ, Fieri discussed the repeated feuds with Bourdain. “It’s actually disappointing,” he said, “I don’t like him making fun of people, and I don’t like him talking $#!?. And he’s never talked $#!? To my face. I know he’s definitely gotta have issues, ’cause the average person doesn’t behave that way.”

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Perhaps Bourdain will never visit “Falvortown” but he’s still never short on flavorful comments about other Food Network stars. He once said of Rachel Ray, “I don’t know why she bothers.” The one star he ever spoke fondly of was The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten.

Ina Garten Won’t Grant Your Wishes

Once upon a time there was a young six-year-old leukemia patient named Enzo Pereda whose one wish through the Make-A-Wish-Foundation was to have a cooking session with Ina Garten. A representative of Garten’s told the child and his family that the cooking star did not have time in her schedule to meet with them. Pereda offered to wait until a convenient time could be reached for the Barefoot Contessa but was refused.

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This disappointment soon became public and Garten said she had never heard that the young patient had made such a wish and she never would have refused. She later reached out to invite the family to meet with her on the set of her show but the boy had moved on to another more attainable wish and went to swim with dolphins.

The #MeToo Movement Enters the Kitchen

Along with the infamous Harvey Weinstein, the food world’s own Mario Batali is now ranked among the entertainment industry’s accused men. Those sexual harassment allegations came to light in December of 2017. Four different women gave an interview to “Eater” and accused Batali of inappropriate touching and other sexual misconduct.

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The misconduct had been taking place for over two decades. Batali was quickly released from hosting “The Chew” on ABC and was removed as the head of “Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group,” his restaurant management company. There had been plans at the Food Network to resurrect Batali’s old hit show, “Molto Mario,” but that was also quickly shut down.

The Bad Taste of an Apology

When four women accused celebrity chef Mario Batali of sexual misconduct he never denied the accusations. Instead, the well-known celeb immediately issued an apology. He said, “I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt … much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses.” Despite this public display Batali failed to make real amends.

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In an email addressing the scandal the chef thought it appropriate to not only include an apology but a recipe for “Pizza Dough Cinnamon Rolls,” as well. Because that’s what you always want with a sincere apology, a business plug that goes back to work as usual.

A Tip About Tips

2017 was not the first year that saw sandal fall on the doorstep of Mario Batali. Three years before the sexual harassment accusations, so in 2014, Batali and Joseph Bastianich, his business partner, were accused of taking tips away from their employees. The allegation specified that they were not paid minimum wage and yet had to work over 40 hours a week. Under these working conditions sommeliers were also being paid from five percent of tips that were being taken away from other staff members.

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In the end Batali and Bastianich agreed to pay over $5 million most of which was then split between over 1,000 staff members they had employed. Staff had held positions at establishments including Babbo, Bar Jamon, and Casa Mono in New York City.

Recipe for How Not to Kill Your Wife

In 2010 there was a show called, Calorie Commando and Weighing In, hosted by Juan Carlos Cruz. In that same year, Cruz thought it might also be a good idea to kill his wife, but hiring homeless people. Funnily enough, Cruz never denied that he had planned the murder.

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Instead he pleaded no contest and is still serving time at the Correctional Institute in Tehachapi, California. The no contest plea kept Cruz from facing attempted murder charges. He still ended up with $2 million bail and a nine-year prison sentence.

Harassment Enters the Kitchen

Jeff Smith, known as the Frugal Gourmet in 1997, faced a lawsuit from seven men who claimed that the chef had sexually abused them as teenagers. There was probably an eight victim, but its been said he was paid for his silence. The suit was settled out of court, but the chef never recovered from the scandal.

 

Smith’s show was promptly canceled. His recipes even lost their luster, being called, “unreliable.” The ruined cook died in his sleep in 2004.

High on Life? High on Her Show?

A culinary character transported from Britain, Nigella Lawson was re-branded for American audiences as Nigella Feasts, for her premiere on The Food Network. Once married to Charles Saatchi, an art dealer, Lawson and Saatchi were accused of fraud, in 2013, by two of their former assistants.

 

The assistants also described how the couple used to take cocaine and prescription drugs. The fraud actually took place as part of Lawson’s deal to buy the assistants’ silence on her drug use. Lawson eventually admitted to the drug use, but was never actually put on trial.