Charismatic and creative chefs have impacted culture since the 1880s, when France’s Antoine Carme rose to stardom as chef for Napoleon and European royalty. Less than a century later, American Julia Child recreated the world’s understanding of French Cuisine through her cookbooks and television appearances, paving the way for a slew of celebrity chefs in the 1990s and into the next century.
Celebrity chefs earned their fame by starting with culinary school degrees or cooking in their parents’ kitchens. Some supplement culinary school or formal culinary education with natural talent and magnetic personalities to earn public success. Celebrity chefs and their cooking wisdom are available everywhere including a television network devoted entirely to culinary arts and shelves of cookbooks at the local bookstore.
Julia Child: American Chef Turns French
Julia Child, born in 1912 in Pasadena, California, got her start in cooking in the late 1940s after a career in advertising and public relations. Already a graduate of Smith College, she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu culinary school when her husband was assigned a job in Paris. She later opened a cooking school, L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes, and published the famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking with two colleagues from Le Cordon Bleu. Child became one of American’s first celebrity chefs and enjoyed a long career of television appearances, teaching, and writing.
Rocco DiSpirito: Reality Cooking
New York’s Rocco DiSpirito is one of celebrity chefdom’s best educated stars. He enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America at age 16, where he earned a culinary school degree with honors. He later studied at the Jardin de Cygne in Paris, and spent two years studying regional French food and wine. Rocco rounded out his culinary education with a business degree from Boston University. DiSpirito is known for his fusion of French and Asian styles, and he has opened several popular restaurants. His television credits include the reality show The Restaurant and selling Rocco Cookware on QVC.
Bobby Flay: Natural Culinary Talent
Bobby Flay began his culinary career at age 17, when he was hired at Joe Allen’s restaurant in Manhattan. Allen was so impressed with Flay’s cooking abilities that he paid for Flay’s culinary education at the French Culinary Institute. After receiving his culinary school degree, Flay became famous for his unique blends of Spanish and American cuisines. Flay owns four restaurants, including Bolo in New York, and appears regularly on the Food Network and the Early Show on CBS.
Emeril Lagasse: Kickin’ Cooking up a Notch
Known for popularizing Cajun and Creole cooking, Emeril Lagasse first learned about cooking from his mother as a young boy in Massachusetts. He received his culinary school degree from Johnson and Wales University, and worked as head chef at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans before opening his own restaurants there and in other U.S. cities. He also is a famous TV personality, getting his start in 1993 on the Food Network. The word “bam” has become synonymous with his name.
Nigella Lawson: Writing Her Culinary Career
Unlike most celebrity chefs, Nigella Lawson began her culinary career as a food writer. She earned a language degree from Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford, England and got a job writing a restaurant column for Spectator. She now writes for several major culinary publications, including Gourmet and Bon Appetit, has published a number of bestselling cookbooks based on her motto, “To achieve maximum pleasure through minimum effort.” Today, she hosts several successful TV cooking shows such as Nigella Bites.
Jamie Oliver: Life-Long (and Naked) Chef
Jamie Oliver began his culinary training at age eight in his parents’ popular pub in England. He worked on his culinary education at Westminster Catering College through age sixteen, and he got his celebrity break when he appeared on a documentary about the British caf in which he was working. Television producers called him in the next morning, and he began starring in the enormously successful Naked Chef. He has since written several Naked Chef books, taken his live cooking show on the road, and opened a popular not-for-profit restaurant. Jamie’s dedication to public service and to making culinary education accessible has won him many fans.
Wolfgang Puck: Charismatic Culinary Talent
Originally from Austria, Wolfgang Puck was one of the first super chefs to establish a cooking empire. His interest in cooking was first sparked by his mother, a hotel chef. Puck received his culinary education as an apprentice in the master kitchens of top French restaurants in Europe. His charismatic personality and cooking talent led to television appearances, popular cookbooks, and wildly successful business ventures. Spago, his famous Los Angeles-based restaurant, revolutionized California pizza with its menu of gourmet toppings.
Gordon Ramsay: Villain Chef or Hero Helper?
England’s Gordon Ramsay has become one of the most notorious villains of celebrity chefdom, known for both his outstanding cooking skills and abrasive personality. His soccer career was cut short with an injury at age fifteen. He began cooking four years later, working with top chefs in London and Paris before becoming head chef at Aubergine in 1993. Ramsay’s infamy has spread to the U.S. in his reality television show Hell’s Kitchen. His culinary career continues to flourish with new restaurants and another television series where he provides on-the-spot culinary education to struggling restaurant owners.
Rachael Ray: Much More Than 30 Minutes of Fame
Culinary entrepreneur Rachel Ray began cooking at her mother’s side as a toddler. Her family owned and worked in restaurants in the northeastern United States. Ray learned about gourmet foods working at the candy counter and the fresh food department at Macy’s. She opened a prestigious gourmet food market in New York but left to pursue a culinary career in the Adirondacks. She managed restaurants and taught her “30-Minute Meals” cooking classes, which catapulted her to fame when she was featured on the local news. Ray now is the author of New York Times bestselling cookbooks, publishes her own magazine, and appears regularly on television.
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“Bobby Flay,” Star Chefs
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“Nigella Lawson,” Style Network
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