Alton, Giada, Rachael: Before They Were Food Network Stars (Slideshow)
Emeril Worked in a Portuguese bakery in Massachusetts as a teenager, after which he attended Johnson & Wales University. In 1982 he took over for Paul Prudhomme as head chef at New Orleans’ Commander’s Palace, which won him plenty of local renown and an invitation to guest-host a couple episodes of the Food Network show How to Boil Water. That led to him getting his own show, The Essence of Emeril, and the rest is history. Bam!
After dropping out of high school, Flay took a job making salads at New York’s Theater District standby Joe Allen. Allen took a shine to him and paid his tuition to the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center), and ended up working his way up the culinary ladder, for a time under the wing of Jonathan Waxman. He then became executive chef at New York’s Mesa Grill, where he caught the eye of Food Network executives, who offered him a gig as host of his first show, Hot Off the Grill with Bobby Flay.
Ray moved to New York in 1995, and worked at the candy counter at Macy’s as well as specialty food store Agata & Valentina before becoming a buyer for a gourmet shop in Albany. While there she taught a class on how to cook meals in less than 30 minutes, which led to a weekly segment on a local newscast, radio appearances, and a book. Food Network executives took notice, and she signed her first contract with the network in 2001.
The Georgia native actually began his career as a cinematographer, working on music videos including REM’s The One I Love. He was unhappy with the current state of cooking shows, so simply set out to make his own. He put himself through cooking school and made the pilot for Good Eats himself, which he shopped around; thankfully it was noticed by an eager Food Network staffer who convinced his superiors to pick the show up.
Giada was born in Rome and spent a lot of time in her youth in the restaurant owned by her grandfather, producer Dino De Laurentiis. She studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and after graduating worked in several high-profile Los Angeles restaurants, including Spago. In 2002, her photo was featured in an issue of Food & Wine Magazine alongside some of her food styling, which caught the attention of the network. The next year, Everyday Italian premiered.
Garten always had a love of cooking, but was never formally trained. She was actually a budget analyst for the Office of Management and Budget during the Ford and Carter Administration, and in her spare time she cooked for friends and “flipped” D.C. houses, turning a tidy profit. She left her government job in 1978 to purchase a specialty food store (which happened to be called Barefoot Contessa), which became incredibly successful. In 1985 she moved it to the Hamptons, and it attracted a client roster that included many celebrities. After the shop closed in 2004, Garten turned to writing cookbooks, which led to guest appearances on Martha Stewart’s cooking show, which then led the network to offer her a show of her own.
Fieri’s keen eye for food and business began in his early childhood, when he set up a lucrative pretzel cart. He fell in love with food while studying in France, and after graduating college he managed several restaurants before opening his own, Johnny Garlic’s, in Santa Rosa, Calif. in 1996. Three more locations followed, along with two locations of a second restaurant, Tex Wasabi’s. Fieri had previously submitted a grilling-show pilot to Food Network that didn’t make the cut, but as soon as the network saw his audition tape for season two of The Next Food Network Star, they knew they had a keeper on their hands.
Irvine enlisted in the Royal Navy at age 15, and received enough culinary training while there to score a job cooking aboard Her Majesty's Royal Yacht Britannia, which lasted 10 years. He then served as a restaurant consultant in Asia before becoming executive chef for several cruise ships. In 2007 he published his first cookbook, Mission: Cook!, and later that year his first show, Dinner: Impossible, was picked up by Food Network after shooting a pilot with Marc Summers’ production company.
This New Orleans native grew up as an army brat, giving her the opportunity to sample food all over the world. She was in the Air Force from 1993 to 1997, and until 2001 she hosted radio shows in several markets. In 2003 she launched her own catering company, Sunny's Delicious Dishes, and a 2005 guest spot on Emeril Live led to her very own show.
Florence began working in restaurants at his native Greenville, South Carolina at the age of 15, and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1991. He then moved to New York City, where he got a job working in kitchens including Charlie Palmer’s Aureole, and in 1998 he struck out on his own, becoming head chef at Cibo before opening Cafeteria in Chelsea. Their success led to appearances on the network’s How to Boil Water, and the following year he got his own show, Food 911.