America's Most Successful Chefs of 2012

Ranking the nation's 25 top-earning chefs

Thomas Keller, America's 16th most successful chef of 2012.

These days, celebrity chefs are building empires, not kitchens. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the average annual salary for an executive chef at a stand-alone restaurant is approximately $71,000. That’s about how much Paula Deen charges for a single appearance, post type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

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To be completely honest, the reality for celebrity chefs (even those on "reality" shows, like Guy Fieri and Tom Colicchio, among others) is far from the reality of average chefs. The closest some celebrity chefs come to a frying pan is when they’re slapping their name on one.

These days, Japanese cuisine king Nobu Matsuhisa is far too busy opening hotels, Asian-fusion fanatic David Chang is expanding his empire to Canada and Australia, and Boston golden boy Todd English is selling his culinary services via Groupon and (maybe) starring in a so-called reality show of his own. These guys aren’t chefs, they’re entrepreneurs (yes, even Todd English). Let’s face it, being Wolfgang Puck isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life, no?

Read More: America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2012

Time passes, things change, deals get done, restaurants close, and endorsements end, so we’ve taken our celebrity chef catalog from our first foray into fortune forecasting and done some rearranging. But the big question still stands: How much do these folks make?

While there are some chefs climbing and descending the ladder, you’ll notice there are some mainstays from last year’s list. With his expanding English enterprises, Jamie Oliver made it clear he’s here to stay. Likewise, we’ve included a few citizens from other nations who have restaurants and TV shows in America (including French expats Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon, among others). In addition to chefs, this time around we’ve also chosen to include their non-cheffy culinary colleagues. You’re welcome, Rachael Ray.

Read More: 101 Best Restaurants in America for 2012

After our usual valiant but regrettably unsuccessful efforts to verify our economic estimates via various forms of extortion, we were left once more to scour the Internet in search of the financial truth.

So you can stop cursing us under your breath (or out loud), Gordon Ramsay.

Instead of infiltrating the IRS, we consulted the net worth rankings and estimates from accredited sources like Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, in addition to other trade publications. We noted news stories and perused the popular press for reputable rumors, each taken with a grain (or a pinch, if you will) of salt. And of course, there’s much to be said for good ole’ common sense. Thus, we bring you once more, an approximation of each chef’s personal income for 2012.

While we can’t give you exact numbers, we’re confident in our ordering. Our monetary measures range from eight figures to six figures, so rest assured we’re including a swath of chefs. And if you’re feeling disregarded or devalued, kindly send us your tax returns and we’ll adjust accordingly.