The 12 Biggest Food Star Meltdowns and PR Disasters
Chef Todd English has always been a bit of a “bad boy” chef, and he solidified his reputation in 2009, when he allegedly called bride-to-be Erica Wang on their supposed wedding day, told her it was off, then sent her a bill for half the cost of the wedding and told her to move out. English later countered that she “had hit and wounded him during a fight and tore up a prenup agreement,” and that he wishes her well. While the whole truth will never come out, it added to English’s image as maybe not the best guy to get involved with.
Remember Anne Thornton? She was the host of a show on Food Network called Dessert First, which ran from 2010 to 2012. The reason for its cancellation? The network discovered that she’d plagiarized recipes from none other than Martha Stewart and Ina Garten. She’s only made limited appearances on Food Network since.
In 2011, Ina Garten got a Make-a-Wish request from a leukemia-stricken child who wanted to cook with her. Garten turned him down twice, resulting in a major blow to her reputation. Garten’s spokesperson told ABCNews.com that she received hundreds of requests from organizations per month and doesn’t have time to do them all, and after apologizing, she called the boy and offered to cook with him after all; his family declined. While the entire event is in the rear-view mirror, it certainly affected her reputation.
Ramsay has a rough go of it in the late 2000s. First, there were allegations of a long-term affair, which he vehemently denied, and then in 2010, due to overexpansion, his restaurants were on the verge of bankruptcy, and several have closed since then. Thankfully, the allegations are behind him, most of his restaurants are doing well, and today his reputation is just as good (or bad, depending on your point of view) as they’ve always been.
Giada De Laurentiis
This Food Network queen had rumors swirling around her in 2011, when tabloid Star reported that she’d been having a relationship with musician John Mayer. De Laurentiis and Mayer both vehemently denied the rumors (she released a statement to USMagazine.com), and by simply ignoring it after that it died down.
Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich
In a class-action lawsuit against the restaurant company run by chef Mario Batali and restaurateur Joe Bastianich last year, 117 employees from their restaurants claimed that they were forced to work more than 40 hours per week for less than minimum wage and that they were skimming up to 5 percent of their tips on order to pay sommeliers. In January, Batali’s company was forced to fork over $5.25 million to the employees, leaving the chef’s otherwise spotless reputation tarnished.
The host of Dinner: Impossible long claimed that he’d cooked for both queens and Presidents, but in early 2008 it was revealed that he’d done no such thing. His show was cancelled by the Food Network, but after issuing an apology and letting it blow over he got his show back, and today he’s just as famous and successful as he was before the dust-up.
In March 2016, acclaimed Northern California chef Michael Chiarello (the chef-owner of Coqueta in San Francisco and Bottega in Yountville) was slammed with two separate lawsuits. The first, a sexual harassment lawsuit, alleged that Chiarello and other members of upper management at Coqueta permitted a "sexual hostile environment;" and the second accused Chiarello of witholding wages. “Mr. Chiarello is very upset by the allegations made by two former employees,” a statement from Chiarello's team read. “The allegations are not only upsetting to him, they are also against his core beliefs."
A couple months before he passed away last year, legendary Chicago chef Charlie Trotter ejected students who had been planning on showing their art at his shuttered restaurant, and reportedly locked them out of the premises. Also, in December of 2012, he ended an auction of the restaurant’s supplies early. He’d always had a mercurial reputation, but the cold-hearted tantrum sadly left a mark on his legacy.
In late 2001, Stewart sold $200,000 worth of stock in a pharmaceutical company called ImClone shortly before the FDA announced that it wasn’t approving one of its drugs, saving herself about $45,000. Her reason for selling the stock? She received a tip from someone inside the company, an illegal practice called insider trading. Her punishment was five months in prison, which could have destroyed her reputation, but she in fact bounced back right away, and has hosted several TV shows and released several books since then.
In June 2014, the host of Man v. Food, who recently lost about 70 pounds, posted a photo of himself on Instagram with the hashtag #thinspiration. It was clear that he didn’t know that it’s also a pro-anorexia hashtag, and when he was called out on it he went on the attack instead of simply apologizing, telling one to "Grab a razor blade and draw a bath. I doubt anyone will miss you," and hurling similar insults at others. He later apologized, but not before his new show Man Finds Food was postponed for more than a year and his reputation took a major hit.
In the most famous and disastrous celebrity chef PR nightmare ever, Paula Deen was embroiled in a major scandal in June 2013 after her admission that she used racial slurs in her restaurant leaked online. She handled it poorly to say the least, releasing a bizarre video “apology” and skipping out on a Today Show appearance, and then it really hit the fan. She was dropped by the Food Network, and just about every single one of the companies that own the products she endorsed fired her. Today, her restaurants are suffering, but she’s returning to the spotlight with a national tour and a “digital network.”