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The most successful chefs in America aren’t just chefs. They’re brands, and extremely valuable ones at that. Using all the data available to us, we ranked the top 25 chefs and other food professionals according to their estimated net worth, and the numbers for some of these chefs are pretty shocking.
According to Salary.com, the average annual salary of an executive chef in this country is about $62,000, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. But becoming a bona fide celebrity chef opens up many new doors, as well as the opportunity to rake in the big bucks. Not many celebrity chefs can be found working the line in their own kitchens anymore; they're far too busy thinking up and launching new restaurants (and even, like Nobu Matsuhisa, hotels), writing cookbooks, developing (or lending their names to) products of various kinds, and, of course, appearing on TV. They're entrepreneurs, public relations experts, sometimes virtually whole industries. Being Wolfgang Puck, Tom Colicchio, or José Andrés isn't just a job — it's a way of life.
Even though there’s no way to pin an exact individual net worth number (as opposed to just the value of their empires) on celebrity chefs, we thought it might be fun to try. In drawing up the list of food folks to consider, we didn’t limit it strictly to chefs who actually cook — or have cooked — in restaurant kitchens. We included people who work with food on a daily basis, or rose to fame working with food, either in a kitchen or on television. We also included chefs who are citizens of other countries but have restaurants and/or TV shows in America, even though the bulk of their business may be elsewhere.
Since infiltrating the IRS to assemble this list was, unfortunately, out of the question, we consulted net worth rankings and estimates from credible sources like Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, in addition to other trade publications and online sources. We noted news stories and perused the popular press for reputable rumors, each taken with a grain of salt. And of course, we applied a healthy dose of good old common sense.
While the exact numbers remain elusive (we admit that the figures are merely in the ballpark), we’re confident in our ordering. And if you're on the list and think we've put you in the wrong position — or if you're not on the list but think you should be — then you know where to send those tax returns.
Additional reporting by Colman Andrews.