The most successful chefs in America aren’t just chefs. They’re brands, and valuable ones at that. Using all the available data, we ranked the top 25 chefs and other food professionals according to their estimated net worth, and the numbers for some of these chefs may astound you.
According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the average annual salary of an executive chef is about $71,000, 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. The most successful chefs in America aren't just chefs — they're entrepreneurs, and they're brands. Sometimes they're 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 net worth number 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 cooked — or had 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 our ranking 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 our own previous rankings. We noted news stories and perused the popular press for reputable rumors, each taken with a grain of salt. And of course, there’s much to be said for 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 — you know where to send those tax returns that we couldn't get from the guy at the IRS.
#25 Paul Prudhomme: $5 million
He may currently have only one restaurant, the celebrated K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans, but this Cajun legend, who first gained fame as executive chef at Commander’s Palace, has had customers literally lining up outside for years. His other enterprises include nine cookbooks, a series of cooking shows for New Orleans public television, and the seasoning company he launched in 1983. Magic Seasoning Blends has grown to fill a 125,000-square-foot plant that ships the chef’s dry spice blends, rubs, bottled sauces, and marinades to all 50 states and to 30 countries around the world, and it posts something in the neighborhood of $10 million in revenues each year.
#24 Ina Garten: $5.8 million
From humble beginnings as the proprietor of an East Hampton specialty food store, the Barefoot Contessa now runs an empire that’s worth more than $40 million. She’s published nine cookbooks (she probably sells more of them than anyone else in America right now), hosts a popular series on Food Network, and markets a line of Barefoot Contessa-branded specialty foods.
Additional reporting by Kristen Oliveri and Colman Andrews.