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If you’re a longtime fan of the Food Network and its sister Cooking Channel, then some of its biggest stars can feel like old friends. But even if you’ve seen them host cooking shows, judge dishes on “Chopped” or travel around the country visiting funky restaurants for years, we bet that there’s still a lot you don’t know about these familiar faces.
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Manhattan-born Bobby Flay has been a mainstay on Food Network since 1999, when “Hot off the Grill with Bobby Flay” premiered. Since then, he’s appeared on nearly two dozen more Food Network shows, most recently “The Flay List,” in which he eats his way through New York with his daughter, Sophie. Flay is also really into horse racing. He owns several thoroughbred horses, many of whom have participated in Triple Crown races.
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Rachael Ray moved to New York City 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. She signed her first contract with Food Network in 2001, and since then she’s written 27 cookbooks, launch a syndicated daytime talk show and picked up three Daytime Emmys. Ray, who brought back a reinvented version of “30 Minute Meals” to Food Network in 2019, has a vinyl record collection of about 2,000 records, according to E! News. Ray also knows how to celebrate in style. According to People, she and her husband John Cusimano fly 100 friends and family members to Italy for their anniversary every year.
Giada De Laurentiis 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 Food Network. The next year, “Everyday Italian” premiered. She has two restaurants in Las Vegas, called Giada and Pronto by Giada, and another in Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino called GDL Italian by Giada.
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Ina Garten was a budget analyst for the federal government’s Office of Management and Budget during the Ford and Carter administrations, 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) that 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 and then led to Food Network offering her a show of her own. She told Vanity Fair that the two things she most dislikes are “passive-aggressive people and cilantro.”
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The King of Flavortown’s keen eye for food and business began in his early childhood when he set up a lucrative pretzel cart. Guy Fieri fell in love with food while studying in France, and after graduating college he managed several restaurants before opening his own in 1996. 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. Fieri was actually born Guy Ferry, but changed it back to the original Fieri (which translates to “proud” in Italian) in honor of his grandfather. He rolls the R when he pronounces it himself (It sounds almost like “Fieddi”), and his friends call him Guido. The pilot episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” which aired in 2007, took 21 days to film; it’s just one of many things we bet you didn’t know about this now-legendary show.
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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 Irvine shot a pilot with Marc Summers’ production company. He hosted a daytime talk show, “The Robert Irvine Show,” on The CW from 2016 to 2018, and he’s been very active in giving back to the military.
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This Oklahoma native grew up as an army brat, which gave her the opportunity to sample food from all over the world. Anderson herself 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 a co-hosting gig on a long-forgotten Food Network show called “Gotta Get It.” Since 2014, she’s co-hosted the network’s “The Kitchen.”
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Tyler Florence began working in restaurants at his native Greenville, South Carolina, at the age of 15, and he graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1991. He then moved to New York City, where he got jobs 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. The success of these restaurants led to appearances on Food Network’s “How to Boil Water,” and the following year he got his own show, “Food 911.” His San Francisco restaurant, Wayfare Tavern, is wildly successful, but not everything he touches turns to gold. A Napa partnership with rocker Sammy Hagar called Rotisserie & Wine shut down in 2012 after just one year in business.
The dapper “G.Z.,” a co-host of “The Kitchen” who also frequently guest judges on “Chopped,” began his culinary career apprenticing under chef Daniel Boulud at New York’s legendary Le Cirque, where he served as chef de cuisine from 1982 to 1987. During the 1990s, Zakarian served as executive chef at lauded New York restaurants including 44 and Patroon, and in the 2000s he began opening restaurants of his own after a brief stint at Alain Passard’s renowned L’Arpège in Paris. He was planning on opening a restaurant in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., but pulled out after Trump made disparaging comments about immigrants. A resulting lawsuit was settled out of court.
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Chicago native Jeff Mauro rose to fame as the winner of the seventh season of “Food Network Star,” and since then has hosted his own show, “Sandwich King” and co-hosts “The Kitchen.” He was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for “Sandwich King” but lost to Bobby Flay. Beyond his TV gigs, he also owns Chicago-based fast-casual sandwich concept Pork & Mindy’s.
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Katie Lee has lived quite the life. She was married to Billy Joel from 2004 to 2009, has published several cookbooks as well as a novel (2011’s “Groundswell,” about a divorcee who discovers surfing), and hosted a Cooking Channel show called ”Beach Bites” in 2016. Since 2014 she’s co-hosted “The Kitchen.” But she didn’t get her food TV start on Food Network. Lee hosted the first season of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” but was replaced by Padma Lakshmi in the second season
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Born Jeffrey Goldman in 1974 (his little brother pronounced his first name “Duffy,” hence the nickname), Duff Goldman grew up in McLean, Virginia, and Cape Cod. In college, he applied for a job at Baltimore restaurant Charleston (one of the 101 best restaurants in America), and was hired to bake cornbread and biscuits, which inspired him to open a cake shop, Charm City Cakes, in 2000. Today he lives in Los Angeles, and between gigs hosting shows including “Kids Baking Championship,” he plays bass in a band called Foigrock.
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Trisha Yearwood has hosted “Trisha’s Southern Kitchen” on Food Network since 2012, but she’s still best known as a country singer, having sold more than 15 million records worldwide. She’s been married to country legend Garth Brooks since 2005 (he proposed to her onstage), and has been active in Habitat for Humanity since 2006. From 1997 to 2002, she appeared in six episodes of the primetime drama “JAG.”
Bertinelli has been a TV fixture since 1975, when she was cast by producer Norman Lear in the role of Barbara Cooper on the show “One Day at a Time” at the age of 15. Since then, she’s appeared in more than two dozen TV movies and had runs on “Touched by an Angel” and TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland,” and was also married to rocker Eddie Van Halen from 1991 to 2007. On Food Network, she hosts Valerie’s Home Cooking (which won her two Daytime Emmy Awards in 2019), Kids Baking Championship and Family Food Showdown, and she earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012. She’s also written two health-focused books, “Losing It” and “Finding It.”
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Cleveland native Michael Symon is a Food Network fixture, but he’s also opened a variety of restaurants in downtown Cleveland and is credited with playing a huge role in helping to revive the city’s restaurant scene. But did you know his flagship restaurant, Lola, is named after his aunt? His big TV break came in 2007, when he won the first season of Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef”; that season also gave rise to fellow Food Network fixtures Chris Cosentino and Aarón Sánchez.
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Alex Guarnaschelli is the daughter of famed cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli, and her first cooking experience came in the form of watching her mother test recipes. After time cooking in New York, France and Los Angeles (including stints at New York’s Daniel, Los Angeles’ Patina and for chef Marc Forgione’s father, Larry), she opened her own New York restaurant, Butter, which is still going strong. She first appeared on Food Network on a 2007 episode of “Iron Chef America” (she lost to Cat Cora), and in 2008 she briefly hosted a Food Network show called “The Cooking Loft.”
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The son of a diplomat, Marc Murphy lived in Washington, Milan, Paris, Genoa and Rome before the age of 12. He rose up the ranks cooking in various kitchens in New York before opening his own restaurants there, including several locations each of Landmarc and Ditch Plains, all of which are now closed. He’s never hosted his own cooking show, and is best known for judging “Chopped.” He told The New York Times in 2006 that his least favorite foods are okra and coffee.
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Buddy Valastro is the owner of Hoboken, New Jersey’s Carlo’s Bakery, which opened in 1910 and was purchased by Valastro’s father in 1964. It would have remained a popular local bakery (and Valastro would have remained relatively unknown) if not for TLC’s reality series “Cake Boss,” which premiered in 2009 and almost instantly created lines around the block. The surprise hit spawned new locations of Carlo’s and made Buddy a household name, but he didn’t cross over from TLC to Food Network until 2016, as host of “Bakers vs. Fakers.”
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Aarón Sánchez is the son of Zarela Martinez, one of the country’s most influential Mexican chefs. He trained in New Orleans under renowned chef Paul Prudhomme, and after working at and running several restaurants in New York he opened Johnny Sanchez in New Orleans with chef John Besh in 2014. His first Food Network appearance was back in 2001 as co-host of a show called “Melting Pot,” but today he’s best known as a judge on “Chopped.” A couple fun facts about Sánchez? He’s covered nearly from head to toe in tattoos, and he has a twin brother named Rodrigo.
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Ann Marie “Ree” Drummond, otherwise known as the “Pioneer Woman,” started blogging in May 2006 about country living, and it wasn’t until a year later that she published her first recipe, a tutorial on how to cook a steak. The recipe format — step-by-step instructions, complete with 20 photos and plenty of attention to detail, caught on with readers, and by 2011 the site was attracting 23 million page views per month, according to The New Yorker. She’s authored 15 books, a mix of cookbooks and children’s books about a basset hound named Charlie. She made her Food Network debut on a 2010 episode of “Throwdown! With Bobby Flay,” and her own series, “The Pioneer Woman,” debuted the following year. Along with running her media empire, she also owns a restaurant, retail shop and eight-room hotel in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, that fans make pilgrimages to from across the country. And we bet that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things you didn’t know about the Pioneer Woman.
“Chopped” judge Scott Conant grew up in Waterbury, Connecticut, was trained at the Culinary Institute of America and worked his way through the New York ranks before opening his first restaurant, L’Impero, in 2002. It was met with great acclaim (even being named the country’s best new restaurant at the James Beard Awards), and his follow-up Alto, was also successful. He left both restaurants, however, in 2007, to open Scarpetta, which became best known for his simple spaghetti with tomato sauce — one of the most iconic dishes in America. He’s since left New York City, however, and now helms Mora in Phoenix and Cellaio Steak in Monticello, New York, under his own restaurant group, SC Restaurants.
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Marc Summers is best-known to Food Network viewers as host of the long-running series “Unwrapped,” but from 1986 to 1993 he became beloved to a whole generation as host of the Nickelodeon game show “Double Dare.” Summers was born Marc Berkowitz, but he changed his name to avoid association with the “Son of Sam” serial killer, David Berkowitz.
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Cedar Grove, New Jersey, native Amanda Freitag is best known for judging “Chopped,” and she also hosted “American Diner Revival,” which premiered on the network in 2015. After attending the Culinary Institute of America (at the suggestion of her home economics teacher), she worked in New York and Paris before making her Food Network debut on the second season of “The Next Iron Chef” (alongside chefs including Jose Garces, Dominique Crenn and Eric Greenspan). Freitag means “Friday” in German.
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Maneet Chauhan was born in Punjab, India, and moved to the U.S. to study at the Culinary Institute of America. She earned praise as the opening executive chef at a Chicago restaurant called Vermillion in 2003, and opened its New York offshoot in 2007. She also made her first Food Network appearance on “The Next Iron Chef,” in the third season alongside Marco Canora, Marc Forgione and Ming Tsai, and today she’s best-known as a judge on “Chopped.” She’s also chef-owner of Nashville’s Chauhan Ale and Masala House, which has been in business since 2014.
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Roger Mooking is best known to Food Network fans as the host of “Man Fire Food,” but to some he’s known as MC Mystic, a rapper who spent the ‘90s with hip hop band The Maximum Definitive and R&B trio Bass is Base. He’s also released two solo albums, in 2008 and 2013. Mooking was born in Trinidad and Tobago but grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. He’s married with four daughters, and runs a restaurant called Twist by Roger Mooking in the Toronto International Airport.
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Eagle-eyed viewers may have first spotted Anne Burrell as Mario Batali’s spiky-haired sous chef on “Iron Chef America,” and she too competed on “The Next Iron Chef.” She first met Batali while working as sous chef at Felidia, the New York restaurant of chef (and cooking show host) Lidia Bastianich, whose son, Joe, was Batali’s business partner. She’s hosted shows including “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef” and “Chef Wanted With Anne Burrell,” and has hosted “Worst Cooks in America” since 2010.
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The amiable host of the long-running “Chopped,” Ted Allen first rose to fame as one of the original “Fab Five” on Bravo’s hugely successful “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” which premiered in 2003 and ran for 100 episodes. Allen doesn’t actually have a cooking background; the Columbus, Ohio, native got his master’s in journalism at NYU before becoming a food writer for several Chicago publications and joining Esquire as a contributing editor in 1997. Before joining “Chopped,” he served as a guest judge on “Iron Chef America” and “Top Chef,” and he also hosted a Food Network show called “Food Detectives.”
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Lexington, Kentucky, native Damaris Phillips was born on the same day John Lennon was shot (December 8, 1980), and for that reason her parents decided to give her the middle name Lennon. She won the ninth season of “Food Network Star” in 2013, and her resulting show (called “Southern at Heart”) ran for six seasons. She’s been a familiar face on the network since then, popping up as a guest judge on shows including “Guy’s Grocery Games,” and hosting “The Bobby and Damaris Show” with Bobby Flay and “Southern and Hungry” with her brother-in-law, auto racing analyst Rutledge Wood.
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Alton Brown actually began his career as an actor and cinematographer, and was the director of photography on the music video for REM’s “The One I Love.” He lives in Atlanta with his wife, Elizabeth Ingram, and their adorable rescue Boston terrier, Scabigail, and he’s revived the show that made him famous, “Good Eats,” which premiered on Food Network in 1999 and is one of the best cooking shows of all time.
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