Promising Chefs Who Met Tragic Fates

Being a chef is no easy way of life — it's stressful, the hours are long and, unless you really hit it big, it's pretty much a thankless job. That doesn't mean, however, that it's not often incredibly rewarding, and to go far in the culinary field is to go very, very far indeed. Where many young and fledgling chefs go on to great things, however, some — for whatever dreadful reason — never quite make it.

Chefs, of course, are human, and to be human means to perpetually risk the inevitable. It's a deeply unfortunate fact that some in the field who appeared to promise greatness are struck down in their prime — by illness, by the malice of others or even simply by freak chance. Some of these chefs might have been the best. Others were even on the cusp of true success. All of them, however, share one thing in common: their tragic fates.

Matt Campbell

Matt Campbell was a young British chef who hailed from the Lake District. At the age of 20, he left the U.K. to work in the French Alps, then spent the next eight years traveling and cooking across Europe. He hit the celeb chef scene in 2017 when he appeared on the BBC's MasterChef: The Professionals, a show on which he enjoyed as much success as he had elsewhere in his career. Over the course of 2018, he intended to announce a new roadshow, film a TV pilot, write a cookbook and begin his first start-up.

This, sadly, would never happen. In April 2018, Campbell ran the London Marathon for the Brathay Trust, a Cumbria-based charity which trains and teaches young adults. He collapsed after 22 miles, received medical treatment at the scene but later died in hospital. At time of writing, his exact cause of death is unknown. Since his death, he has raised over £91,000 for the Brathay Trust.

Darren Simpson

At only 21 years old, Darren Simpson made his mark on the international culinary scene after being named Britain's Young Chef of the Year — the youngest ever. He had worked in restaurants across London, Ireland and Australia, and appeared multiple times on Australian television, on such shows as My Restaurant Rules, Live This and Ready Steady Cook. His restaurants, which included Aqua Luna Bar and Restaurant and La Sala in Sydney, were critically-acclaimed and award-winning. In 2011, he added to his already-admirable collection of gourmet gongs after winning the Australian Hotels Association's Chef of the Year award.

Only six years later, Simpson died near his home in Byron Bay. The cause of death remained unconfirmed, but he had recently stayed at a clinic which specialized in treating alcohol addiction. At the time of his death, Australia's LifeStyle Channel were planning to broadcast a series of "The Best in Australia" starring Simpson.

Cristie Codd

Cristie Codd was a North Carolina-based chef who had found her fame after an appearance on the eighth season of Food Network Star. She and her husband, Joseph Codd, were expecting a baby and had planned to open a cafe in their hometown of Leicester. In 2015, however, both of them disappeared. Police found no trace of the couple despite appeals to the community. In March of 2015, a man was arrested for the murder of Cristie, Joseph and their unborn child. According to Robert Jason Owens, who elucidated on the killings in order to avoid the death penalty, Owens accidentally ran over both Cristie and Joseph and burned their bodies out of fear of prison. Owens is also linked to the disappearance of an 18-year-old years before.

Buncombe's District Attorney called the deaths of the Owens "among the most disturbing killings" in the county's history. Owens will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

Kevin Boyle

Kevin Boyle was a British chef who began his career as an apprentice at Fifteen, one of Jamie Oliver's most famous restaurants. He was trained by Oliver on the Channel 4 series Jamie's Kitchen in 2002 and only went from strength to strength from there, working at a variety of restaurants across the UK and cooking for such personalities as the Prince of Wales and Tony Blair. In 2011, however, Boyle was reported missing from his home in south London. In January of 2012, his body was found in the back garden of a house elsewhere in the city.

Boyle, who, at the time of his disappearance was dreaming of beginning his own restaurant, was known to have a history of depression. Fears of suicide were later confirmed when it was revealed that he had taken his own life with a suicide kit he had ordered off the internet. Oliver himself told the media that he had been proud to count Boyle as a friend and commended him for his work supporting Fifteen and the apprentice scheme which Boyle himself had benefited from.

Anthony Sedlak

Anthony Sedlak was another regular on the Food Network, appearing on such shows as Family Cook Off and hosting The Main, and writing a cookbook of the same name, which became a national bestseller. He began his career in his teens after a four-year apprenticeship in Vancouver before working for two years at the Michelin-rated La Trompette in London. At 23, he won a silver medal at the World Junior Chef Challenge and had just begun to break into the television cooking scene when he died.

In 2012, Sedlak was found dead in his apartment in North Vancouver. What was first described as an "undiagnosed medical condition" was later revealed to be an intentional overdose of cocaine and oxycodone. He was 29 years old. According to the Globe and Mail, Sedlak was known for his love of people as much as he was for his cooking. He was mourned by friends, family and fans alike — the latter of whom he often advised, befriended and kept in touch with.

Nathan Laity

The death of Nathan Laity is a tragic reminder of the pressures that chefs — especially young, green chefs — face in their everyday lives. Laity was a young chef from Cornwall who had moved to London in order to pursue his dream of cooking at some of the country's best restaurants. Laity died on Mother's Day 2010 from a bout of tonsillitis after working 14-hour days for 27 days with no breaks. According to his family he was left exhausted with an immune system incapable of combating the illness.

While the true cause of his death is largely unknown, questions were raised in the aftermath regarding the approach to working conditions held by his employer, the Tate Modern, instigating a wider conversation about the physical pressures placed on chefs and other young professionals. Tales of chefs being overworked (and bullied, too) are rife in the industry, with Raymond Blanc criticizing the profession's "crazy macho culture" which encourages the abuse and suffering of chefs. Nathan Laity, it seems, was a victim of that environment.

Ross Burden

Ross Burden began his career as a male model but soon pivoted to cooking, after finding himself, to his own surprise, in the finals of the BBC series MasterChef. He became a regular host on Ready Steady Cook (and a number of other shows), firmly establishing himself as a British household name and accumulating a veritable horde of fans. His celebrity status led him down other routes, too, including wildlife documentaries, game shows and charity work. In 2014, however, it was reported that Burden had died of cancer at the age of 45.

The story changed later, however, when it was revealed that Burden (who was receiving treatment for leukemia) had actually contracted Legionnaires' disease from an infected water supply at a hospital in his homeland of New Zealand. The hospital had been filling up his nebulizer with unsterile tap water, which Burden's family believed was the source of the infection.

Homaro Cantu

Homaro Cantu was a Chicago chef who had already stepped into the realms of greatness. His Michelin-starred restaurant Moto was critically-acclaimed and popular and he'd opened a smaller cafe, Berrista, on the side. Prior to his death, he was in preparations to open a brewery and publish his second cookbook. He was also an avid charity worker and an inventor who dreamed of collaborating with Elon Musk's space program.

In 2015, however, this all came to an end when Cantu hanged himself in the warehouse that he had set aside to use as his new brewery. His death puzzled his friends, relatives and the media, with questions raised about the stresses of the cooking profession as well as the losses Cantu had taken in his private life — including the death of his father and the closure of one of his restaurants. He was remembered most of all, though, for his "rampant generosity" and "explosive creativity."

Scott McLeod

Scott McLeod was a Philadelphia-based chef who had worked in the city for over a decade, finding himself the recipient of several awards and no small amount of acclaim while working at a number of restaurants, which included the Denim Lounge, Bridget Foy's, Azafran, Pasion, Cuba Libre and Alma de Cuba. His career began after taking a kitchen job in Asheville, North Carolina, after which he attended L'Academie de Cuisine in Washington, D.C.

In 2015, McLeod was found unconscious by fellow staff members in the locked bathroom of Alma de Cuba during the busy dinner service. He was rushed to a hospital before being pronounced dead shortly later. Later reports confirmed that, according to the medical examiner's office, McLeod had died of a natural causes which were attributed to heart disease. He was known to be a friendly, versatile chef who was as personally amiable as he was critically and commercially successful.

Nick Gill

Nick Gill wasn't just renowned for his relationship with legendary restaurant critic A.A. Gill (they're brothers) — he was also himself a talented and well-known chef. He had been cooking professionally since before the '80s got going, taking up a position at a country house hotel in Leicestershire, where he made his name. He later worked at hotels, restaurants and pubs across England before setting up his own critically-acclaimed restaurant in Norfolk.

In 1998, however, Gill vanished off the face of the Earth. His disappearance was elaborated on in his brother's memoir: when Nick last saw him, he told him that he was "going away", possibly to France, and wasn't planning on returning. He hasn't been seen (or heard of) since. Until his own death in 2016, A.A. Gill had been waiting for a call from his brother and searched the streets for him whenever he visited a new city.