The real reason why Bobby Flay quit Iron Chef

Bobby Flay shocked the world early in 2018 when he announced that he would be leaving the Iron Chef franchise. While there had been rumors swirling for months that Flay was parting ways with the show, the confirmation still came as a surprise. Flay was a mainstay on the Food Network cooking competition, and had appeared on it off and on for 17 years.

Understandably, fans were dying to know why Flay was leaving the show, but the chef didn't offer up many answers, leaving those who really want to know why Flay left Iron Chef to read between the lines. Was it a falling out with Food Network? Was he just tired of the show? To understand why Flay left Iron Chef, we need to look at his life and at his career. Only then can we truly understand his motives. Here's the real reason Bobby Flay quit Iron Chef.

He caused an on-air scandal

Iron Chef is filmed in front of a live audience. While episodes are edited before airing, segments can't be re-taped. That's why it was such a big deal when, during a taping of Iron Chef Showdown in the summer of 2017, Flay pulled off his apron mid-battle to reveal a shirt reading "THIS IS MY LAST IRON CHEF BATTLE EVER."

The story of Flay's apparent resignation broke in October of that year, before that season of Iron Chef even had an air date. According to Vanity Fair, the cameras had to keep rolling, but when they stopped Flay was told they wouldn't be able to cut around the shirt. Flay allegedly said "I know. That's the point."

Food Network refused to comment immediately after news of the incident broke, but inside sources verified that the move was completely unexpected and that Flay had been acting on his own without the approval or knowledge of the network.

Flay said it was just a stunt at first

People weren't too sure what to make of the announcement at first. Shortly after news of the incident broke, Flay backtracked, telling People it was just a joke. "This past summer when I was in production on Iron Chef Showdown, I wore a T-shirt to have a little fun during my last battle this season," he said. "In hindsight, it was probably not the best decision because it's just creating confusion."

Flay emphasized that he wasn't going anywhere, saying, "Food Network has been part of my family for over 20 years and will absolutely continue to be, and though there is a talented bench of Iron Chefs to tap, if I were asked, I'd be excited to return to Kitchen Stadium, whenever my schedule allows." Of course, we now know that Flay wasn't being quite truthful with that statement. Did the network put pressure on him to backtrack, or did it really start out as joke?

The show was "crushing" him

Just four months after Flay assured his fans that his controversial T-shirt was nothing more than an on-air stunt, he announced at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival that he really was leaving Iron Chef. The chef explained that he was burned out and needed a change of pace. "I've done over 100 Iron Chef competitions, and frankly they are exhausting," he said (via People). "They are exhausting physically but, even moreso, they are exhausting emotionally."

In a season of Iron Chef, Flay would do six to eight battles per week. He said,"It crushes me because it's 60 minutes of pure energy, creativity and execution. And so at some point I was like, 'I've been doing this for a long time and I want to go out on a high note.'"

Flay also explained why he wore the T-shirt. "I wanted everyone to know that this is my last Iron Chef battle," he said, adding that his method of quitting was "probably not the best idea."

His many TV appearances were wearing him out

Bobby Flay's 17 years as part of Iron Chef are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the chef's TV appearances. He started off as a guest on Food Network in 1994 when the channel was just getting its start. Since then, he has hosted more than a dozen shows on the network. Flay told StarChefs that when he first started cooking, it was "really a blue-collar profession" and that cooking on TV wasn't a thing that had occurred to him since cooking shows were far from common. Since then, the profession has transformed. "Chefs now have two, three, ten restaurants, they write books, they're on television, they do appearances, charity events, there is no way a chef can be a person who stands at a stove and cooks every single meal," he said.

It makes sense that after decades of juggling TV appearances, Flay might want to cut back and do what he loves to do best: cook.

His restaurants keep him busy

Flay is perhaps even more successful as a restaurateur than as a TV chef. He has launched more than two dozen restaurants throughout his career, and was just 26 years old when he opened his first restaurant, Mesa Grill, in 1991. He's balanced his restaurants and TV shows for years, but the schedule is demanding — not to mention exhausting. "The way that I juggle things, I kind of have everything going on the same track at once," he told Inc. "Each day, I go where I'm needed most, whether it's [my restaurant] Gato or my office or my production studio, Rock Shrimps. Sometimes, I'll be in 10 places in one day."

While leaving Iron Chef doesn't free up endless amounts of leisure time, it does give him a bit more room in his schedule to focus on his beloved restaurants, which he said are "the most important thing."

His tumultuous personal life likely took a toll

In addition to running his restaurants and sticking to a grueling filming schedule, Flay's love life, which has long been tabloid fodder, has also kept him busy. Flay has been married three times and his third marriage, to actress Stephanie March, turned pretty nasty toward the end, with Flay facing accusations of infidelity. He filed for divorce in 2015, leading to a bitter battle where the couple disputed the validity of a prenup, and Flay allegedly cancelled his ex's credit cards, preventing her from buying food and other basic necessities.

Not long before leaving Iron Chef, Flay announced that he was dating actress Helene York. The couple got together in 2016, and it's possible that the budding romance was another contributing factor in Flay's decision to retire from the show. Flay had been accused of prioritizing his career over his wife during his marriage to March, so cutting back on work could be his way of showing that he's trying to put his new relationship first.

He may have started trouble with the network

Bobby Flay swears that he and Food Network are on good terms, but he admitted that they weren't too pleased with how he left the show. The network had to black out Flay's t-shirt (which is an expensive process) and weren't prepared for his sudden departure from Iron Chef. "The network was not thrilled," he said at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (via People). "I thought it would be good TV. They didn't think of it that way, and that's obviously their prerogative."

We may never know just how angry Food Network execs really were over Flay's stunt, but it's safe to say that they were probably more upset than they let on. A short time after the taping, Flay failed to appear at Food Network's annual New York City Wine and Food Festival, although he was reportedly seen in the area. This indicates that, at least at that time, tensions may have been high between Flay and the network.

It wasn't his first on-air controversy

This wasn't the first time that Flay's on-air shenanigans caused an uproar on Iron Chef. In a 1999 episode, he went head to head with Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto and things didn't exactly go well. Toward the end of the episode, Flay declared victory without even waiting for the judges to evaluate his dish. Ecstatic with what he was sure was a win, Flay stood on his cutting board. Many people were taken aback by Flay's attitude, including Morimoto. "He's no chef," Morimoto told a reporter after the showdown. "He stood on the cutting board. In Japan, the cutting board is sacred to us."

This is another example of Flay trying to make good TV while not coming out in the best light. In spite of Flay being convinced that he was the winner, the judges disagreed. Morimoto ended up being named as the victor of the showdown.

He's been building up his cat's Instagram career

Could Nacho Flay be the next Food Network star? Flay's orange Maine Coon cat is a rising Instagram influencer, and the chef has had no small role in building up his feline friend's reputation. Nacho, whose first Instagram post was in July 2015, has more than 150K Instagram followers (and counting) and makes regular appearances on Flay's account. The adorable feline isn't just a publicity stunt, although his website is listed as Flay's restaurant Gato (the Spanish word for cat). Flay told CBS that he has a lifelong love for cats. "As an only child they were as close to my brothers as I had," he said. "I spent countless hours side by side with them and we kept each other company."

Having a furry best friend at home seems like a pretty compelling reason to want to cut back on a heavy work load. "He makes me a softer and more understanding person just by his presence and affection," said Flay.

There's still a chance he might appear on future episodes

While we won't see Flay as a regular on Iron Chef for the foreseeable future, the chef hasn't ruled out the possibility of coming back some day. When announcing at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival that he was leaving the show, People reported that he is keeping his future with Iron Chef open. Flay said that if Food Network asked him to return, he would "consider it," but that he believes the future of the show lies with the next generation of chefs.

"I think that Iron Chef is a great place for new and younger people to come on and start taking the reins," he said. "How many times do you want to watch Bobby Flay do Iron Chef?" Die-hard fans probably want to watch him on Iron Chef many more times, but they're going to have to look elsewhere to get their Flay fix — at least for now.

He's ready for the "next spark" in his career

So what does life after Iron Chef look like for Bobby Flay? The chef is only in his 50s, but most people would agree that he has accomplished enough for several lifetimes. His departure from Iron Chef is providing him with a well-deserved change of pace, although he isn't quite ready to retire yet. The chef will likely continue to make TV appearances and will keep running his restaurants. He'll also probably be spending time with his girlfriend as well as with his daughter, rising star Sophie Flay. Beyond that, though, and even Flay isn't sure what the future has in store for him.

"Honestly… I don't know," he told Today when asked what his next moves are. "I'm at an interesting place in my life. I need to take a pause. I'm probably not done yet, but I'm gonna look for the next spark. And when it hits me, I'll know it."