The Hidden Lives Of Celebrity Chefs

Foodies around the world know and love celebrity chefs like Ina Garten, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, and Ree Drummond. And these chefs stay busy. Not only do most of them publish cookbooks, but they're also known for popular TV shows on the Food Network and other channels. Many of them even run their own restaurants. These celebrity chefs are skilled, entertaining, and charismatic. Whether you're interested in new recipes, prefer high-stakes cooking competition shows, or just find comfort in watching people cook, there is something for everybody with these stars.

However, celebrity chefs are more than what they show to the public. After the cameras turn off, they all go home like the rest of us. All of these successful cooks have their own personal life, history, hobbies, and challenges. While you may follow their TV shows, books, and social media presence, there are still many things you don't know about your favorite chefs and some of these facts may shock you.

Ina Garten used to work for the White House

Today, Ina Garten, or the Barefoot Contessa, is a celebrity chef known for her Food Network show and many cookbooks. But, her career wasn't a straightforward one. In fact, you may be shocked to learn that before becoming a chef, Garten worked in the White House. While she and her husband were living in Washington, DC, Garten landed herself an entry job as an aide at the White House. Not one to settle, she worked her way up. Eventually, she earned an impressive position as a budget analyst working on nuclear energy policy during the Ford and Carter Administrations (via The Muse).

But, while it was an excellent career that anyone could be proud of, it wasn't Garten's dream. "I was sitting at my desk in Washington trying to figure out what I was going to do when I grew up and I came across an ad for this business for sale in Westhampton,” Garten recalled to The New York Times. ”I drove up that weekend, looked it over and said I'd take it.” She left her job at the White House to open a grocery store, which led to her opening a catering business, eventually building up to the impressive career she's known for. But none of that would have been possible without her taking the big risk of leaving her stable job.

Giada De Laurentiis got her big TV break by accident

For years, Giada De Laurentiis has been one of the most prominent chefs on Food Network. She's hosted beloved shows like "Everyday Italian," "Giada at Home," and "Giada Entertains." After more than two decades with Food Network, she recently left for a new deal with Amazon Studios, where she'll continue her successful career as a TV chef. However, becoming a TV personality was never part of De Laurentiis's plan.

Speaking to Food & Wine, the chef explained how she got her start in TV completely by accident. "I wasn't looking to get into TV. My family was in the movie business, so I was never interested in that world," De Laurentiis said. Her parents were both actors, and she's the granddaughter of film producer Dino De Laurentiis. Far from making her interested in TV, seeing her family in entertainment made her want nothing to do with it.

De Laurentiis had hoped to become a food stylist and was discovered while helping her friend style for a Food & Wine shoot. While helping on the shoot, she was asked to write an article about what her family eats. "An executive at the Food Network found the article and read the recipes, and called me up saying he was looking to do an Italian cooking show and asked if I had experience," De Laurentiis said. So she put together a trial video, and "Everyday Italian" became a reality.

Julia Child never planned to be a chef

Julia Child became one of the most well-known chefs in the world. Through her cookbooks and television show, Child shared the art of French cooking with her primarily American audience. But Child wasn't French herself. She grew up in Pasadena, California, in a family that didn't talk or care much about food. Before ever pursuing cooking, she worked as a typist for the Office of Strategic Services, an office that would later become the CIA (via Katie Couric Media)

Her husband, Paul Child, eventually ignited her passion for cooking. In an excerpt from her book, "My Life in France," shared by NPR, Child shared how her husband was the one who taught her about French food and wine. "He knew about dishes like moules marinières and boeuf bourguignon and canard à l'orange — things that seemed hopelessly exotic to my untrained ear and tongue," Julia wrote. " ... his enthusiasm about wine and food helped to shape my tastes, and his encouragement saw me through discouraging moments. I would never have had my career without Paul Child." She began trying to learn to cook because she thought it would be an essential skill for her as a newlywed on a limited budget. The first recipes that she made were ambitious but not very successful. After they moved to Paris, she truly developed her appreciation and understanding of cooking and was later able to share it with the world.

How fame took a toll on David Ruggerio

David Ruggerio was at the height of his career as the chef at Le Chantilly. He also had a cooking show on PBS and his book. But it all came crashing down around him when he was arrested for financial fraud. Two years after his arrest, the once acclaimed chef spoke candidly with The New York Times about the reasons for his crime and the stress of his celebrity.

Ruggerio explained that he started committing credit card fraud to keep his business afloat. His ex-business partner had left the restaurant with a huge tax debt. At the same time that his finances were spiraling, his career appeared to be on the rise. "The next thing I know I'm involved with five restaurants and I have hundreds of employees. And at the same time my partnership falls apart in a horrible breakup. Now I'm all by myself, I have five restaurants, I have a book coming out and a PBS series coming out and a 42-city tour," Ruggerio said.

At that point, he realized the state of the financials but felt too deep in everything to back out. While he now feels he should have come clean to the authorities right away, Ruggerio said at the time, his ego got in the way. He had the public's eyes on him and didn't want anyone to learn how wrong things had gone.

The reason Curtis Stone hires formerly incarcerated people at his restaurant

The Australian chef, Curtis Stone is recognized internationally. He's an author, TV show host, and the owner of popular Hollywood restaurants Maude and Gwen. You may know him from popular series like "Top Chef Masters," and "Take Home Chef."

He also has an interesting hiring policy at his restaurants that he explained to The Hollywood Reporter. At his LA restaurants, the celebrity chef is happy to hire those others would exclude. His restaurant offers positions to the formerly incarcerated, homeless, and those suffering from addiction. In fact, 15% of his workforce came through Chrysalis, an LA-based homeless organization that offers job-hunting services.

According to Stone, giving these people a second chance isn't just about doing the right thing. It's also been a great choice for his business because they're great workers. "These guys stick around," Stone said. "They appreciate the opportunity. Our experience has been a really positive one where they've committed to be loyal, long-standing employees." When hiring, Stone said he doesn't make passing a background check part of the criteria. "You may have gone to prison. That's all right with me," he said. With this mindset, Stone has offered stable jobs to many candidates passed up by other employers for their past.

Ree Drummond shares a fantasy football obsession with her family

Ree Drummond, aka Pioneer Woman, is known for the comforting family-style recipes she prepares in her ranch kitchen. The Drummond family has recently downsized from the large ranch house where Ree and her husband, Ladd, raised their family to a smaller home on the same property. Most of her kids are grown and out of the house, so they didn't need as large of a property.

But, even as the Drummond family grows up and moves out, they all share a passion that brings them back together in the Fall. Speaking to Parade, Ree joked, "If it weren't for fantasy football, I don't know what we'd talk about." Both Ree, her husband, and all her kids are football fanatics. For their family, Fall and football are inseparable. "Friday night football. College football. NFL football. Fantasy football ... Have I mentioned that we're a football family?" Ree said (via The Pioneer Woman).

Along with being a fan, she's also a supportive mother for her son Todd's football aspirations. After downsizing to their smaller house, Ree shared that she and her husband were focused on getting their youngest to college and helping him through football recruitment (via People). It's clear the love of the game runs in the family.

Gordon Ramsay uses MMA fighting to stay fit

Successful TV chef of "Hell's Kitchen," "Kitchen Nightmares," and more, Gordon Ramsay, has shared the interesting way he's been staying in shape. Rather than weights or traditional cardio, Ramsay has opted for a more combative form of exercise. In 2016, the acclaimed chef said he uses MMA, mixed martial arts, to stay fit. MMA is a full-contact combat sport incorporating many different fighting styles that Ramsay has been learning and practicing for years. "I have a coach in LA and it's something I love doing," the chef said. "I don't do it at home but I've been into a cage and worked closely with a coach and it's something I've worked heavily on in the last couple of years (via Daily Mail)."

Along with practicing MMA himself, Ramsay is a big UFC fan. He also stepped into the boxing ring with professional boxer Ricky Hatton before giving the fighter a one-on-one cooking lesson. Fans of Ramsay are used to his brash and, at times, aggressive manner on his cooking shows. He's faced many controversies, including being accused of physical violence. It could be that this intense combat sport is the perfect outlet for him. And although he doesn't fight competitively, it's clearly an enjoyable hobby for him.

Guy Fieri has officiated over 100 weddings

You probably know Guy Fieri for his Food Network shows, signature bleached hairstyle, and unforgettable catchphrase "Flavortown!" But, what you may not know about the celebrity chef is that he's been a wedding officiant. In 2015, the host of "Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives" officiated not just one but a massive 101 same-sex weddings in Florida. This was done through a mass ceremony held on Miami Beach to celebrate Florida lifting the ban on same-sex marriages. The 101 couple wedding was organized by another celebrity chef, Art Smith. Many other chefs who were in town for a food festival helped out. But Fieri was the actual officiant of the event (via Time).

Fieri has since said he's more than happy to officiate another wedding. After "Twilight" actress Kristin Stewart announced her engagement to her long-time girlfriend Dylan Meyer, Fieri said he'd love to officiate their wedding. Stewart had previously joked about the chef doing so, and while on the "Today Show," was surprised by a video of Fieri saying, "Hey Kristen, Guy Fieri here, and I heard through the Flavortown grapevine that you are looking for a sweet spikey-haired officiant for your wedding. I'm all in!" Fieri doubled down on the offer, reposting the video with a message saying, "Oh that offer is legit!"

There are two recipes that Rachael Ray says she can't get right

Through her show "30 Minute Meals" and her many cookbooks, Rachael Ray has made cooking less intimidating for her fans. But there are still some recipes that this professional cook can't get right. During a Q&A segment with her audience on "The Racheal Ray Show," she opened up about her biggest insecurity in the kitchen, saying she's always struggled with baking. She explained that she has "a complex" with baking after an attempt to make her mother's birthday cake as a child went awry. Ever since Ray said she hates baking.

But, while she still struggles with baking more than cooking, there are two dishes she truly CANNOT master: toast and coffee. While on "The Howard Stern Show," Ray admitted that despite her successful cooking show and many delicious recipes, she can never make good coffee and always burns toast. "I burn bread," she said regarding toast. "I set bread on fire constantly and consistently." Ray theorized that this is because she's good at keeping track of what's in front of her, but once the toast is in the toaster, she forgets about it. Speaking about her poor coffee making, the cook joked that her husband sabotages her. "Listen, I push the button, it works [or] it doesn't work," she said. "Every time he's not there, it doesn't work." Ray is proof even a great cook can have difficulties.

Jamie Oliver was inspired to help disadvantaged youth after struggling in school

British chef Jamie Oliver became well known for his show "The Naked Chef," named for Oliver's signature stripped-back and simple approach to cooking. He's also released several cookbooks and hosted other shows such as "Jamie's 30 Minute Meals," "Jamie At Home," and "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution." But things weren't always easy for Oliver. He had a hard time in school due to his dyslexia. Speaking to Made By Dyslexia, the cook talked about his experience in school, saying that he was happy but struggled with the academic expectations. He questioned how the education system is set up, saying, "If you're not very good at black and white and traditional academia ... therefore you have no value?"

Because of his school experience, Oliver became passionate about the different types of intelligence and believed everyone could thrive in the right environment. That's why when he opened his non-profit restaurant Fifteen, he wanted to hire disadvantaged youth to give them an opportunity to thrive.

Unfortunately, Oliver had to close Fifteen in 2019. The vision for the restaurant was to train 15 people for the restaurant industry each year. "It was very, very upsetting to have to close Fifteen," Oliver told The Times. Although the business had to close, the chef added that he still believed in the idea and hopes to bring back some version of it.

Bobby Flay has been a cat lover his whole life

Bobby Flay is a chef and restaurateur known for shows like "Iron Chef" and "Bobby Flay's Barbecue Addiction." But one thing you may not know about him is that he's a huge cat person. Flay went on CBS Sunday Morning to talk about his lifelong love of the household pet. He explained that, like him, his mother loved cats, and he grew up with several in the house. "As an only child, they were as close to my brothers as I had," Flay said.

But after moving out, Flay went for 30 years without a cat in his life because he thought he was too busy to take care of one. That all changed when he got a ginger Maine Coone, Nacho. The large cat breed is very affectionate, and Flay said he frequently takes Nacho with him when he travels. He eventually got Nacho a sibling, another cat named Stella.

His love of cats has also spawned a new business. Since bringing cats into his home, Flay was inspired to launch a line of cat food. On "The Drew Barrymore Show," the chef joked that it was Nacho who had the idea for the pet food. "[Nacho] whispered in my ear one day, 'Hey listen, dad, you feed everybody else... what about us?'" Flay said.

Alton Brown is a pilot

When Alton Brown isn't hosting a popular Food Network series, you may find the celebrity chef and TV personality taking to the sky. Brown first took flying lessons in college but soon got busy and didn't return to aviation for a long time. When he did take up flying again, it was more out of convenience than anything else. Brown frequently travels for his work as a chef and TV host, and having to bring all his equipment on commercial airlines was very taxing. "I'm not in this for the freedom," he told AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association). "It's not a hobby, it's a form of transport."

With that motivation, Brown trained for his private pilot license. Although he did this for practical reasons, it's clear how much he enjoys aviation. While speaking to the AOPA, he said, "I remember when we would go to observation decks just to watch the glory of flight ... What is more fantastic than that?"