The Real Reason These Celebrity Chefs Disappeared

Celebrity chefs are ever-present entities in today's entertainment world, thanks to the unprecedentedly vast exposure of the professional culinary scene. Assorted cooking shows and competitions constantly highlight the best and brightest talent in the professional kitchens, and the chefs themselves are often media-savvy enough to recognize that increasing fame tends to mean increased business opportunities.

Still, at the end of the day, celebrity chefs are exactly what the term implies: celebrities. As such, it's not uncommon to see them come and go. Just as the cooking world has mainstays like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, it also has its one-hit wonders and people whose names you just stop hearing, without necessarily even noticing the spotlight moving away from them.

The thing is, sometimes there's more to the story of a former celebrity chef than "they're not so famous anymore." Sometimes, the reason a chef disappeared from the limelight is that they quite literally disappeared — either willingly or very much against their wishes. Some of the stories you're about to hear are tragic. Others are happy, while others still are downright horrifying. Still, they're all very much worth telling. Let's take a look at the real reason these celebrity chefs disappeared. 

Emeril Lagasse sold his brand to Martha Stewart

There's a reason you don't hear from Emeril Lagasse all that much anymore. Per Biography, the chef rose to fame in the 1990s, when a series of successful restaurants and books — and the popular Food Network show "Essence of Emeril" — turned him into a household name. Lagasse was a seemingly unbeatable pop culture fixture until Food Network did the unthinkable and kicked him down a notch in 2007 (per TV Series Finale). The cancellation of the chef's other popular show, "Emeril Live," was hardly a knockout punch, but by mid-2010s, even his business empire started to feel the heat, courtesy of the recession (via The Week). "I have nowhere to go, really — other than broke," Lagasse noted in 2015. 

In 2008, Lagasse sold his entire brand — that is, everything Emeril-themed, save for his restaurants — to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for a total sum of $50 million, according to The Seattle Times. The move was not unlike the current trend of rock stars selling their song catalogs (per CNBC), and while it obviously gave Lagasse plenty of financial security, it's possible that it may have complicated his more visible future ventures, seeing as his brand isn't his anymore. 

Lagasse hasn't been entirely out of view since the deal — a quick look at his IMDb page reveals a few sporadic TV appearances in guest judge roles, interviews, and suchlike. Still, his days in the ever-present limelight are likely done. 

Cristie Schoen Codd met a tragic fate

Unfortunately, some celebrity chefs disappear because the absolute worst thing happened to them. As The Washington Post reports, Cristie Schoen Codd was a contestant on Season 8 of Food Network's "Food Network Star," and had high hopes for her future in the industry. Unfortunately, her dreams were cut short in 2015, when she and her husband, Joseph, were reported missing (via CBS News).   

It eventually transpired that the reason for the disappearance was just about as tragic as it gets. In 2017, a man called Robert Jason Owens admitted to accidentally killing the Codds when they were trying to help him. According to Owens, he accidentally ran them over as they were trying to help him free his stuck car (via ABC 13 News). Both Codds and their unborn child died. In an effort to cover up his tracks, Owens then dismembered and burned their remains, and tried to set the whole thing up as a robbery. 

Per ABC 13 News, the killer received a sentence of 50-plus-years, but interestingly, the story might not be over quite yet. Authorities have also connected Owens to the strange disappearance of his friend, Zebb Quinn, in 2000. In 2020, he was indicted with first-degree murder in the Quinn case. 

Marco Pierre White disliked fame and became reclusive

Proto-celebrity chef and Gordon Ramsay's mentor Marco Pierre White went on to both feud with his famous protégé and hate his early fame (per the Guardian). The photos in White's iconic 1990 cookbook, "White Heat," made him look like a rock star, and pretty much invented the concept of the rude-and-cool celebrity chef (via the New York Times). The fact that back in the day, he was the youngest three-Michelin-star chef around didn't exactly hurt his street cred, either.

 By 2015, though, White was done with ... pretty much everything about fame, really. "When I see those pictures [in 'White Heat'], I just see that I was very unhappy and in great pain," the chef said. "That's the only emotional impact it has on me today. Work was a painkiller; it was where I hid. I was very young, and all of a sudden one day the world descended on me. Today, I turn down 90% of interviews. It doesn't do anything for me." According to Gentleman's Journal (via the Daily Mail), in 2021 he seems content in his role as a reclusive elder statesman, occasionally emerging from his English countryside life in Wiltshire to criticize the Michelin stars or whatnot. While he still has food-adjacent business interests, and makes some very rare TV appearances (via IMDb), it seems that the chef is happy with his self-imposed exile from the "celebrity" part of the gig. 

Australia's first celebrity chef literally disappeared

Australians of a certain age are quite likely more than familiar with the name Willi Koeppen. As The Age tells us, Koeppen was a major player in the country's restaurant scene in the 1950s, with multiple cool chef gigs, and even an early celebrity chef-style TV show. In 1958, Koeppen and his wife, Karin, struck out on their own, and the successful German-style Cuckoo Restaurant was born. Everything seemed right in the world ... until one fateful night in 1976, that is. 

On February 28, 1976, an inebriated Koeppen made a massive scene at the Cuckoo, firing employees and threatening to harm himself. This was a culmination of a long period of personal troubles, which had sent the chef spiraling in alcohol abuse, and his marriage on the rocks. It was also the last time anyone saw him.

To this day, no one knows what happened to Willi Koeppen. Some think he left the restaurant and took his own life. Others claim that he was murdered by serial killer Alex Tsakmakis, or by a man who was infatuated with a woman Koeppen was seeing. "Something happened that night. I don't think he took off or left us because he loved his children, he did," Koeppen's daughter and current manager of the Cuckoo, Daniela Koeppen Rosenfeld, has said.

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Mario Batali's misconduct reports and investigations

Mario Batali has been a constant in the celebrity chef scene ever since Food Network's "Molto Mario" started airing in 1996 (per Encyclopedia Britannica). As one of the most immediately recognizable famous chefs around, he reaped fame and glory for decades ... until the #MeToo movement caught up with him. 

In 2017, Eater reported that Batali has a history of "inappropriate touching" that can be traced at least 20 years back, and that four women had made sexual misconduct allegations against the chef. Per Chicago Tribune, this started a chain of events that shut Batali out of the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, slapped him with criminal charges, and led to many other women coming forward with their unsavory experiences. In other words, Molto Mario isn't about to return in a hurry. His legacy is taking a hit after hit, too. Most recently, Grub Street reported in April 2021 that his former company's legendary Del Posto restaurant has been purchased by a group that includes restaurateur Jeff Katz, and will be turned into a set of three eateries that, presumably, have as little to do with Batali as humanly possible. 

As befits Batali's current reputation within the industry, Katz announced the development with a visual of burning sage in the premises — a tradition that supposedly cleanses a space of negative energy (via Healthline). 

Nick Gill announced his disappearance and was never heard from again

You may have heard of the controversial food critic and writer AA Gill (pictured), but his Michelin star-winning younger brother, Nick, may be another matter (via the Guardian). According to the Daily Mail, Nick Gill was a full-on star chef in the making. To put his sheer talent in context, Gordon Ramsay considers him an inspiration. 

"After the Michelin star, he became very influential,' Tim Hart, owner of the Hambleton Hall establishment where Gill worked, has said. "It was a time when lots of newspapers were launching color supplements, and his food was so decorative that they all came to interview him; we got a huge amount of publicity."

Unfortunately, early success was no boon for Gill, who went on to suffer a series of dramatic personal and professional issues. His life and finances imploded, and after a short stint in prison in 1995, he refused to return to the kitchen. In 1998 (or 1999, depending on the source you believe), he suddenly told his brother: "I'm having a miserable time. I'm going to disappear for a bit." He then did just that, and his family never saw him again. It's still unclear what happened to him, though understandably, many fear the worst. 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The original judges of MasterChef Australia suddenly left the show

"MasterChef Australia" started its 13th Series in 2021, but the judges who have been dealing with the latest batch of competitors haven't been in the game for quite that long. In fact, it's the sophomore season for the team of Melissa Leong, Jock Zonfrillo, and Andy Allen. The reason the show replaced all of its judges between seasons 11 and 12 is considered one of the biggest scandals to hit "MasterChef."

The original judges of the show — chefs George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan (pictured above), along with food critic Matt Preston — abruptly left the show in 2019, amidst a wage underpayment scandal involving Calombaris' restaurants (per the Guardian). However, that particular situation apparently didn't factor in the judges' decision to walk. Instead, the stated reason is that negotiations fell through. "We've been in negotiation with the three guys for a number of months, so this is not about George," a Network 10 representative commented. "The reality is that we couldn't meet the demands of the three judges." So, at least officially, they did leave because of an underpayment issue — just not the one you might have assumed. 

Mehigan and Preston have since resurfaced in a new show called "Plate of Origin." Calombaris, on the other hand, has been less fortunate. A major tourism campaign severed ties with him after the scandal broke, and his restaurant empire went effectively bankrupt in 2020 (via ABC News Australia).

Jonathan Gushue scored a dream job on a remote island

Canadian celebrity chef Jonathan Gushue holds the distinction of disappearing twice. According to NUVO Magazine, Gushue made his name at Langdon Hall Country House Hotel in Cambridge, Ontario — but while his food was highly esteemed, the biggest headlines he made were for a very different reason (per The Star). On December 29, 2012, he left Langdon Hall, and wasn't found until January 10, 2013 ... in an entirely different part of Canada. The now sober Gushue has stated that addiction was the reason for the incident. 

Fortunately, Gushue's second "disappearance" was a much healthier one. According to Vacay, in 2018 he decided to leave Ontario behind, and relocated to Newfoundland & Labrador to take a job as the executive chef of Fogo Island Inn — a handsome haute cuisine inn on its namesake island. It's a strange, remote place for a celebrity chef to work his craft, but according to Gushue, the gig is a dream come true, and the area's atmosphere and unique ingredients offer all sorts of possibilities. "It's more than [a dream job]," he said. "This is an opportunity for me to spread my culinary wings. It's more than making great meals and winning an award."

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Jeremiah Tower voluntarily disappeared in Mexico

Jeremiah Tower is the kind of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has made a documentary about (via Eater). An old-schooler who started in the game in the 1970s, Tower can be considered an absolute pioneer of his profession, and one of the most influential chefs behind the California Cuisine style (per GQ). 

Despite his peerless skills and influence, one of the best-known things about Tower is the time when he walked away from cooking in the 1990s, opting to move to Mexico and disappear from the limelight, seemingly after growing wary of big cities. "I came to New York and did a couple of cookbooks and some PBS shows, and then, 9/11," Tower has said. "There had already been the earthquake [in San Francisco in 1989] and then terrorists, so I thought I had better go someplace where there are no hurricanes or earthquakes or terrorists, so I went to Mexico, to the beach. But part of it was ... I want to be alone, I want to be left alone, as Greta Garbo truly said."

And that, as they say, was that. Tower hasn't really reemerged since, though he has made a small handful of TV appearances (via IMDb), and in 2015, he spent a very brief stint at the Tavern on the Green in New York City (via New York Times), to less than enthusiastic reviews.