The 21st century is probably the age of personal stardom, where individuals can gain celebrity status in their profession. They could do this by raising the bar in their field, creating a killer product or service, networking their way to the top, or even by pulling enough media stunts.
The chef scene is no different, with many chefs playing double roles as media personalities. This also goes the other way, with media personalities evolving into celebrity chefs. The lines are blurring in this new time, but what stands out clearly is that chefs nowadays have the capacity to rake in the mills - if they play their cards right.
When it comes to chefs, their net worth is not due only to their culinary talents, it is often directly related to their business acumen as well. So not only do high net worth chefs rock it in the kitchen, they also know what people want in terms of information, media, entertainment and products.
Chefs who have made it big and reeled in the cash, by and large also know how to role with the times and embrace new mediums. They also know how to hustle, how to branch out and how to brand.
Being a high profile chef these days can often entail a lot less cooking, and a lot more endorsing, developing products lines, media appearances and working in entertainment related content creation. Such as Masterchef, Top Chef, etc.
However while some chefs take advantage of these new revenue streams and business ventures, other chefs just stick to their game of running world class restaurants and keeping those Michelin stars coming in. As you will see, these traditional restaurateur chefs, who stick to this strategy, can still stick make it to the top and cash in on their hard work.
20 Guy Fieri: $8.5 Million
Guy Fieri is most well known thanks to his shows on The Food Network Guy's Big Bite and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Guy’s bold persona makes him an ideal show host, and he has been named the reigning king of The Food Network. Some cultured gourmets find Guy a little abrasive. But his abrasiveness and ‘uncouthness’ is probably refreshing for others.
Guy Fieri is also not just a TV chef personality. He owns 5 restaurants in California, has his own signature sauce which he calls donkey sauce, and keeps a tortoise.
Guy started out his career working for Stouffer's in California, developing restaurant concepts. That is where Food Network found him and they have not released him since.
19 Ming Tsai: $10 Million
Ming Tsai is another restaurateur and cook show host. Born in California, he has not only hosted his own show Simply Ming, but also appeared on multiple other popular shows. And earned himself a few Daytime Emmy awards in the process!
Ming is all about East and West fusion cuisine, which makes it unsurprising that the one Emmy award was for Outstanding Service Show Host, for East Meets West on The Food Network.
Ming Tsai has been considered to be one of the chefs who have had the most influence on America’s view of Asian style food. This is a legendary service considering how good Eastern cuisine is!
18 Mike Colameco: $10 Million
Mike Colameco is a New York based veteran of the food industry. Staring out as a busboy at the age of 13, he graduated culinary school and continued on to work as a line cook and then a chef at a number of New York restaurants.
Besides proceeding to open his own restaurant The Globe, he has also hosted Mike Colameco's Real Food television series, plus the radio show Food Talk. And if this is not enough, he published a book in 2009 called Mike Colameco's Food Lover's Guide to New York City, and has also appeared in numerous prestigious foodie publications, such as Saveur.
17 Jamie Deen: $10 Million
Hailing from Georgia, Jamie Deen is none other Paula Deen’s son. Following in his mother’s footsteps Jamie Deen co-runs her restaurant, The Lady & Sons, with his brother Bobby Deen. He has appeared on her cooking show, Paula's Home Cooking, and co-starred on Road Tested with his brother. He also hosted his own cooking show on the Food Network.
In addition to these family brand airings, he has appeared on a bunch of other popular shows such as Good Morning America, Rachael Ray, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
You could say that Jamie Deen is a thorough bred cook show host! He started out delivering lunch boxes for his mom’s micro business when times were rough, and has not looked back.
16 Matthew Kenney: $11 Million
Matthew Kenney could be said to be the plant-based-foods-advocate darling of the media. However he is not just a plant based and raw food chef. Matthew Kennedy had to get entrepreneurial to build his name into a brand, centered on plant based eating.
As part of this, Matthew Kenney has published 12 cookbooks, founded a lifestyle company, released two apps, founded a raw food education center, and in the process won two awards.
Although Kenney has allegedly suffered from financial troubles in the past, with a cool net worth of 10 mill, it would seem that he has hopefully paddled out of deep waters.
15 Alton Brown: $13 Million
Alton Brown is another food media veteran. Graduating from culinary school he went on to host numerous shows including Good Eats, for which he won a Peabody award. From there he went on to host multiple shows such as Feasting on Asphalt and Cutthroat Kitchen. He also commentated at Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef, and appeared on Mythbusters.
Besides these on air shows he has extensively over the years teamed up with brands to do commercials. The guy is everywhere.
Named 'Cooking Teacher of the Year' by Bon Appetit magazine, Alton Brown is not just an onscreen personality. He really knows how to cook.
Nowadays you can find Alton Brown hosting his podcast, the 'Alton Browncast'
Interesting fact: Alton Brown started his career shooting music videos, including one for R.E.M.
14 Paula Deen: $14 Million
Paula Deen is the aforementioned mother of Jamie Deen. Paula Deen began her foray into food and fame late in life after a divorce which forced her to put her years of home cooking to work. What initially started as selling packed lunches to office workers expanded into a restaurant.
At which point one of Oprah’s minions discovered Paula. Her appearance on Oprah catapulted Paula Deen into the world of cooking shows.
Over time Paula Deen has also built her name into a brand, and some call her the Queen of Southern cooking.
Her net worth suffered a drop in recent years, but is recovering steadily.
13 Tyler Florence: $15 Million
Another chef turned brand, Tyler Florence has branched into the retail side of things, with his signature range of pots, pans and cutlery selling in major retailers nationwide. He has published five books to date, appeared on multiple Food Network shows, owns a retail shop line, and three restaurants.
With this portfolio of television work and business ventures, it is not surprising that Tyler Florence is where he is today. Tyler started on the road to culinary fame at 15 years old, with a dish-washing job at a restaurant in his hometown. So you could say that Tyler’s success is result of many years of dedication to the culinary sphere. We think there is definitely some entrepreneurial genius mixed in there too!
12 Tom Colicchio: $20 Million
Tom Colicchio is another rock solid name in the celebrity chef game. First up he is a main consulting producer at Top Chef. He has opened multiple restaurants including the Craft and Colicchio & Sons fleet and the Gramercy Tavern which was voted most popular in New York. He has written three cookbooks. He acted as head judge on Bravo's Top Chef television show, and has appeared on Chef on Great Chefs.
Through all of this Tom Colicchio has also won himself five James Beard Foundational Medals and an Emmy Award.
One could definitely say that Tom worked his way to the top. His very first gig was at the swim club in high school, doing all the short order cooking for “$250 under the table”.
11 Todd English: $20 Million
Texas born Todd English is probably first and foremost a restaurateur. Unlike most of the already listed celebrity chefs, his main focus has honed towards the opening of restaurants. However that did not stop him from having his own show on PBS, Food Trip with Todd English. He also appeared as a judge on the Cooking Under Fire Show. Like many celebrity chefs, Todd English also authored and co-authored four cookbooks.
As far as cuisine goes, Todd English’s restaurants are anything but English, serving top notch Italian based cuisine.
Interesting fact: He has three restaurants are called 'Olives', his ex-wife’s name is Olivia, and one of his kids is called Oliver. We think the guy must have a thing for olives.
10 Sandra Lee: $20 Million
Sandra Lee is what you can term a true hustler. You have to hand it to her, she has worked to amass her estimated net worth. Humble beginnings did not stop this lady from writing a whopping total of 25 books, hosting her famous Semi-Homemade cooking segment on The Food Network, creating home improvement videos, and designing and marketing her own product, using infomercials.
This last venture netted her a cool $6 million, after a mere nine months of marketing.
In addition to these successes Sandra Lee has launched numerous other products, hosted a second show and just generally excelled in her niche.
9 Christopher Kimball: $20 Million
New Yorker Christopher Kimball is termed a celebrity chef thanks to his television show hosting. However he started off working for a publishing house after graduating from university.
Kimball then played on his strengths in the editorial world to launch the Cook's Magazine. After selling the magazine to the Bonnier Group he then launched the Cook's Illustrated magazine, and went on to publish the Cook's Country magazines, as well as as five cookbooks.
After all this culinary publishing work, Christopher Kimball was well equipped to host America's Test Kitchen. He has since branched out once more on his own and released the magazine Milk Street, a publication that introduces international cooking ideas. They are also developing a line of products to help the home cook.
8 Mario Batali: $25 Million
Coming from a background of skilled home cooks and Italian cuisine, Mario Batali systematically trained himself by apprenticing under chef Marco Pierre White and learning through practice in a number of kitchens, and in Italy itself.
Mario Batali proceeded to open his own restaurant with his partner Joe Bastianich. This enterprise grew into an international fleet of restaurants, a product line and more.
Unfortunately for Mario Batali, a number of his ventures got shut down, as shops stopped wanting to stock his products. Joe Bastianich has bought him out of the restaurants, and we are not sure what Mario is up to at the moment.
7 Thomas Keller: $30 Million
Thomas Keller is an out and out chef and restaurateur, having devoted no time to television. However this has not stopped him from of making it into the upper echelon of high net worth US chefs.
Also, unlike Mario Batali, who made his money opening strings of restaurants, Thomas Keller has opened and run a mere 12 restaurants, 9 of which remain. These restaurants were not the only thing which contributed to Thomas Keller's net worth, as he has also published four cookbooks. However it is a testament to the popularity and quality of his restaurant that Keller's fame and net worth comes mainly from them.
Interesting fact: Thomas Keller is the only chef in America who has been awarded two three star Michelin ratings at the same time, for two different restaurants.
6 Bobby Flay: $30 Million
Bobby Flay is a household name thanks to his numerous cooking shows over the years. However he was not always so successful. In high school, Bobby Flay was a source of concern to his parents. When Bobby was expelled from school, his dad decided to send him to work in a kitchen as a punishment. Instead of teaching him a lesson, this ignited Bobby's passion for cooking.
Seeing his promise the restaurant owner sent Bobby to culinary school. The rest is history, a history which includes Bobby Flay becoming the owner of a number of Michelin star restaurants, hosting great television shows, and publishing over a dozen cookbooks.
5 Charlie Ayers: $45 Million
Although a top notch chef, Charlie Ayers did not earn his net worth by wok alone. His journey is an interesting one, and took a turn for greatness when he applied for a job cooking lunches for the 40 office staff of a small and unusual company called 'Google'. He was employee number 53.
Charlie Ayers may have started out cooking for 40, but this grew to 10,000 meals per day. During his time at Google Charlie Ayers accumulated 40 000 shares in the company, which has placed him in the top five US chefs with the most net worth.
Charlie Ayers went on to run his own Silicone Valley restaurant, called Calafia Cafe. At Google Ayers developed a slogan "fine food for the fast crowd", a niche which he seemed to nail at the Calafia Cafe, until closing the restaurant this year.
Interesting fact: Back in the day Charlie Ayers cooked for the Grateful Dead.
4 Ree Drummond: $50 Million
Before content creation was even a term Ree Drummond was creating content for her blog Pioneer Woman. By marrying her farmer husband, and relocating to 'the middle of nowhere', outgoing city girl Ree Drummond was thrown into the rural life of homeschooling and cooking.
Accordingly to her, one day when she was home alone, she randomly created a free blog. 12 years later, Pioneer Woman has grown into a full on brand with its own product line and show on The Food Network. Ree has also written multiple books and opened two brick and mortar business.
Ree has been criticized for turning 'happy housewifery' into a brand. However others argue that Ree's success is a natural result of her sharing personality, hard work and energy.
3 Ina Garten: $50 Million
Unlike most of the chefs in this list, Ina Garten has been not involved in the industry her whole life. Instead, she made a fast career change at 30 from working for the Fed as budget manager for the Nuclear Energy Policy, to purchasing a small specialty foods store.
This could have looked like misdirected career confusion, but as we all know, Ina has put her A game into food and cooking, and become a well loved chef and personality. She has had no formal training, which goes to show what teaching oneself can lead to.
Interesting fact: Even though Ina Garten is a household name in the food industry, she says she still gets nervous when entertaining!
2 Emeril Lagasse: $70 Million
Emeril Lagasse is an hugely successful chef, restaurateur and show host. Second wealthiest chef in America, he started out learning to make vegetable soup at seven years old from his mom, and being inspired by Julia Child's cooking shows.
After graduation culinary school Emeril worked at home and abroad to hone his craft. Now he owns multiple restaurants and has hosted a number of shows.
Sitting near the top of the culinary world in terms of net worth, one would think that Emeril Lagasse would be deservedly a bit full of himself. But this is not the case. Emeril has a distinct air of humbleness, and his says that his motivating factor is making people happy through food and working with the team he has developed.
Interesting fact: Emeril Lagasse trademarked his iconic term 'Bam!'.
Because 'Bam!', is taken..
1 Rachael Ray: $80 Million
Rachael Ray's success and place at the #1 spot in America's chefs by net worth, seems to be directly accrued to her popularization of the 30 minute meal.
Rachael developed a desire to show people that a tasty and healthy meal could be cooked in 30 minutes, the same time that getting takeout can require.
Picked up by a local television station, then The Food Network and later by Oprah, Rachael Ray has spent the better part of the last two decades hosting shows and publishing cookbooks and magazines which help people to realize that if you have 30 minutes, there is time to cook.
She is not a trained chef, yet Rachael has had a massive influence on food culture, and gotten probably thousands of people back into the kitchen and out of the takeout lines.