While you might wonder how a channel that focuses on cooking and restaurant-related shows could have so many scandals, you would be surprised that the Food Network is not as well-behaved as you thought. Since it launched in 1993, the channel’s path to success hasn’t always been easy.
As with any venture, scandals and challenges are bound to happen along the way, and the Food Network is no exception. Although some of these shocking scandals have flown under the radar, others have been front-page news. Keep reading to find out which Food Network stars caused the spiciest scandals.
Ina Garten Turned Down a Sick Child
Most people know the Barefoot Contessa host as the sweet woman always talking about her husband, Jeffrey. However, Ina Garten revealed another side of herself in 2011 when a child requested to meet her through the Make-A-Wish foundation. The organization helps fulfill the wishes of children with critical illnesses.
Six-year-old Enzo Pereda was battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and he watched Garten on TV while he was sick in bed. He dreamed of cooking a meal with Garten for years, so his family organized the request with the foundation. Unfortunately, Pereda’s dreams were crushed when Garten declined to meet him.
She Did It Again
Garten said she was too busy on her book tour to meet Pereda. The following year, Pereda made the same request hoping that his idol would be free this time. Once again, Garten turned down his request because she was “too busy.” His parents wrote about the incident on a blog.
It didn’t take long for the news to get out, and Garten had to do some serious damage control. She invited Pereda onto her show, but it was too little, too late. The family rejected Garten’s offer, saying Pereda had moved on and decided to fulfill his wish of swimming with dolphins instead.
Mario Batali Isn’t a Good Tipper
Chef Mario Batali is known as a culinary expert who has experienced plenty of success in his career. However, even with all of his fame and fortune, his business practices haven’t always been savory. In 2010, Batali came under fire when his employees filed a lawsuit against the chef.
The suit represented 117 employees working in Batali’s restaurant, who accused him of illegally skimming tips. They claimed he kept four to five percent of the money supposed to go to the servers to pay the restaurant’s sommelier. The case dragged on for years, with Batali agreeing to settle in 2012.
That Wasn’t His Only Scandal
Batali ended up paying $5.25 million to all of his employees who lost tips. The chef thought his problems were behind him, but another scandal rocked his reputation in 2017. Four women came forward with sexual harassment allegations, threatening to end his career. Batali didn’t even deny the accusations.
In his statement, Batali spoke about the claims that spanned 20 years, stating, “That behavior was wrong, and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry.” His apology was weakened when he used the situation as an opportunity to publicize his website at the end of his statement.
He Faced Repercussions
Batali added a link to one of his recipes at the end of his apology. Between the charges and his insincere apology, ABC decided to fire him from hosting The Chew. The Food Network also distanced itself from Batali and canceled the production of his show.
The NYPD began its investigation in 2018, but no charges were filed against Batali by January 2019, when the case closed. Only one of the accusations was within the statute of limitations, and the NYPD couldn’t find probable cause to file official charges.
Anne Burrell Didn’t Stand Up for Women
Known for hosting Worst Cooks in America and Iron Chef America, Anne Burrell has garnered a reputation for being a tough, loving mentor. However, she hasn’t always had the best reputation. In 2009, Burrell was sued for discriminating against female employees at a restaurant where she was the chef.
The women accused Burrell of calling them derogatory and sexually degrading names. She reportedly made comments about their sex lives and clothing. Burrell apparently fired anyone who complained. Burrell should have encouraged women in a male-dominated profession instead of putting them down.
Robert Irvine Is a Fraud
Chef Robert Irvine rose to fame as the host of Food Network’s Dinner Impossible. The network brought him in because of his impressive resume, which included a British knighthood, cooking for former US Presidents, and creating a wedding cake for Princess Diana.
While the saying “fake it till you make it” can work in certain situations, it came back to bite Irvine. In 2008, it was revealed that Irvine’s resume wasn’t completely true. He was forced to leave the show because of the scandal and apologized for lying.
Geoffrey Zakarian Had Money Troubles
As a judge on Chopped and a regular on three other Food Network shows, Geoffrey Zakarian also made a name for himself as a restauranteur. He has a stake in several restaurants, but his fame and fortune didn’t make him immune from financial troubles.
Zakarian filed for personal bankruptcy in 2011, a few months before he won Iron Chef: Super Chefs. He filed because a former employee filed a lawsuit against him at his restaurant, Country. The employee accused him of shortening overtime pay, falsifying records, and docking paychecks.
He Denied It
Zakarian’s former employees asked for $1 million in damages and $250,000 in penalties. He denied the allegations, but the cost of fighting was too much. Zakarian had to file for bankruptcy due to the enormous costs of the case and his legal fees.
Due to his financial troubles, Zakarian couldn’t pay the employees. His publicist said Zakarian was no longer involved in the restaurant where the former employees worked. Food Network kept Zakarian on his shows despite the scandal because he needed the income to pay his legal fees.
Graham Elliot’s Employees Were Unhappy
Most people on Food Network had to work hard to make their way into the big leagues, so they should understand how important tips are in a restaurant. Unfortunately, some stars have been known to steal from their employees, like Iron Chef contestant Graham Elliot.
Thirteen former waiters from Graham Elliot’s Chicago restaurant accused him of mishandling tips. The employees had to pool their tips, which would be redistributed among the staff. The waiters felt that food runners and cooks didn’t deserve their tips. The waiters sued for lost wages.
He Lost the Lawsuit
The lawsuit hurt Elliot’s reputation, but he did not contest the claims. He decided to settle with his former waiters for an undisclosed amount out of court. The waiters would have won regardless because there is a federal law about tip pooling.
The law states that tip pooling is only allowed if the money is distributed among people who typically receive tips. The category does not include cooks and food runners, so Elliot’s waiters had every right to sue him for the money they lost.
Paula Deen Revealed Her True Colors
In one of the biggest scandals to ever hit the Food Network, Paula Deen tarnished her sweet southern reputation after admitting to using the N-word. The racist language came to light after a former employee of a restaurant co-owned by Deen sued her.
Deen had no shame in saying “of course” she used the word, but she hadn’t said it in a while. She apologized, but it would have been more sincere if her company hadn’t defended her. They claimed Deen used the word in “a different time.”
Justifying Her Actions
Deen’s reputation was already shattered, but her company’s statements made it worse. They justified Deen’s language by saying, “She was born 60 years ago when America’s South had segregated schools, different bathrooms, restaurants, and people rode in different parts of the bus.”
Regardless of when or where Deen grew up, her language wasn’t justifiable. By blaming her use of the derogatory term on her age and background, the company didn’t help Deen learn. She didn’t understand why people were so up in arms over it.
Sandra Lee’s Questionable Cake
Sometimes people try to be inclusive of other cultures, but it doesn’t always go over well with the public. When Food Network star Sandra Lee made a Kwanzaa cake in 2009, AV Club described it as “a pile of ridiculousness slathered in despair and sprinkled with nonsense nuggets.”
Lee’s angel food cake was topped with store-bought frosting, corn nuts, acorns, and pumpkin seeds, then filled with apple pie filling. While the cake sounded gross, people were more upset that she used the disastrous dessert to celebrate Kwanzaa, offending many people.
It Wasn’t Her Fault
While Lee publicly took the fall for the scandal, food stylist Denise Vivaldo eventually admitted responsibility. She also said she was forced into its creation and claimed to have done some research. One publication questioned Vivaldo’s research and brought in an expert.
The expert confirmed that the cake was as authentic as you could guess. However, the thing that was more offensive than anything else was that Vivaldo and Lee had no connection to Kwanzaa and didn’t really understand the meaning of the holiday. They didn’t make that mistake again.
Paula Deen Strikes Again
Besides her insensitive language, Deen is known for her homestyle food that is more delicious than healthy. She typically uses more butter and sugar than most people in the world. Therefore, it wasn’t a major surprise when Deen announced that she had Type 2 diabetes.
Deen made the announcement in 2012, three years after her diagnosis. It made people question why she waited so long to share the news, to which she replied, “I wanted to wait till I had something to bring to the table.”
Making a Deal
There was another reason why Deen waited; she was involved in a deal with a pharmaceutical company working on a non-insulin injectable diabetes medication. Deen and her sons became the faces of a major drug campaign, adding to the scandal of her hiding the diagnosis.
Between the time she was diagnosed and when announced it, Deen continued to promote a cooking style heavy on butter, sugar, and large portion sizes. Food Network said they were unaware of her diagnosis, and other celebrities condemned Deen’s hypocrisy. She didn’t even defend her actions.
Bobby Flay Left the Show
In 2017, Bobby Flay caused a scene while competing on Iron Chef Showdown. Mid-competition, Flay ripped off his apron, revealing a shirt that said, “This is my last Iron Chef battle ever.” The producers had no idea that he would pull that stunt and couldn’t edit it out.
Flay later told People magazine that it was all a joke for the last episode of the season. He said he would be happy to return to Iron Chef, but it later became more than a joke. The grueling schedule was too much for Flay, and Food Network wasn’t happy.
Josh Besh Was Erased From the Show
While some stunts can’t be edited out, Iron Chef managed to cut chef Josh Besh out of a January 2018 episode. It was filmed in the spring of 2017 before Besh’s employees accused him of sexual harassment. The controversy mortified the network.
The network managed to erase Besh from the episode before it aired. In another complaint, a former employee had an affair with Besh, saying he coerced her throughout the relationship. Besh admitted to cheating on his wife and apologized, but it was too late.
Cat Cora Almost Landed Behind Bars
Iron Chef star Cat Cora made Food Network history by becoming the first female Iron Chef. However, she ruined her reputation and narrowly avoided jail time in 2012 after being charged with a DUI. She was involved in a low-speed accident with a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit.
Cora got off easy with three years’ probation, nine months of DUI school, a suspended jail sentence, and a fine. She apologized, saying she regretted her decision and learned an important lesson. Cora said it would never happen again, but her reputation was already damaged.
Rachel Ray’s Case of Mistaken Identity
Sometimes stars don’t have to do anything to get involved in a scandal. That’s what happened to Rachel Ray after Beyoncé released her Lemonade album in 2016. After people started to question who “Becky with the good hair” was, someone close to Jay-Z posted a questionable photo.
The woman named Rachel Roy captioned her photo, “Good hair, don’t care.” She had to clarify that she was not Becky, but Beyoncé’s fans didn’t give up. They soon confused Roy with Food Network star Rachel Ray, causing her to receive a ton of hate.
Giada De Laurentiis Might Have Cheated
When you are in the public eye, rumors are regularly spread about you. After Giada De Laurentiis and husband Todd Thompson announced their divorce after 11 years of marriage in 2014, rumors circulated that she cheated on him. De Laurentiis denied the allegations immediately.
Despite her denials, accusations kept coming in that De Laurentiis hooked up with John Mayer and Bobby Flay. She denied the allegations again, saying, “Well, we’re good friends, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen because I’m smarter than that.”
Nigella Lawson’s Drug Accusations
With eight cookbooks and plenty of cooking show appearances under her belt, Nigella Lawson was highly regarded in the culinary world. Unfortunately, her polished reputation broke in 2013 after she and her husband accused their former assistant of defrauding them.
The assistants contested the charges, saying they were allowed to spend the couple’s money if they kept quiet about Lawson’s drug use. They claimed Lawson used cocaine and abused prescription drugs. Lawson admitted to the cocaine use but said she wasn’t an addict.
The Lying Contestant
During the Next Food Network Star’s third season, contestant Joshua Adam Garcia (JAG) was forced to withdraw before the final vote. He reportedly lied about his background, stating he graduated from the New York Restaurant School, but he had never actually graduated.
JAG also lied about his military service. He was never deployed in a war zone, as he claimed, and he wasn’t a corporal. In reality, he was demoted from corporal for hazing. People were outraged by the news because it insulted those who had really been deployed.
Wolfgang Puck Didn’t Like His Rating
There are few people that have the same reputation as culinary legend Wolfgang Puck. The iconic chef has been a guest on several Food Network shows, and it was surprising to everyone when the Better Business Bureau gave his restaurant Spago a B-rating.
There was no reason behind the rating, which caused LA Times reporter David Lazarus to launch an investigation. He found several other restaurants on the BBB database had low ratings with no complaints. The investigation revealed that Puck got a low score for not bribing the BBB.
Alton Brown’s Controversial Remarks
Who else remembers the days of watching marathons of Alton Brown on Good Eats? The wacky chef explained cooking in terms that anyone could understand. Unfortunately, Brown had a different persona behind the camera. He was known for making unkind remarks about fellow chefs.
Brown reportedly mocked a plus-sized chef and made racist remarks during a live show in Iowa. He also cracked a joke about someone in the audience who had “two daddies.” Brown’s comments didn’t make headlines, but they caused a stir on social media.
Bobby Deen Made a Huge Mistake
Paula Deen isn’t the only one in her family causing controversy. The apple clearly doesn’t fall far from the tree because her son Bobby Deen was wrapped up in a racist scandal in 2015. He posted a #TransformationTuesday photo on Twitter showing himself in brownface.
He clearly hadn’t learned anything from his mom’s scandal two years prior, and his photo further proved that Deen’s racism wasn’t a one-time accident. She passed that behavior down to her children. Bobby quickly deleted the post from Twitter, but the damage was already done.
David Burtka Was Jealous
You might know David Burtka as Neil Patrick Harris’s husband, but he is also the star of Food Network’s Life of the Party with David Burtka. While Burtka and Harris seem to have the perfect relationship, there was some trouble between the two because of jealousy.
Burtka didn’t believe that Harris could resist temptation, so he made him step down from his Broadway role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch in 2014 after six months. Burtka was jealous and thought that more than six months would be “asking for trouble.” Harris agreed to his terms.
Eddie Huang’s Ignorant Comments
Eddie Huang is a man of many talents. He was an attorney, stand-up comic, clothing designer, and celebrity chef on Food Network’s Cheap Bites. When his autobiography Fresh Off the Boat got turned into a TV series, he added sitcom writer to his long resume.
Huang got into trouble when he spoke out about racism towards Asians, specifically Asian men. In his New York Times op-ed piece, the Food Network star tried to be an activist, but his comments were misogynistic. He made it worse by dismissing the controversy on Twitter.
Never Trust a Skinny Cook
Giada De Laurentiis is one of those Food Network stars who makes people wonder how she can eat so much food and stay skinny. Well, her secret was revealed when someone from her TV show spoke to Page Six. Apparently, the petite chef never actually eats the food.
The insider revealed that De Laurentiis has a few methods to avoid the food on her show. She either spits it out or has a stunt double film the close-up teeth shots before she steps in with an empty fork coming out of her mouth.
Jamie Oliver Was Accused of Cultural Appropriation
While Jamie Oliver starred in The Naked Chef, his scandal had nothing to do with being naked in front of a camera. It’s not the juiciest scandal, but people were upset when Oliver released a product called “punchy jerky rice.”
The recipe was supposed to be inspired by Jamaican cooking, but Oliver isn’t Jamaican, the recipe isn’t that Jamaican, and in Jamaica, “jerk rice” isn’t a real thing. Jamaicans accused Oliver of cultural appropriation, and he tried to apologize by saying he wanted to pay homage to the country’s flavors.
The Food Network Affair
Mexican chef Marcela Valladolid was known for appearing on several Food Network shows, with a long-running stint on The Kitchen. Meanwhile, British celebrity chef Paul Hollywood was a judge on The Great British Bake Off. The two first met while working on The American Baking Competition.
The two chefs got cozy off screen, indulging in a sexual relationship despite both being married. The brief fling had a serious fallout when it came to light. The show was canceled, and both of their spouses filed for divorce. Valladolid moved on, but Hollywood got into another cheating scandal.
Patrick and Gina Neely Faked Their Love
Anyone who has watched Down Home With the Neelys during its 11 seasons saw how Patrick and Gina were a perfectly loving couple. However, their marriage suddenly ended, and their restaurants closed down when the series was over. Everyone wondered what had happened.
It was several years before the truth came out in 2018. Gine revealed that their 20-year marriage had grown stale, and she planned to leave Patrick before they were offered a show. She never wanted to be a TV star, which put a lot of pressure on their marriage.
It Was All a Lie
Gina said they had to fake the “happy couple” act even though she no longer felt that way. It caused her to crack, and in 2014, she moved out and only spoke to Patrick through her lawyers. The divorce was rough on Patrick.
However, Patrick rebounded with a new wife and children. Gina, the one who didn’t want to be on TV, ended up on a reality dating show on Bravo called To Rome for Love. It might have been a sack of lies, but people still tune in to watch reruns.
Rachel Ray’s Bad Dog Food
Rachel Ray’s prior scandal might have been a misunderstanding, but in 2018, she got herself into hot water again. After creating a dog food line with the proceeds being donated to the Rachel Ray Foundation, it was found that animals got sick after eating it.
The so-called “natural” ingredients in Ray’s Nutrish line caused her to be sued for $5 million. The lawsuit alleged that the food contained an herbicide used to make weed killers. Ray was not named in the lawsuit, but she claimed to be feeding the food to her dog.
It Was Still in Stores
Despite the lawsuit, Pet Smart continued to carry Ray’s dog food line but issued a statement that they were closely monitoring the situation. The lawsuit was later dismissed, but there are still bad reviews and recalls on Ray’s pet products.
The controversy surrounding her pet food line showed everyone that Ray should stick to making human food because she is not an animal nutrition expert. We doubt she would feed her dog anything with harmful chemicals, so she’s either lying or feeding her dog harmful things.
The Infamous Episode of The Pioneer Woman
During the second season of The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond made a racist joke that hurt her viewers. She made Asian hot wings for her family and friends and then laughed at their disgusted faces when she presented the food to them. What she did next was truly hurtful.
Drummond said, “I’m kidding, guys. I wouldn’t do that to you,” replacing the wings with American Buffalo wings. People were outraged that the show made fun of Asian cooking. People said Food Network needed more Asian representation, and they eventually stopped airing the episode.
Guy Fieri’s Homophobic Comment
Many people love to watch Guy Fieri take viewers on a trip to Flavortown with his bleach blond spikey hair and backward sunglasses. However, the famous chef hasn’t always been adored by everyone. He once made homophobic comments about a gay couple who owned a restaurant.
He was visiting the restaurant for his show, and he told the producers, “You can’t send me to talk to gay people without warning! Those people weird me out.” The producers were then told to make a note for future restaurants if “indications of homosexuality” were picked up in the interview process.
He Also Made a Chef Uncomfortable
Besides his homophobic comments, Fieri also made a female chef uncomfortable while they filmed an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. His charm might win over audiences, but he didn’t win over this female restaurant owner. Throughout the filming process, he kept making sexual remarks.
In one episode, anytime a woman mentioned “cream,” Fieri went into a sexual riff. The editors had to be cautious because Fieri’s eye line went towards the chef’s breasts several times. It was hard for them to watch, but they tried to make it as clean as possible for the final product.
Juan-Carlos Cruz Tried to Hire Hit Men
In the mid-2000s, Food Network’s Calorie Commando with host Juan-Carlos Cruz was a hit. The former pastry chef reportedly lost 100 pounds and learned to make healthier choices, which he shared on the series along with healthy recipes that tasted good.
However, Cruz was a completely different person behind the cameras. He reportedly had dark impulses that landed him in prison. In May 2010, he was arrested after offering two men $500 to kill his wife. One of the men reported him to the police, putting Cruz behind bars for nine years.
Was Bobby Flay a Cheater?
In 2015, Flay announced that his 10-year marriage to Stephanie March was over, and he filed for divorce. As the divorce made the headlines of gossip columns, it was reported that Flay had been having an affair for three years with Elyse Tirrell.
Flay denied the allegations, but no one believed him. When he became the first celebrity chef to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an airplane flew over the ceremony with a banner that said, “cheater.” Flay was embarrassed, to say the least.
A Contestant Was Arrested for Murder
Many people love Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America for its hilarious show of people who are clueless in the kitchen. In August 2020, Ariel Robinson became the winner of the show’s 20th season, taking home $25,000 and several cooking gadgets.
However, six months after her win, Robinson and her husband Jerry were arrested and charged with homicide and child abuse. Their three-year-old foster daughter died while she was in Robinson’s care. Jerry stated that his wife frequently abused the child.
They Pulled the Season
Jerry’s statements against his wife aligned with the coroner’s assessment of the young girl’s cause of death. She died from blunt force injuries, which Robinson inflicted. She claimed that the girl died after drinking too much water. Robinson is currently in prison, waiting for her trial.
Meanwhile, the Food Network responded to the tragedy by pulling the entire season of Worst Cooks in America from Hulu, YouTube, and Discovery+. The network was mortified to find out that they had crowned a murderer as the winner of their show.