6 of the biggest celebrity chef scandals of all time

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Erin McDowell
·9 min read
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Paula Deen
Paula Deen was dropped from the Food Network after she was accused of racist actions and using racial slurs. Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images
  • Paula Deen was dropped from the Food Network after she was accused of racism.

  • Martha Stewart served prison time after being convicted of charges involving claims of insider trading.

  • Other chefs have been sued by former employees for mistreatment and issues with their wages.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Like any other kind of celebrity, famous chefs aren't immune from facing scandals, serious accusations, and even jail time.

Martha Stewart served a prison sentence for one count of conspiracy following a stock sale, two counts of making false statements to authorities, and one count of obstruction of agency proceedings, according to PBS. Stewart has since regained her place as one of the foremost celebrity chefs in the business and even received an Emmy nomination for her hit show alongside Snoop Dogg, "Martha & Snoop's Potluck Dinner Party."

Other chefs, like Paula Deen and Mario Batali, have never truly been able to recover their reputations.

Here are six of the biggest celebrity chef scandals.

Robert Irvine admitted that he lied on his resume about being a British knight and cooking for multiple US presidents.

robert irvine
Chef Robert Irvine cooks at the 2014 Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival. Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

In 2008, Food Network chose not to renew its contract with TV chef Robert Irvine who admitted he had lied on his resume about a number of his accomplishments, according to the BBC.

Irvine reportedly claimed to have cooked for multiple US presidents in the White House, which he has not. His other embellishments included a claim he was knighted by the Queen and that he was a personal friend of Prince Charles.

At the time, the "Dinner: Impossible" host told the Florida newspaper The St. Petersburg Times, now The Tampa Bay Times, that he was apologetic for the errors in his resume, and that he had exaggerated his accomplishments in order "to keep up with the Joneses."

Following the controversy, celebrity chef Michael Symon took over as host of "Dinner: Impossible." Ten episodes were released with Symon as the host of the hour-long program. However, later that year, Food Network announced that Irvine would be returning as host in March 2009, according to the Seattle Times.

"Our audience has continued to demonstrate its interest in and support for Robert," a network spokeswoman told the Seattle Times. "He has taken responsibility and made a conscious effort to clear the air, rebuild the relationship with Food Network and apologize for the earlier inaccuracies."

Though the show took nearly a decade-long hiatus, Irvine announced in January 2021 that the show would be returning with him at the helm.

Martha Stewart served five months in prison after making false statements to investigators about a stock sale.

Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart. Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for MSC Cruises

In 2004, Martha Stewart was found guilty of one count of conspiracy, two counts of making false statements, and one count of obstruction of agency proceedings.

The charges stemmed from an incident in December 2001: After receiving information that was not publicly available, she sold off her ImClone Systems shares a day before their value plunged, avoiding a loss of more than $45,000, according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Prosecutors said she later lied about receiving the tip-off, according to an Associated Press report.

Stewart spent five months in a minimum-security prison. It was followed by five months of home confinement.

Stewart has spoken openly about her time in prison, which she said involved a lot of cleaning, and the lasting impression she took away from prison life.

"I would rather be doing all of this in my own home, and not here -- away from family and friends," she wrote in a note on her website in 2004, according to CNN. "There is no real help, no real program to rehabilitate, no programs to educate, no way to be prepared for life 'out there' where each person will ultimately find herself, many with no skills and no preparation for living."

After her time in prison, Stewart mounted a successful comeback and remains a beloved personality today.

Paula Deen was dropped from the Food Network after she was accused of racist actions and using racial slurs.

Paula Deen
Paula Deen. John M. Heller/Getty Images

Paula Deen was accused of frequently using the N-word by Lisa T. Jackson, a former manager at one of her restaurants in Savannah, Georgia, The Guardian reported.

According to The Guardian and the discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit obtained by the outlet, Deen admitted to an attorney that she had "of course" used "the n-word" in the past, though "not for many years." The lawsuit was settled in August 2013, "without any award of costs or fees to any party," according to ABC News. However, over the years, accusations of racism from former employees against Paula Deen multiplied.

In 2013, the New York Times reported on a number of racist actions taken by the TV chef, according to Dora Charles, a Black chef who worked closely with Deen. Among them, Charles claimed that Deen had attempted to get a Black female cook to dress up like Aunt Jemima, a maple syrup mascot with a reputation for being likened to racist depictions of Black people.

Following the 2013 allegations, a representative for Deen released a statement to TMZ, saying, "Ms. Deen does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable. She is looking forward to her day in court."

She also made on-camera appearances apologizing, and a judge dismissed the lawsuit that initiated her downfall. However, Food Network dropped its contract with the celebrity chef.

"Moving forward my team and I are working to review the workplace environment issues that were raised in this matter and to retool all of my business' operations," Deen said in a statement. "I look forward to getting back to doing what I love."

Deen later returned to TV, but not the Food Network, with a show titled "Positively Paula." However, the 20-minute cooking show only lasted two seasons before being taken off the air in 2017.

Since this, Deen's TV career has stalled.

Restaurant workers accused Mario Batali and his business partner of skimming their tips and paying unfair wages. Then, in 2017, multiple women accused Batali of inappropriate behavior.

mario batali
Chef Mario Batali at Eataly's grand opening on August 31, 2010, in New York City. Associated Press

In 2012, Batali and his business partners were accused by employees of skimming workers' tips in order to pay sommelier salaries, in addition to refusing workers "fair remuneration and overtime," according to the Huffington Post. Batali and his associates settled the case for $5.25 million, which the plaintiffs' representation called "purportedly the largest settlement of its kind in the history of the restaurant industry."

Eater also reported in 2018 that Batali, his business partner Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich who was a co-owner, and five of the team's New York City restaurants had agreed to pay out $2.2 million after a former employee sued them for unfair wages.

According to court documents viewed by Eater, the former busser alleged that he often worked 55 hours a week but was only paid for up to 45 and that his work exceeded the legal expectations of a tipped employee, among other concerns. A spokesperson for Batali and Bastianich said in a statement in 2018 that the companies "did nothing wrong and settled to avoid litigation costs," according to Eater.

Batali was also accused of inappropriate behavior by multiple women amid the #MeToo movement — in 2017, Eater published anonymous accounts by four women who claimed they had been victims of sexual misconduct. Though Eater published their accounts under anonymity, the site corroborated their stories with others who were aware of the incidents when they happened as well as with publicly available information.

Batali apologized for his behavior in his newsletter, writing, "My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility" — although the apology was lambasted as it also included a link to a recipe for pizza dough cinnamon rolls.

He was fired from "The Chew" on ABC in December 2017, and his restaurant group of which he is part owner, the Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group, cut ties with him, according to CNN.

In 2019, Batali was formally charged with indecent assault and battery after a woman alleged that Batali kissed and groped her without consent at a Boston restaurant in 2017, according to CNBC. He pleaded not guilty to indecent battery and assault, NPR reported in 2019. The case is still ongoing.

Anne Burrell was sued by former employees who said she called female workers foul names.

Anne Burrell
Anne Burrell. Cheetos

Celebrity chef Anne Burrell was accused of mistreating female employees at the New York City restaurant where she worked, according to Eater. The discrimination lawsuit, brought forward in 2009 by former employees of the restaurant Centro Vinoteca, alleged she frequently called female employees demeaning names and commented on their bodies.

Burrell, who left the restaurant in 2008, never commented on the matter. But the lawsuit was also brought against Centro Vinoteca, restaurateur Sasha Muniak, and George Elkins, who attempted to dismiss it by claiming the suit was "devoid of any allegation against either Muniak or Elkins or of any actionable comments made by Burrell," according to Abbe Diaz's, the wife of Muniak, website PX This.

The dismissal was denied, and the case was eventually settled, although details have not been disclosed, the Washington Post reported in 2017.

Burrell went on to appear on multiple Food Network shows, including "Worst Cooks in America" and "The Next Iron Chef."

Geoffrey Zakarian was sued by employees who said he'd lied about pay records, failed to pay overtime wages, and made unauthorized deductions from their paychecks.

geoffrey zakarian
Geoffrey Zakarian. Manny Hernandez/Getty Images

According to Eater, the suit was filed by former chefs at Zakarian's former restaurant Country in 2011. The chefs sought $1 million in damages and $250,00 in penalties.

In response to the lawsuit, the "Chopped" mainstay and TV chef declared bankruptcy and claimed he had assets of no more than $50,000 and liabilities of up to $1 million. This effectively stalled the proceedings for a little while, but, in November 2011, Zakarian settled with the lawsuit's claimants for $200,000.

Zakarian appears to have regained his reputation since the scandal, and he is one of the hosts of Food Network's "The Kitchen."

Read the original article on Insider