15 Wealthiest Celebrity Chefs and How They Got Their Starts

by Contributor on Apr 12, 2012

Although the average annual salary for an executive chef at a stand-alone restaurant is about $71,000, celebrity chefs are a breed above that number. Chefs such as Wolfgang Puck can earn millions of dollars per year through sales of cookbooks and cooking products, restaurant revenues, and television appearances, let alone their culinary arts. Their celebrity status has made these chefs brands — so when you think about Cajun food, you might think about Emeril Lagasse. The following list of celebrity chefs does not include the likes of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Paul Prudhomme, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, and Daniel Boulud, as they don’t publicize their net worth…and, if you’re missing Guy Fieri on this list, it’s because he’s currently worth a mere $3.5 million dollars.

  1. Wolfgang PuckWolfgang Puck: Puck is an Austrian-American chef and author, known for his work at various high profile celebrity events and for owning over a dozen restaurants. Puck learned cooking from his mother, who sometimes worked as a pastry chef. He trained as an apprentice in Paris before moving to the United States in 1973 at age 25. After two years at La Tour in Indianapolis, Puck moved to Los Angeles to become chef and part owner at Ma Maison restaurant. Net worth? About $400 million.
  2. Jamie Oliver: Oliver, who made a splash in the U.S. with school lunches, is worth about $138-$172 million. His first job was as a pastry chef at Antonio Carluccio’s Neal’s Yard restaurant, where he developed a relationship with his “mentor,” Gennaro Contaldo. Oliver then moved to The River Café, Fulham, as a sous chef. It was there where BBC noticed him after making an unscripted appearance in a documentary about the restaurant. His show, The Naked Chef, and his cookbook became a number one best-seller in the UK. The rest is history.
  3. Gordon Ramsay: After playing football as a youth, Ramsay considers his decision to enter catering college as “an accident, a complete accident.” Yet, in 1998 he opened his own restaurant in Chelsea, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, with the help of his father-in-law. The restaurant gained its third Michelin star in 2001, making Ramsay the first Scotsman to achieve that feat. From there, it was history for this short-tempered, yet highly likeable chef with a net worth of about $118 million.
  4. Mario Batali: Batali worked his way up through a number of restaurants in several countries before he opened a few restaurants. His television fame came through Iron Chef America, but his current network now is PBS. With a good heart (he’s a philanthropist), yet a short fuse, Batali’s net worth is approximately $25 million.
  5. Masaharu Morimoto: This Japanese chef received practical training in sushi and traditional Kaiseki cuisine in Hiroshima, and opened his own restaurant in that city in 1980. Influenced by Western cooking styles, he decided to sell his restaurant in 1985 to travel around the United States. His fame came through various challenges offered on the television show, Iron Chef America. Morimoto is worth about $15 million.
  6. Bobby Flay: A high-school dropout, Flay’s first restaurant jobs were at a pizza parlot and at Baskin-Robbins. He then took a position making salads at Joe Allen Restaurant in New York’s Theatre District, where his father was a partner. Joe Allen was impressed by Flay’s natural ability and agreed to pay his partner’s son’s tuition at the French Culinary Institute. After working his way through various restaurants, Flay became one of America’s best known chefs through shows such as Iron Chef America. Today, Flay is worth approximately $8 million.
  7. Anthony BordainAnthony Bourdain: The $7 million net worth for this famed chef began when he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1978, and went on to run various restaurant kitchens in New York City. Bourdain gained immediate popularity from his 2000 New York Times bestselling book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, a witty exposé of the hidden and darker side of the culinary world. That book led to an offer by the Food Network to host his own food and world-travel show in January 2002. In July 2005, he premiered a new, somewhat similar television series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, on the Travel Channel.
  8. Rachel Ray: Born Rachael Domenica Ray, this energetic chef devised the concept of hosting cooking classes for Albany residents at the marketplace, dubbed “30-Minute Mediterranean Meals,” which prompted the local CBS station, WRGB-TV, to have her offer regular cooking lessons on the nightly news broadcasts. Ray simultaneously authored her first cookbook and sold over 10,000 copies. Now a Food Channel mainstay, she shot to fame as the host of the U.S. cable series 30 Minute Meals (2003), and became the nation’s resident chef with her own magazine. Her estimated net worth is over $60 million.
  9. Emiral Lagasse: Emeril’s net worth is set at about $50 million, and his food empire generates an estimated $150 million annually. Lagasse initially gained fame in the culinary world as executive chef of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. He then opened his first restaurant, Emeril’s, in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1990. On television, where he has had several shows and a multitude of guest appearances, Lagasse is known for his light and jovial hosting style as well as several catchphrases, including “Bam”, “kick it up a notch,” “aw, yeah, babe” and “feel the love.”
  10. Rick Bayless: Bayless was born into a family of restaurateurs and grocers specializing in the local barbecue. Having begun his culinary training as a youth, he broadened his interests to include regional Mexican cooking as an undergraduate student of Spanish and Latin American culture. Today, his cooking empire is worth about $30 million and growing, thanks to his successful Frontera Foods line of prepared food products.
  11. Paula Deen: Earning about $4.5 million per year, Deen’s net worth is estimated at $15 million. She began her cooking career at home, since she suffered from panic attacks and agoraphobia and couldn’t leave the house. In 1989, after a divorce, she started a catering business, “The Bag Lady,” which soon outgrew her kitchen. Although her restaurants and cookbooks were successful, Deen has faced enormous criticism for her menus consisting of fat, salt, and sugar, and for her reluctance to share her diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes with the public.
  12. Rocco DiSpirito: The Italian-American celebrity chef, Rocco DiSpirito, has an estimated net worth of $4.5 million. At 16, Rocco began his studies at the Culinary Institute of America where he graduated with honors in 1986. He then studied French regional food and wine for two years at the prestigious Jardin de Cygne restaurant in Paris with Dominique Cecillon and Gary Kunz. In 1990, DiSpirito graduated cum laude from Boston University with a B.S. in Business.
  13. Cat CoraCat Cora: Best known through her appearances on the show, Iron Chef America, Catherine was born into a family of restaurant owners. After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Physiology and Biology at the University of Southern Mississippi, she enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Today, with a net worth of about $4.5 million, Cora is the Executive Chef for Bon Appétit magazine and a UNICEF spokesperson as well as a television personality.
  14. Jacques Torres: With a net worth of over $4 Million, Torres makes sweets sweeter. A Frnch master pastry chef, Torres began an apprenticeship at age 15 at a small pastry shop. In 1986, Torres was the youngest person to ever win the Meilleur Ouvrier Patissier de France competition. Torres joined the faculty of The French Culinary Institute in 1993, and after designing the Classic Pastry Arts Curriculum in 1996, he became the school’s Dean of Pastry Arts. In 2000, Torres opened a chocolate factory and retail shop in Brooklyn, NY. Currently there are seven Jacques Torres shops, including two chocolate factories and an ice cream shop.
  15. Lidia Bastianich: American chef, author, and restaurateur, Lidia Bastianich has an estimated net worth of $3.75 million. She came to the United States from Istria when she was 12 years old with her parents and her brother Franco. Lidia is now the co-owner, with her son Joseph, of Felidia and Becco restaurants in New York and Lidia’s in Kansas City and Pittsburgh, and is the star of Lidia’s Italian American Kitchen and Lidia’s Italian Table, shown nationwide on Public Television and in Australia, Canada and Japan.