Though you might expect tons of scandals from channels like MTV and Bravo, the Food Network has a reputation as the more well-behaved TV sibling. Believe it or not though, that reputation has not been earned — and it’s probably not even deserved.
The Food Network has been on the air for decades. First launched in the US in 1993, the cable channel has been aired internationally since 2009. Of course, their path to success has not always been an easy one. As with any other venture, difficulties and scandals are bound to crop up along the way (especially when you’re working with reality TV shows), and they are no exception. In fact, the Food Network has had quite a few scandals, and some of those shocking situations have rocked the channel, and it’s adoring fans, to their very core. Here are some of the biggest scandals the Food Network has faced over the years.
1. A Make-A-Wish kid was turned down by Ina Garten… twice
Ina Garten, host of Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa, comes off as the sweet and lovable grandmother everyone wishes they had. She revealed a not-so-nice side, however, in 2011 when a child requested to meet her through the Make-A-Wish program. Enzo Pereda, a 6-year-old battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia, watched Garten on TV while he was sick in bed, and had been dreaming of cooking a meal with her for years.
Pereda’s family organized the request to meet Garten through Make-A-Wish, but was turned down because she was busy on the road, publicizing her new book. A year later, Pereda made the same request and was again tuned down due to Garten’s busy schedule. His family wrote about the incident in a now-defunct blog, which is when the media picked up on the story.
After the news got out, Garten did some damage control, inviting Pereda onto her show. It was too little, too late. The Peredas rejected Garten’s offer, saying that young Enzo had “moved on” and would instead fulfill his wish of swimming with dolphins.
2. Mario Batali skimmed tips
Chef Mario Batali may be a culinary guru, but some of his business practices are less than savory. The chef came under fire in 2010 when a class action lawsuit was filed against him on behalf of some of his employees. The suit represented 117 people who worked for Batali in his restaurants. According to the lawsuit, Batali illegally skimmed tips, keeping four to five percent of the money that should have gone to his servers in order to pay the restaurants’ sommeliers.
The case dragged on for years, with Batali finally agreeing to a settlement in 2012. As part of the settlement, the chef agreed to pay $5.25 million to not just the employees named on the lawsuit, but to any of the employees who lost tips as a result of Batali’s tip skimming (aside from those who chose to opt out of the settlement) from July 22, 2004 to February 14, 2012.
3. Mario Batali was accused of sexual harassment
A sexual harassment scandal in 2017 threatened to put an end to Batali’s career for once and for all when four women accused him of inappropriate touching. Batali didn’t deny the allegations of harassment, which spanned 20 years, saying “there are no excuses.” In a statement to Eater, who broke the story, he added, “That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family.”
The effect of Batali’s apology was diminished when he used his situation as an opportunity to publicize his website. In an emailed newsletter where he again apologized, Batali added a link to his Pizza Dough Cinnamon Rolls which he called a “fan favorite.”
Between the charges brought against him and his unimpressive apology, Batali’s career took a nosedive. ABC fired him from his hosting role on The Chew. Food Network also distanced itself from Batali, announcing that they would no longer be producing his show Molto Mario which they had previously planned to revive.
4. Anne Burrell discriminated against her employees
Anne Burrell worked alongside Mario Batali on Iron Chef America as his sous chef before hosting several of her own shows on Food Network, but it seems the two celebrity chefs have more in common than that show. In 2009, she was sued for discriminating against female employees at Centro Vinoteca, a West Village restaurant where she used to be a chef. According to the lawsuit, Burrell was accused of calling the plaintiffs, who were all women, a string of derogatory, and often sexually degrading names. She also reportedly made remarks about their cleavage, and is said to have openly commented on their sex lives. The lawsuit also alleges that only female staff were treated in this manner. When they complained, Burrell allegedly had them fired. Although a settlement was reached in that case, Burrell has not commented on the validity of the accusations. Details of the settlement are not available.
5. Robert Irvine’s fake resume
Sometimes the mantra “fake it till you make it” works, and other times it comes back to bite you. Chef Robert Irvine shot to fame as the host of Food Network’s Dinner Impossible. His resume was impressive, boasting, among other things, a British knighthood, cooking for four former US presidents, and a friendship with Prince Charles — as well as a hand in creating his wedding cake when he wed Princess Diana. It all turned out to be too good to be true, however, when it was revealed in 2008 that Irvine’s resume was substantially padded.
Irvine left Dinner Impossible in disgrace, although the show continued to air with Michael Symon at the helm. While Symon did a great job hosting the show, his presence on Dinner Impossible was temporary. After Irvine apologized and some time passed, Food Network welcomed Irvine back. According to Symon, that was the plan from the beginning, adding that he knew when he signed his contract that Irvine would likely be returning to the show.
6. Geoffrey Zakarian filed for bankruptcy
Chopped star Geoffrey Zakarian made a fortune and a name for himself as a restaurateur. Not only does he play a role on four Food Network shows, but he has a stake in several restaurants around the country. Unfortunately, fame and fortune don’t make you immune from financial troubles. The chef filed for personal bankruptcy a just few months before he won Iron Chef: Super Chefs in 2011, after a class action lawsuit was filed against him by his former employees at his now-shuttered restaurant, Country.
According to the lawsuit, Zakarian shorted his staff on overtime pay, falsified pay records, and docked their paychecks for meals which the staff never received. The former employees asked for $1 million in damages and an extra $250,000 in penalties.
Zakarian denied all of the allegations, but the cost of fighting the lawsuit proved to be too much for his wallet. His publicist, Jaret T. Kellerfr, said in a statement that the chef “filed for bankruptcy due to the enormous costs of defending a class action lawsuit by former employees of a restaurant in which Mr. Zakarian is no longer involved.” Keller said “it would cost him several hundred thousand dollars to defend the action,” leading Zakarian to file for bankruptcy.
7. Graham Elliot was sued by employees
Former Iron Chef contestant Graham Elliot stirred up some controversy when he was accused of mishandling tips by his employees. Thirteen former waiters at his restaurant, the self-named Graham Elliot in Chicago, joined in the lawsuit originally filed by former waiter Gregory Curtis in 2012.
According to Curtis, the wait staff was forced to pool their tips, which would then be redistributed among the staff. Curtis said that food runners and cooks should not have been entitled to a share of the tips as they “do not customarily and regularly receive tips.” He sued for the wages that were lost as the result of the tip pooling.
Elliot didn’t contest the claims, and ended up settling with his former waiters for an undisclosed amount. Under federal law, tip pooling is only allowed if the money is distributed among people who typically receive tips, a category that does not include food runners and cooks.
Is anyone else noticing a pattern here? Keep a close eye on your paycheck if you get a gig at a celeb chef-owned restaurant!
8. Nigella Lawson’s drug use revealed
Nigella Lawson is a major player in the culinary world. In addition to her cooking chops, the English television personality is a noted author and journalist, with eight books under her belt that have sold millions of copies around the globe.
But her good girl image took a hit in 2013.The multi-millionaire and her ex-husband, Charles Saatchi, accused Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, two of their former assistants, of defrauding the couple of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The Grillo sisters contested the charges, claiming that they were allowed to spend the couple’s funds by Lawson, on the condition that they did not reveal her drug use to Saatchi.
The Grillos claimed that Lawson took cocaine and had abused prescription drugs for years. During the trial, Lawson admitted to having taken cocaine on more than one occasion. She did, however, deny claims that she took the drug on a regular basis, stating, “I have never been a drug addict. I’ve never been a habitual user. There are two times in my life when I have used cocaine.” The Grillo sisters were acquitted of the charges.
9. Guy Fieri’s homophobic remarks
Thinking before you speak is generally good advice, but it’s something that Guy Fieri has yet to learn. The chef came under scrutiny in 2011 when some incredibly offensive remarks of his were revealed to the press. According to David Page, the creator and former producer of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, Fieri has a certain charm that wins over audiences, but his off-camera demeanor isn’t quite as sparkling. “Any time any woman mentioned ‘cream,’ Guy went into a sexual riff,” he told City Pages. “When cutting the show, you had to tell the editors to watch Guy’s eye line, because it’s always on breasts.”
Fieri’s attitude toward women would be bad enough, but he also revealed his distaste for the LGBT community. According to Page, one of the restaurants they visited for the show was run by two men who Fieri “had decided… were life partners.” Page said Fieri called him and said “You can’t send me to talk to gay people without warning! Those people weird me out!” Page added that from that time forward, the show’s researchers were told to make a note if they picked up any “indications of homosexuality” during the pre-interview process.
10. The racist episode of The Pioneer Woman
On the second season of The Pioneer Woman, the show’s star, Ree Drummond, made a racist joke that offended many of her viewers. On the show, Drummond made Asian hot wings for her family and friends, laughing at their disgusted faces when she pulled the tray out of the oven. Drummond said “I’m just kidding guys, I wouldn’t do that to you,” and then replaced the hot wings with American Buffalo wings.
The blog Thick Dumpling Skin called out Drummond for her antics, saying that Food Network needs “better Asian representation,” writing, “Why must we watch non-Asian cooks who can’t pronounce “Sriracha” and don’t have a chopstick drawer show us how to make our own dishes? And how come, when they do, we have to watch as their entire family mocks it — like in this episode of The Pioneer Woman?”
Eater called for Food Network to stop airing the episode in 2017, five years after it first aired, citing several complaints from the Asian community after Thick Dumpling Skin raised awareness about the episode.
11. Paula Deen’s racial slur
Ree Drummond didn’t face many repercussions for her racism on The Pioneer Woman, but fellow Food Network star Paula Deen didn’t fare as well. Scandal broke out in 2013 after the chef admitted to having used the “N word.” The racist language came to light as part of a lawsuit filed by a former employee of a restaurant co-owned by Deen. Deen said that “of course” she had used the word, although she hadn’t used it in some time.
In a now-deleted YouTube video, The Guardian said that Deen appeared on camera to apologize for her “totally, totally unacceptable,” language, adding “I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way but… I beg for your forgiveness.”
Deen’s apology might have been more convincing if her company hadn’t released a statement which defended her use of the word. In the statement, it was claimed that Deen used the slur in “quite a different time.” The company tried to justify Deen’s language, saying, “She was born 60 years ago when America’s South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus. This is not today.”
12. John Besh was edited out of this show
John Besh caused so much controversy that he was edited out of a January 2018 episode of Iron Chef Showdown that had been filmed in the spring of 2017. If you look closely, you can see him in the background in parts of the episode, but he was otherwise completely erased from the footage. The deletion happened after Besh was accused of sexual harassment by 25 of his employees at his restaurants. They claimed that sexual harassment was the norm at Besh Restaurant Group, which is co-owned by Besh.
In another complaint, filed separately, a former employee who Besh had an affair with claimed that Besh coerced her throughout the relationship. Besh admitted to cheating on his wife with his employee, although he claimed that the affair was completely consensual. Besh’s apology fell short. After the news broke, it was announced that Besh would also be edited out of an episode of Bravo’s Top Chef.
13. Horrible things celeb chefs have said about each other
The celebrity chef world is one that comes with big palettes and sometimes, even bigger mouths. Some of our favorite celebrity chefs are known for being the meanest critics when it comes to their peers and they aren’t afraid to shout it out to the world. On occasion they kiss and makeup, but for the most part the relationships simmer until they explode or stay as stale as old bread. Guess what they say is true — if you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen. We’ve got some of the most horrible things celeb chefs have said about each other being served up to you.