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What 20 Food Network Stars Did Before They Were Famous

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On July 16, Morgan Neville’s hotly-anticipated documentary “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” will make its debut. Before his death, Bourdain was an icon and an inspiration, chasing strange and exciting food to exotic locations all over the globe.

The world first met him on the Food Network.

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The Food Network has been bringing cooking to living rooms since the early 1990s, and its chefs have become global icons with massive followings. But what were the network’s biggest stars doing before they made cooking look easy on television?

Here’s a look at the biggest stars in the culinary universe and what they did before their stars rose.

Last updated: July 16, 2021

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Alton Brown: Cinematographer

  • Net worth: $13 million

During his decade-long career as a cinematographer and video director, Alton Brown spent his spare time watching cooking shows, according to the Food Network website. Bored by the genre’s offerings, Brown vowed to create his own show.

His dedication paid off, and “Good Eats” premiered in 1999. Not only did Brown host the show, which aired for 14 seasons on Food Network, but he also served as a writer and producer. Brown has also served as the host of “Cutthroat Kitchen,” a Food Network competition show, and “Iron Chef America.”

On June 22, he returned to the Food Network’s “Chopped” to challenge 16 chefs in a brand new tournament season.

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Anne Burrell: Sous Chef

  • Net worth: $5 million

From New York City to Italy, Anne Burrell has traveled the world in pursuit of culinary achievement. Although she graduated from college with a degree in English and communications, she later enrolled in cooking school.

She worked in multiple facets of the industry and taught cooking before accepting a job that involved traveling to events with chef Mario Batali. She served as Batali’s sous chef when he became one of Food Network’s Iron Chefs.

Burrell is known for hosting “Worst Cooks in America” and she appears in a recently completed documentary called “Turning Tables: Cooking, Serving, and Surviving in a Global Pandemic.”

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Anthony Bourdain: Executive Chef and Author

  • Net worth: $16 million (at time of his death)

Anthony Bourdain tragically passed away in June of 2018 at the age of 61.

One of the most visible faces in the culinary world, Bourdain hosted, judged, starred in and produced hit shows like “Top Chef,” “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and “The Mind of a Chef.” The four-time Emmy winner also had plenty of budget-friendly recipes to his name.

Prior to his career on television, Bourdain worked as the executive chef at the famous New York bistro Les Halles. His book “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” was an international hit, and he also wrote several crime novels. He appeared on the Food Network and on the Travel Channel.

Slate is one of the many publications praising “Roadrunner” for taking an honest look at the life of a complicated and troubled man instead of fawning over a fallen icon.

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Bobby Flay: Restaurateur and Executive Chef

  • Net worth: $60 million

One of the culinary world’s biggest celebrities, Bobby Flay debuted on Food Network in 1994. He has been hosting shows ever since. Flay has appeared in “Iron Chef America,” “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” and “Food Network Star,” but his career work is “Beat Bobby Floy,” which has been on the air since 2013.

Flay got his start at just 17 years old from his father, who was a partner in a restaurant. He went on to attend a culinary school, became an executive chef by 25 and developed a career as a successful restaurateur.

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Brian Boitano: Olympic Figure Skater

  • Net worth: $18 million

Food Network fans might know Brian Boitano from his show, “What Would Brian Boitano Make?” To figure skating aficionados, however, he is an icon who skated in three Olympic Games and served as an alternate in another.

Among his many accolades is the Olympic gold medal he won in 1988 and six professional titles.

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Duff Goldman: Personal Chef

  • Net worth: $5 million

Food Network fans are likely familiar with Charm City Cakes, the bakery that Duff Goldman opened in 2002. The shop was launched into international prominence thanks to the show “Ace of Cakes,” which ran for 10 seasons.

Before he quit his job to pursue baking, Goldman worked as a personal chef. He trained under chefs at such notable restaurants as French Laundry and the Vail Cascade Hotel. However, his culinary career began when he was just 14 years old working at a local bagel shop.

Goldman is known for hosting “Kids Baking Championship” on Food Network.

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Emeril Lagasse: Chef and Restauranteur

  • Net worth: $70 million

Emeril Lagasse is arguably the world’s most famous culinary television personality. Before embarking on his career as a celebrity chef on television, though, he was, well, a celebrity chef, opening Emeril’s Restaurant in New Orleans in 1990.

Over the course of his impressive career, Lagasse has opened at least 10 restaurants and racked up nearly 70 television credits dating back to 1993.

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Giada De Laurentiis: Caterer

  • Net worth: $30 million

Born in Rome, Giada De Laurentiis is an Emmy Award-winning television personality and culinary celebrity. Before appearing on Food Network shows like “Giada’s Weekend Getaways” and “Everyday Italian,” De Laurentiis — the granddaughter of legendary film producer Dino De Laurentiis — founded a catering company called GDL Foods.

Over the years, she has created delicious cuisine and worked in some of the best restaurants in the world owned by some of the most notable chefs, including Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. She penned several cookbooks and has served as a judge on “Food Network Star.”

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Guy Fieri: Child Pretzel Salesman

  • Net worth: $40 million

California culinary rock star Guy Fieri is known worldwide as the host of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” among other hit Food Network shows. But he got his start years earlier with a childhood job selling pretzels.

Young Guy Fieri sold pretzels out of a three-wheeled cart that he built with his father, eventually saving enough cash to study abroad in France. He would leap to fame after winning season 2 of “The Next Food Network Star” in 2006.

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Ina Garten: Nuclear Energy Policy Analyst

  • Net worth: $60 million

Seeking a change of pace from her White House nuclear energy policy job, Ina Garten rolled the dice and bought a small specialty foods store in 1978 called Barefoot Contessa.

Garten’s gamble earned her more than just money. Her store turned into an empire, which includes cookbooks and a Food Network show also called “Barefoot Contessa,” which enjoyed a 283-episode run between 2002-2019.

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Jamie Oliver: Chef, Documentary Star

  • Net worth: $300 million

Jamie Oliver rose through the culinary ranks working at lavish establishments in France and London. His career took off when he appeared in a documentary about one of those restaurants, the celebrated River Cafe.

After the documentary, Oliver was offered his own show on Food Network, “The Naked Chef” which ran until 2001. Though the show was canceled, Oliver spun it into a very successful cookbook series of the same name. He later won an Emmy for 2010’s “Food Revolution.”

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Ming Tsai: Professional Squash Player

  • Net worth: $10 million

Ming Tsai’s empire includes his own line with Target, cookbooks, a pioneering video podcast, the “Simply Ming” television show, and too many awards to list. His show “East Meets West” aired on the Food Network from 1998-2003.

Before that, though, Tsai played squash while attending Yale. Tsai turned out to be pretty good at the sport. After graduating from Yale, Tsai moved to France where he found work as a pastry chef and sous-chef — and played squash professionally on the side.

Now, Tsai is known as the creator of the “Allergy Reference Book,” a widely used tool for foodies who suffer from serious allergies. His passion for the subject was so intense that it led him to help write Massachusetts Bill S.2701, which deals with precautionary labeling. He’s also a national spokesperson for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

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Nigella Lawson: Literary Editor and Writer

  • Net worth: $20 million

Nigella Lawson found success in a completely different profession before she sold 6 million books, developed her own iPhone app and starred in “Nigella Kitchen.” She has also appeared in such shows as “Nigella: At My Table” and “Nigellissima.”

She worked as a literary editor with the prestigious Sunday Times before and then became a freelance writer for the Evening Standard, the Guardian and several other well-regarded publications.

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Paula Deen: Caterer

  • Net worth: $16 million

Before she was a global culinary icon and host of “Paula’s Best Dishes” and “Paula’s Home Cooking,” news-making chef Paula Deen fed hungry businesspeople in downtown Savannah, Georgia.

Deen started her home-based catering business after getting divorced and moving from another part of the state with just $200. Her business blossomed and spawned a restaurant, which is now a Savannah mainstay.

Deen’s Southern cooking — and charm — led to an impressive career that includes multiple television shows, cookbooks and products. But in 2013, an ugly scandal emerged around a pattern of racism exhibited by Deen and her family against their employees. She was forced to apologize and her career was damaged, but as Eater points out, Deen mostly rebounded, raising tens of millions of dollars for her company and buying the rights to her Food Network shows.

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Rachael Ray: Macy’s Employee

  • Net worth: $100 million

Culinary superstar Rachael Ray parlayed her charm and talent into an empire that includes cookbooks, her own syndicated daytime show and a lifestyle magazine.

Before she was a star, however, Ray worked at the candy counter and fresh food department at Macy’s in New York City. After an introduction to the Manhattan food scene, Ray returned to upstate New York, where she grew up, and was soon discovered by the CBS station in Albany-Schenectady.

Ray’s affordable yet delicious recipes now enjoy a place of prominence on dinner tables across America. In July, her Nutrish company unveiled a line of large-breed dog food.

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Robert Irvine: British Royal Navy Cook

  • Net worth: $15 million

British celebrity chef Robert Irvine boasts a culinary career that spans a quarter-century — and much of the globe. His television resume includes shows like “Dinner: Impossible,” “Worst Cooks in America” and “Restaurant: Impossible.”

And it all started when he was just 15 years old. After joining the British Royal Navy, Irvine began working in the kitchen and quickly attracted the attention of his superiors. Irvine was sent to work aboard a yacht where the royal family regularly dined.

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Sandra Lee: QVC Host

  • Net worth: $20 million

Sandra Lee has written more than 20 books and appeared on “Good Morning America,” as well as TV series on Cooking Channel, Food Network, HGTV and Great American Country. But before appearing on those channels, Lee was hired by home shopping network QVC where she did infomercials.

Lee attributes her success in part to a difficult childhood, which forced her to make do with very little. Her trademark “semi-homemade” approach to cooking helped make Lee a star.

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Trisha Yearwood: Country Music Superstar

  • Net worth: $400 million

A three-time Grammy winner with 27 nominations, Yearwood boasts 19 top 10 songs and five No. 1 hits and is considered one of the biggest stars in country music.

Ever since she landed her own show on Food Network, “Trisha’s Southern Kitchen,” Trisha Yearwood has been a star in the celebrity cooking world.

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Wolfgang Puck: Restaurateur to the Stars

  • Net worth: $120 million

Before his name was synonymous with fine cuisine, Wolfgang Puck was well known among the Hollywood elite. His flagship restaurant, Spago, was serving gourmet pizza to Los Angeles big shots on the Sunset Strip long before Food Network launched.

Boasting more than 80 television credits and a global culinary empire, Wolfgang Puck is the son of a chef. Born into Austria’s culinary world, he started his formal training at 14 and held positions in some of France’s greatest restaurants before moving to the U.S. and becoming a star.

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Curtis Stone: Business Man to Be

  • Net worth: $25 million

The Australian chef Curtis Stone became a Food Network darling with such shows as “Kitchen Inferno,” “Beach Eats USA” and “Guilty Pleasures.” Curtis has also judged and hosted cooking shows on other channels, such as with “America’s Next Great Restaurant” and “My Kitchen Rules.”

Before he started his culinary career at the tender age of 18, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in business. He soon began his culinary detour, working at the Savoy Hotel, then under famed chef Marco Pierre White, before moving on to the Cafe Royal, Mirabelle and Quo Vadis.

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Jordan Rosenfeld and Andrew Lisa contributed to the reporting for this article.

All net worth figures are according to Celebrity Net Worth unless otherwise noted.