You Probably Forgot These Food Celebs Were Nepo Babies
There are only so many spots on TV for food personalities. Food Network, The Cooking Channel, Bravo’s “Top Chef,” the reality show universe, and public television only have so much room, and because of entrenched and perpetually popular hosts, there’s not a lot of turnover or a chance for new faces to break through.
The highest levels of restaurants often present the same world of exclusivity — only a few chefs ever make it to the top of critical lists, earn a Michelin star, or become household names.
You Probably Forgot These Food Celebs Were Nepo Babies
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By Brian Boone|Jan. 13, 2023 5:59 pm EST
There are only so many spots on TV for food personalities. Food Network, The Cooking Channel, Bravo’s “Top Chef,” the reality show universe, and public television only have so much room, and because of entrenched and perpetually popular hosts, there’s not a lot of turnover or a chance for new faces to break through. The highest levels of restaurants often present the same world of exclusivity — only a few chefs ever make it to the top of critical lists, earn a Michelin star, or become household names.
It stands to reason that any wannabe food celebrity needs to use whatever advantages they can to get a leg up. And many of the biggest names in food television, cookbook publishing, and high-end restaurants in North America and Europe used their family connections to help stake their claim to fame. They grew up rich, and with parents or other relatives who could bump them up a few steps on the proverbial career ladder. Like the privileged children of movie stars landing big leading roles quickly and seemingly effortlessly, the food world has its own beneficiaries of nepotism, or “nepo babies,” as they’re colloquially referred to, according to Vulture. Read on to learn more about the big-time food folks who, for better or for worse, got a head start in their careers because of their parents and their notable last names.
Giada de Laurentiis
Over the last two decades, Giada De Laurentiis has been a mainstay of Food Network as one of the channel’s most prolific presenters. She’s hosted cooking shows like “Everyday Italian, “making dishes inspired by her Italian upbringing and recipes from her large Italian family, “Giada at Home,” and “Giada Entertains,” while also anchoring reality programs like “Winner Cake All” and “Food Network Star.” Appearing on Food Network all the time launched an empire for de Laurentiis, who has since written numerous top-selling cookbooks, opened an eponymous restaurant in Las Vegas, and made numerous appearances on “Today” helping viewers learn to cook.
According to her longtime cable TV home, a Food Network executive read an article about De Laurentiis and her relatives in a 2002 issue of “Food & Wine.” From the beginning, food and nepotism were in the mix and at the forefront for De Laurentiis, as the article profiled the young chef (who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and worked at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills), an up-and-comer in the powerful De Laurentiis family. According to Biography, her grandfather is Dino De Laurentiis, a prolific producer of Italian and Hollywood films. Among his works: the 1957 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, “La Strada,” and the 1980 superhero movie “Flash Gordon.” His first wife was Italian movie star Silvana Mangano, and among their children was actor Veronica De Laurentiis, who married producer Alex De Benedetti — they’re Giada’s parents.
Bobby and Jamie Deen
Bursting with charm, humor, magnetism, and sweet southern twang, Paula Deen quickly became one of Food Network’s most popular personalities in the 2000s. The Georgia-based caterer and cook unapologetically rolled out one rich, fattening, butter-filled, traditionally southern dish after another on “Paula’s Home Cooking,” where she was often joined by her doting adult sons, Jamie and Bobby Deen. According to Paula Deen’s website, mother and children are business partners, co-owners of the Savannah, Georgia, restaurants The Lady & Sons and Paula Deen’s Creek House.
The younger Deens proved so popular that they became food celebrities in their own and separate right, even weathering the storm and controversy surrounding their mother. According to The New York Times, Food Network quickly cut ties with Deen and canceled all her shows when evidence emerged of her past use of racial slurs. For their part, Jamie and Bobby wrote four cookbooks together and a few on their own — “Good Food” and “Everyday Eats,” respectively. On Food Network, the duo hosted the travel series “Road Tasted,” while Bobby has also headed up “Holiday Baking Championship” and “Spring Baking Championship.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, Nigella Lawson worked as a journalist, serving as the deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times and penning freelance pieces for The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, and other outlets while also occasionally reporting on television (via Cooks Info). She started writing about food for The Spectator in 1985, and one for British Vogue in 1998, the same year she published her first book, “How to Eat” (via The Guardian), part memoir, part food history, part instruction manual, and wholly filled with the author’s cheeky wit. She could entertain as well as inform and in 2000 she hit TV and never really left, starring in her first series, “Nigella Bites,” which evolved into “Nigella Express,” “Nigella Feasts,” “Nigella Kitchen,” and “Nigellissima,” among other soft-focus, lifestyle aspirational televisual feasts.
While Lawson’s most famous relation wasn’t much involved in those areas, he was one of the most powerful and scrutinized people in the U.K. at the time. Lawson’s father is Nigel Lawson, first elected to Parliament’s House of Commons in 1974 and serving until 1992, when he was bequeathed the title of Lord Lawson of Blaby and given a seat in the House of Lords. During his time as a representative, he served as one of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s top aides and Cabinet members, as Secretary of State for Energy, Financial Secretary, and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
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As an author, memoirist, documentarian, and chef, Anthony Bourdain had a major hand in the evolution of food culture, with a curious, literary, transgressive approach that helped make culinary television into a viable and popular medium in the 21st century. He started humbly, washing dishes in a Massachusetts restaurant before attending the Culinary Institute of America and working in top East Coast restaurants like The Rainbow Room and Les Halles. He was one of the first to offer a peak into the life of a chef with his audacious and salacious memoir, “Kitchen Confidential,” which led to the book and TV series “A Cook’s Tour.” The travelogue laid the groundwork for his even more popular series, “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown,” all of which were laced with Bourdain’s signature wit, rock music references, and opinionated musings.
Even if you’re very familiar with Bourdain, you might not know that his storied career began because his mother helped him get his work seen. According to The New York Times, Gladys Bourdain began working as a copy editor at that news institution in 1984. She urged her son to write down his observations about the chef’s life in the 1990s, but when he couldn’t get any publishers interested, she sent along a sample to a colleague married to David Remnick, the new editor of The New Yorker. That story, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” landed Bourdain a book publishing contract within days, and the rest is history.
Chef and cookbook author Aarón Sánchez makes a lot of food television. In the 2000s, he became a fixture on Food Network, appearing on “Throwdown with Bobby Flay,” “Heat Seekers,” “Chefs vs. City,” “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and “Next Iron Chef,” before starring alongside Gordon Ramsay on multiple iterations of Fox’s “MasterChef.”
Sánchez was well prepared and primed for success as a famous food face and celebrity chef in part thanks to a path laid out by his self-made mother and grandmother. According to Latin Trends, when Sanchez was three years old, his mother, Zarela Martinez, filed for divorce and opened a catering business built around traditional recipes she already knew and collected by traveling through Mexico and Europe (via Life and Thyme). Martinez would evolve that business and become, according to Sanchez, “The most recognized Mexican chef in the country” (via Latin Trends). One big influence for Martinez was her mother, Aida Gabilondo, a notable food writer in her own right, who published the exhaustive Mexican culinary book “Mexican Family Cooking” in 1986 (via Chicago Tribune).
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In the celebrity food sector, the one person most associated with baking is arguably Paul Hollywood, one of the main judges on “The Great British Bake Off,” known outside of its U.K. origin point as “The Great British Baking Show.” Hollywood is a stern stickler who strives for technical perfection, a point of view developed through decades as a working baker and TV professional, according to The Daily Mail. Before finding his way to the top of an internationally popular baking show, Hollywood worked as a baker at major hotels in England, including the Dorchester, and at resorts on the European island nation of Cyprus. In the early 2000s, he became famous for the baking instructional series “Use Your Loaf” and published the top-selling cookbook “100 Great Breads.”
Hollywood’s entry into the realm of breads and buns wasn’t random or completely the result of an intense personal drive — he’s a third-generation pro baker. Hollywood’s grandfather served as the head baker at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, England, while one of Paul Hollywood’s first jobs was working at a bakery in York, operated by his father, John F. Hollywood, who expanded the business into Breadwinner, a popular chain of bakeries around England (via Woman and Home).
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One of the most successful and instantly recognizable food celebrities over the last two decades, Guy Fieri has built a business empire and become a cultural phenomenon around his persona as a dude who loves spicy and flavor-packed fusion food. The self-proclaimed “mayor of Flavortown” according to TheWrap, rocks loud shirts, frosted tips, and a goatee while operating a growing portfolio of festive, American-style restaurants like Guy’s Burger Joint, Guy Fieri’s Dive and Taco Joint, Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse, and Pig and Anchor. He started his career with his first restaurant, Johnny Garlic’s, in the ’90s and became a national figure after winning “Food Network Star,” and hosting huge hits like “Guy’s Grocery Games” and “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”
Appearing on more than dozens of episodes of the latter series as a travel buddy and food seeker is Hunter Fieri, Guy’s son. According to People, the younger Fieri took on his first food project without his father in 2021, filming “What Plants Can Do,” a branded documentary for ZENB about the production of yellow pea pasta. In 2022, he hosted a Food Network short-form, the Shell-sponsored series “Station Nation,” a “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”-esque show where Fieri seeks out the best road food served at otherwise unassuming filling stations and convenience stores.
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Raised in the U.S., Alex Guarnaschelli came into her own as a chef in Paris, cooking at the inimitable Guy Savoy and Butte Chaillot. She then returned home to work at Daniel Boulud’s Daniel before taking the reins at the famous New American haunt, Butter. In the mid-2000s, Guarnaschelli hit Food Network, judging concoctions on “Chopped,” hosting “Supermarket Stakeout,” and winning a massive, all-star “Iron Chef” competition.
Guarnaschelli has followed in the formidable footsteps of her mother, Maria Guarnaschelli, a publishing professional who made imaginative, more worldly food prep accessible to home cooks. According to The New York Times, the elder Guarnaschelli revolutionized the way Americans view food in her career as a cookbook editor, presiding over “Classic Indian Cooking,” the first major book in that style released in the U.S., as well as a significant reworking of “Joy of Cooking.” Guarnaschelli also edited now standard kitchen reference guides, including “The Cake Bible,” “The Splendid Table,” and “Gran Cocina Latina.”
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At the age of 20, and while still in college herself at Princeton University, Daphne Oz published her first food and cooking book, “The Dorm Root Diet: The 10-Step Program for Creating a Healthy Lifestyle Plan That Really Works” (via ABC News). A year later, Oz would publish a follow-up to the bestseller, “The Dorm Room Diet Planner.” Oz’s career as a food personality was off and running, and in 2011, she joined chefs Carla Hall, Michael Symon, and Mario Batali as one of the hosts of the cooking-centric daytime panel talk show, “The Chew,” a position she’d keep for more than six seasons while also appearing as a judge on “MasterChef Junior.”
In 2022, Oz was named one of the hosts of “The Good Dish,” according to Variety, a rushed-into-production syndicated series to replace the abruptly concluded “Dr. Oz,” ended when the titular host left the medical series to run for an open seat in the U.S. Senate. Dr. Mehmet Oz ultimately lost that race, while “The Good Dish,” a daily, hourlong expansion of a cooking segment Daphne Oz had hosted on “Dr. Oz,” her father’s show, was canceled after less than two months on the air.
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The nature of Tilly Ramsay’s connections to the culinary pop culture universe aren’t exactly hidden or a big secret, but the young cooking show host and food writer is actively attempting to strike out on her own, independently of her father’s TV and restaurant conglomeration that gave her lots of attention and opportunities. Ramsay’s father is Gordon Ramsay, international restaurateur and host of many globe-spanning versions of food-oriented reality TV shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen,” “MasterChef,” and “Kitchen Nightmares.” In 2015, a teenage Matilda “Tilly” Ramsay hosted “Matilda and the Ramsay Bunch,” in which the aspiring chef cooked health-conscious dishes alongside many members of her large family. That led to the publication of the kids-focused cookbook, “Tilly’s Kitchen Takeover.” Letting the world know where she came from — the Ramsay brand — the second-generation food star has also served as a guest on “MasterChef” and competed on an Australian, celebrities-only season of the series, where she finished in second place.
Most visible and best known for his many years as a culinary judge and Gordon Ramsay’s lieutenant on Fox’s “MasterChef” and its various spinoffs, Joe Bastianich earned his spots on prominent food-based reality TV with a lengthy resume of restaurant experience. As of 2022, he operates more than a dozen fine-dining restaurants around the United States through his company, Bastianich Hospitality Group (formerly the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, with business partner and chef, Mario Batali), along with a couple of wineries in Italy.
His professional career began as a bond trader in New York, which he gave up in the 1990s. “Ultimately my dissatisfaction in the world of finance led me to what I was truly passionate about — food and wine,” he told Fine Dining Lovers. After borrowing $80,000 from his grandmother, Bastianich opened his first restaurant in 1993, Becco, an Italian spot in Manhattan. His partner in the venture was chef and star of PBS’s long-running Italian instructional cooking series “Lidia’s Italy,” Lidia Bastianich, who is also his mother.
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Marc Forgione started working in restaurants as a teenager, according to Food Network, providing the experience and skill development necessary that led to his big break in 2010 when he won season three of the reality competition series “The Next Iron Chef.” Forgione additionally worked under esteemed chefs at three fine dining establishments in Paris before returning to the U.S., acting as chef de cuisine at BLT Prime, and helping it to earn the highest rating the influential Zagat Guide ever gave a New York City steakhouse. Forgione then earned a promotion as chef for the BLT Restaurant Group, and he developed the opening day menus for BLT Steak locations, BLT Fish, and BLT Market. In 2011, his first restaurant under his own name, Forge, was awarded its second Michelin star, among other accolades.
Being a highly achieving and acclaimed chef and restaurateur is simply the family business for Forgione. Marc Forgione’s first kitchen job was at An American Place, the nexus point for innovative American cuisine in the 1970s and 1980s, and operated by his father, Larry Forgione.
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