Chef and author Katie Lee has been in the spotlight for quite a while. Thanks to her marriage with rock star Billy Joel, she kick-started her career in a world brimming with the crème de la crème of Hollywood stars and celebrity chefs. In no time, the small-town girl from West Virginia had opportunities knocking at her posh New York townhouse — not to mention a song dedication by her then-husband. While the relationship never sustained, Lee’s fame flourished as a television personality, culinary expert, and author.
Lee has hosted and judged popular reality shows like "Iron Chef America" and "Top Chef", besides doing her own solo shows and writing cookbooks. "I think I have the best job in the world. I basically get to cook and eat for a living. It’s a pretty good gig," she said (via Today). Despite being a hardcore foodie who likes her French fries salty and drenched in a ton of ketchup, Lee knows where to draw the line. Eat lots of vegetables, exercise five to six times a week — that’s the mantra she lives by (via Health).
How did Lee evolve from a straight-out-of-college culinary enthusiast to a celebrity in her own right? Here’s all you need to know about Katie Lee’s stunning transformation.
Katie Lee learned to cook from her grandmother
Katie Lee grew up in a small town amidst a large family, in Milton, West Virginia. Her great grandmother, grandparents, great aunt and uncle, all lived on the same street (via Charleston Gazette-Mail). Out of all the members of her family, it was her grandmother, Dora Harshbarger, who was her biggest influence. After all, she was the one who babysat Lee when her mom went to work. "She taught me how to cook, the idea of balance, to be strong, and she had an unparalleled sense of humor," read Lee’s heart-warming eulogy for her grandma (via Instagram).
Lee was just a toddler when she became sous chef to her grandma. She remembers making biscuits with her at the crack of dawn. "I would get so upset if she started on the dough before I woke up; I would make her start over so that I could help. Biscuits were the first thing I ever made, so I guess technically I started cooking at the age of 3," she told Huntington Quarterly.
Growing up, Lee learned the farm-to-table concept up close when her grandma would cook whatever her grandpa brought from the farm that day. This practice has stayed with her through the years. "When I go to the farm stand and see what’s available — that’s where I get most of my inspiration," she told Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Katie Lee preferred literature to sports in school
Katie Lee’s gym teacher must have had a thing or two to say about her performance. All through her school years, Lee showed little enthusiasm towards any sports events. "I was never athletic. I tried everything, but I just wasn’t good," she told Huntington Quarterly. "Reading and writing were things I really enjoyed, though: I always had my nose in a book," she said.
When she was not binging on books, Lee was perfecting her beef stroganoff. She was just 12 when her mom recorded a demonstration of her making the Russian dish. The video had a small crowd of family members for an audience. Little did Lee know then that her beef stroganoff would one day be featured on "The Rachel Ray Show".
Cooking was never a professional career option for Lee. She did it because it was the most natural thing to do. "Food was a big part of my life, but I never thought that was anything special," she said. But when she moved out of her home and began college, she realized that not all were as passionate about food as she was. "I couldn’t believe it – I just assumed everyone liked to cook as much as I did," she said (via Huntington Quarterly).
Katie Lee majored in journalism, but pursued a career in cooking
Being a bookworm, when it came to choosing subjects in college, there was little room for debate. Katie Lee double-majored in journalism and English at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, while also taking a few classes on food science. Thanks to her one semester abroad in Italy, she got a peek into the rich culinary culture of Tuscany (via Great Restaurants of Long Island).
After graduating from college in 2003, Lee never worked in the field of journalism, but instead went into cooking. So why didn’t Lee pursue culinary studies in the first place? "I never thought I could make a career out of cooking. I thought unless you open a restaurant, there really wasn’t anything else you could do," she said (via Associated Press). Her first job fresh out of college was as a fishmonger at Jeff and Eddy’s, a restaurant and fish market in the Hamptons. Meanwhile, she, along with a friend, launched a website called Olive and Peach that aimed at making people more aware of the food they consume (via Great Restaurants of Long Island).
Katie Lee’s marriage to Billy Joel helped her career
A chance meeting with rock star Billy Joel changed Katie Lee’s life. She and a friend were hanging out at the rooftop bar of The Peninsula Hotel in New York on "an unseasonable warm November day". Lee must have excused herself to go to the restroom because according to her narrative of that memorable night: "I am coming out of the bathroom, and who do I almost bump into but [Billy Joel]". Lee didn’t swoon — she hardly knew his musical repertoire. But by the end of the night, another date was probably sealed.
"We had this great dinner, and we had pasta and white truffles, and he was really trying to impress me," said Lee. Joel even treated them to his performance at his Broadway show "Movin’ Out" (via Oprah.com). Following that high-octane night, the duo started dating and eventually got married a year later in 2004 (via New York Post). Joel turned out to be Lee’s lucky charm. As soon as Katie Lee became Katie Joel, a flood of opportunities came her way. "I’m the first person to say having that last name helped me get a foot in the door, but I feel like I can stand on my own two feet working toward my dreams," she told New York Magazine.
Katie Lee became the first host of Top Chef in 2006
Katie Lee stepped into the television industry as the host of the then-brand-new reality cooking show "Top Chef" (via Reality TV World). At the time, she was still green in the culinary scene, and "Top Chef" was a concept that no one had heard of. No one knew what to expect from the series or the host, but it turned out that the show was a roaring success. But, af=fter the first season, Lee was replaced by the more experienced television personality, author, and chef Padma Lakshmi.
Lakshmi made a far better host than Lee, according to some users on Reddit’s r/TopChef. One wrote that "You will find that many people did not like Katie as a host" because she was nervous and didn’t yet know how to effectively transition between segments.
Yet another Redditor thought Katie’s tone was a tad robotic. Since then, she has established her presence in the world of reality television appearing as a judge on "Iron Chef" and "Beat Bobby Flay", as a guest on "Paula’s Party", "The Wendy Williams Show" and "Today", and co-hosting "The Kitchen" (via IMDb).
When Katie Lee and Billy Joel separated, she took to surfing
Katie Lee’s marriage with superstar Billy Joel lost all its twinkle in five years. They two divorced in 2009 — a split that went so amicably that Lee calls him the "best ex-husband a girl could ever ask for" (via HollywoodLife). According to New York Post, there were rumors that the two split because of Lee’s alleged affair with Israeli designer Yigal Azrouel. But, according to Lee, it wasn’t as dramatic as the media reported: "Between both of our careers, we started to grow apart and were unable to find a way back to each other" (via New York Magazine).
The divorce was tough on Lee, given how it had all unraveled in the public eye. She found healing in a sport that was quite strange to her at the time: surfing. Lee was, in fact, "terrified of the ocean" when she first began surfing. "I was going through a hard time in my life, so I wanted to try something totally different. […] if you try something new, and conquer fear, it brings you this whole new sense of confidence," she said (via Simon and Schuster Books).
Already a cookbook author, Katie Lee became a novelist
Surfing didn’t just help Katie Lee heal, it also pushed her to branch out as a fiction writer. With her journalism and English degree, Lee had the skills, not to mention the years-long intention to pen a novel. But she didn’t do it because she often limited herself, thinking that the book had to be about food. She probably hadn’t read Anthony Bourdain‘s early-career crime fiction, which may have inspired her (via Eater).
Surfing had changed her as a person — she was no longer scared to try something new. As a result, she found herself writing a story inspired by her own life (via HollywoodLife). How did Joel react to it? "He thought it was well written. He thought maybe it was a little too ‘chick’ for him," said Lee.
Lee’s protagonist in "Groundswell", published in 2011, is a woman called Emma Guthrie. Just like Lee, Emma marries a celebrity, gets divorced, and regains her confidence by learning how to surf. HuffPost reports that the opening scene is set at the Met’s Costume Institute Gala, which Lee and Joel used to attend together when they were still husband and wife.
Katie Lee moved into a 7,000 square foot house in the Hamptons
After Katie Lee and Billy Joel’s wedding, they moved into a posh townhouse in the West Village of New York City (via "The Oprah Winfrey Show"). In the first two years of their marriage, they bought two other properties right by the beach, in Sagaponack, New York. Both of these beach properties were put on the market soon after their divorce in 2009, according to Variety. No one wants to hang on to old memories, do they? As far as the West Village house is concerned, it went to Lee as part of the divorce settlement. Lee then sold it for close to $12 million and went for a fresh start in the Hamptons (via Curbed).
There, DuJour reports that she bought a 7,000 square-foot mansion. The house, with its large lounge area and a 42-foot pool, remained Lee’s abode for four years before she listed it on the market in 2015. "I am working more and I want to simplify.," she told the Wall Street Journal, "I have always enjoyed the process of renovating and decorating and I’m ready for my next project." Though she eventually sold that particular property, she continues to call the Hamptons her home, according to Closer Weekly.
Katie Lee became a workout trainer with Obé Fitness
Katie Lee, whose job has always revolved around creating and tasting recipes, knows that her job is full of temptation. "There’s food everywhere, and even off camera, there’s craft services, where you can just walk by and grab a handful of chips," she told Health. So how does Lee stay fit? Self-restraint, some discipline, and a ton of vegetables and fruits.
Lee starts off her day with exercise. As she told Hamptons, it can be anything from a power walk with her pet dog Gus to an online fitness class. She prefers working out at home to hitting the gym. Obé, an app that offers live fitness classes that can be streamed from anywhere, was especially well-suited her travel-heavy lifestyle. "I liked it so much, I invested in the company, actually," she said. In 2018, she even transitioned from a workout subscriber to a trainer on Obé. "My fave workout @obe_ourbodyelectric asked me to come teach a class on Sunday!!," she announced on Instagram.
Despite her routine, Lee, like so many other people regardless of fitness or body shape, had to deal with insecurity. "I just try to not beat myself up," she said. "I always remind myself that I’m healthy, and that’s the most important thing," she added (via Health).
Katie Lee met her second husband on the set of Beach Bites
After her first divorce, Katie Lee spent a lot of time re-discovering herself. She learned to surf, wrote a novel, and started hosting a series called "Beach Bites with Katie Lee". Lee’s professional career was on track, so she didn’t think much about her personal one. "I kinda thought I never want to get married again," said Lee (via Health).
But Cupid had different plans. Lee first met her "cute" producer Ryan Biegel on the sets of her beach-themed show in 2016. Though Lee was seeing Beigel for the first time, Biegel already knew of Lee. "He told me later that he’d seen a TV segment of me promoting my last cookbook, and he was like, ‘I’m gonna marry that girl.’ I was his crush," Lee told Health.
Lee and Biegel became friends and began to enjoy each other’s company. "The more time I spent with him, the more I thought, ‘This is the kind of life I want to live.’ Forget the love stuff—I really like him, too," said Lee. After a romantic proposal in Paris, it only took a couple of months for the love birds to tie the knot at Lo Scoglio on Italy’s Amalfi Coast — the place where they fell in love (via Vogue).
Katie Lee had issues trying to conceive
Katie Lee and her husband Ryan Biegel had planned to start a family soon after their wedding. "I naively thought it would be easy," she said on Instagram. But the reality was far from it. When it was clear that they wouldn’t be able to have a baby the old-fashioned way, they move on to fertility treatments (via Babe Hatch). This unforeseen issue took Lee by surprise as she was scrupulous with her health and fitness routine.
"We were trying, I had to have surgery to correct a problem, got an infection, then I was so run down I got shingles," she wrote in her Instagram post. Finally, the couple decided to give in vitro fertilization a shot. But sadly, the first attempt was unsuccessful.
While the whole process was emotionally draining, what also didn’t help was the barrage of comments from fans. As Lee wrote in her Instagram post: "I get comments saying I look like I’ve gained weight, so I must be pregnant […] I finally responded that it’s not ok to comment on a woman’s body and you never know what someone is going through." The arduous journey, fortunately, had a happy ending. Lee announced her pregnancy in February 2020 (via Instagram).
Katie Lee became a mother during the pandemic
For Katie Lee and Ryan Biegel, it was one challenge after another. When they announced their pregnancy, the whole country went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. "We’re taking life one day at a time and instead of worrying about the future, I’m focusing on what I can control in the present to keep us safe and my anxiety to a minimum," she told Babe Hatch.
The lockdown, as it turned out, was also a blessing in disguise, as it gave both of them the opportunity to stay close and embrace the journey together. Lee continued to co-host "The Kitchen" from home as well. Luckily for her, she had her husband, a TV producer right by her side to ensure the at-home shoot went smoothly. The show was quite an integral part for the couple through the lockdown. According to People, they even did their baby’s gender reveal party on one of its episodes.
Their baby girl, Iris Marion Biegel, was born in September 2020, as People reported. "I just love being a mom. I knew that was going to enjoy it, but I had no idea that I would do this much. My favorite thing is getting her up in the morning, going in there and seeing her little face smiling," said Lee (via People).