It might be no surprise to any who pay even passing attention to the food world that famed celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Julia Child are no longer with us, but in recent years a number of other culinary luminaries have passed away without their deaths as widely recorded. From TV star cooks, to noted food critics, to celebrated restauranteurs, the past half decade has deprived of us of many food celebrities worthy of memory and whose work lives on.
Some of the dead food celebrities on our list today were known the world over, while others were better known in their specific communities, whether that "community" was New York City or the whole of the Indian subcontinent. And while some passed away at ripe old ages, several other of the food celebrities featured here who have died never saw their 40th birthdays. (And one died before age 35.)
Here are some food celebrities you might not realize were dead, but whose work you likely appreciated at some point while they lived, whether by watching them on TV, reading their critical writing, or tasting foods influenced by their touch (looking at you, molecular gastronomy pioneer Homaru Cantu — RIP).
India’s YouTube star "Grandpa Kitchen" passed in 2019 at age 73
Narayana Reddy was better known to the world, and in particular to his native India, as Grandpa Kitchen. In just two short years, his YouTube channel brought the septuagenarian chef a degree of fame and accolades not only because the massive meals he cooked outdoors over open flames looked delicious, but because the food Grandpa Kitchen prepared was served almost exclusively to orphaned children and others in need. He also used almost all the proceeds his YouTube videos created to donate funds to charities as well.
Reddy had a warm and loving demeanor and started off each of his videos calling himself "your grandpa," and while the volume of food he prepared made replicating the recipes exactly all but impossible for most chefs, his videos were a joy to watch simply for their own merit.
"Grandpa" Reddy died in the fall of 2019, but younger members of his family have continued this kind man’s work, and the introduction to every video still features Grandpa Reddy greeting viewers before the younger generation takes over. They continue to cook and feed the hungry in India and have a YouTube channel currently boasting more than 8.3 million subscribers.
British celebrity chef Gary Rhodes died suddenly of a hematoma
Known as much for his spiked-up mane of hair as his successful restaurants, TV show hosting roles and appearances, and his competitive cooking on programs like Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef, the death of Gary Rhodes in late November of 2019 was an absolute shock to the culinary world.
The apparently healthy 59-year-old chef died within hours after collapsing suddenly at his home — the cause was later revealed to be an internal brain bleed known as a subdural hematoma. Rhodes had shown no signs of health issues leading up to the sudden collapse. His passing brought mournful remembrances from luminaries in the food world including Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey, among many others.
Rhodes had a long and storied career including running a Michelin star restaurant at age 26, opening successful restaurants in London in the 1990s and in Dubai in the 2010s, and starting his own line of bread mixes and cooking tools. He was knighted in 2006.
Floyd Cardoz passed away in 2019 from complications related to COVID-19
Floyd Cardoz is so far the highest profile food celebrity whose death is attributed to complications associated with the COVID-19 coronavirus. Floyd died in a New Jersey hospital in March of 2020 not long after returning from his native India.
Cardoz was a pioneering chef who was largely responsible for opening the American palate up to Indian cuisine, now one of the most popular ethnic cuisines in the country. He polished his craft with studies at the renowned Swiss culinary school Les Roches before coming to the United States, where he would run several successful restaurants in New York City and go on to open two new restaurants himself. He also opened several restaurants in Mumbai, authored two cookbooks, and appeared on myriad popular cooking shows, such as Top Chef Masters. Cardoz was also celebrated for the charitable work to which he devoted much of his time and energy.
One of the last posts on Cardoz’s Instagram account is a tribute to Chef Gray Kunz, who had passed away not long before — sadly, the last post on the account would come just days later on March 11, shortly before Cardoz fell seriously ill.
LA’s beloved critic Jonathan Gold died in the summer of 2018
Jonathan Gold was to the Los Angeles Food scene what Vin Scully was to Los Angeles sports. (Scully is retired but fortunately still with us and 92 years young at the time of this writing.) Gold primarily wrote for the Los Angeles Times where he covered the ever developing LA restaurant scene, a scene many in the food world felt had come to rival that of New York, London, or Paris in recent years. Gold won a Pulitzer Prize for his food writing with LA Weekly in 2007 (and came close again in 2011) and was considered one of the finest critics working when he died at age 57 after a short fight with a virulent case of pancreatic cancer.
In his later years, Gold cut a distinctive figure what with long hair ringing a balding crown and a thick mustache (all of which called to mind David Crosby in looks). He was also known for his easy smile and affable demeanor. The celebrated food writer started his journalistic career writing about music, including the then nascent rap scene. No surprise then that much of his food writing focused on street food, mom and pop restaurants, and emerging trends, a break from most food criticism at the time that focused more on high-end dining.
Top Chef’s Aaron Grissom died at age 34 following a motorcycle accident
Aaron Grissom had so much potential left to give when he died following a motorcycle accident at just 34 years old, and was in fact on an ascendant path again after a spot of trouble. The young chef had hit a troubled spell after a domestic violence arrest, leaving Los Angeles for Tacoma where he found work at a local restaurant and began carving out a name as a chef for the stars. Grissom cooked for myriad A-list celebrities when they visited his home state, Washington, and looked poised to carve out a meaningful career in that capacity.
Before the stint cooking in LA, he had appeared on TV programs such as Top Chef and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. His competitive and often prickly attitude did not always win Grissom the warmth of viewers or of his fellow competitors, but he was clearly a talented chef and had a knack for celebrity. He was reportedly wearing a helmet at the time of his crash which was caused by loss of control of the bike, not by substances or recklessness.
Influential NYC restauranteur Gray Kunz passed away at 65 in 2020
The restaurant Lespinasse closed nearly two decades ago yet it remains one of the most celebrated restaurants to have ever graced New York City and is still used to compare against today. It was the creation of legendary chef and restaurateur Gray Kunz who died following a stroke in March of 2020. He was 65 years old.
Beyond Lespinasse, Kunz opened two other restaurants in New York (one in the city, one upstate) as well as restaurants in China and Hong Kong. Born in Singapore to Swiss parents, he was a true man of the world, splitting his time between Europe, Asia, and America and with a pan-national flavor profile in much of his cooking and in his writing.
Kunz was eulogized by chefs and food writers far and wide, including his former protegé Floyd Cardoz, who would unfortunately follow Kunz into the grave within a matter of weeks. Outpourings of love and remembrance also came from author Ruth Reichl, who in an impassioned Tweet praised Kunz as having "literally changed food in America."
Benoît Violier, once called the world’s best chef, died by suicide in 2016
Acclaimed French chef Benoît Violier seemed to have everything going right for him in 2016. The restaurant which he owned and at which he was the head chef, Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville in Lausanne, Switzerland, had been called the world’s best by the influential La Liste ranking guide, and the chef had expressed pride and gratitude at the announcement and declared that it only motivated him and his team to work harder than ever to deserve the accolade.
But either the stress of his role as the world’s best chef, new strain potentially brought on after his restaurant was allegedly defrauded of millions in a wine selling scam, or some other cause of suffering, led the 44-year-old Violier to take his own life in the mid-winter of 2016. The reasons behind his suicide remain unclear — he left no note and had spoken to no one of suicidal thoughts — but what will remain clear for decades to come is that he was a superb chef who created a restaurant that will long be cherished. The Restaurant de l’Hôtel was re-opened just two days after his death at the assistance of his wife despite her mourning.
British food writer A.A. Gill died in 2016 just weeks after revealing a cancer diagnosis
Adrian Anthony Gill, better known as AA Gill, his usual pen name, died as he lived: both irreverently yet with class.
His acerbic criticism was seen as overly harsh and crass by some readers, as hilarious and informative by many more. He published multiple books, many of which were travelogues anchored by food-related content, a few of which were novels that were largely panned by literary critics, and he wrote for major publications like Britain’s Sunday Times. An alcoholic in early life (he chose the "AA" sobriquet in homage to the AA program, or Alcoholics Anonymous, that helped him overcome his drinking) he also wrote openly about his struggles with addiction and about overcoming the issue. His clear-eyed and honest discussion of his troubles endeared him to many readers.
Gill announced that he was suffering from an embarrassment of "the Full English" of metastasized cancer in late November of 2016 and died within a few short weeks. Gill left behind two ex-wives, one longtime partner, and four children including twins born to said partner, Nicola Formby, in 2007.
Molecular gastronomy pioneer Homaru Cantu passed away at 38 in 2015
To call Homaru Cantu a "chef" would be like calling Leonardo da Vinci a painter. Cantu was indeed a chef, but also an inventor, designer, scientist, businessman, and philanthropist. And more. But it was his blend of scientific and artful work with food that made the young man famous and wealthy.
His restaurant Moto had earned a Michelin star when Cantu was little past 35 years old. He was a true pioneer and innovator of molecular gastronomy, creating things like carbonated fruit, edible menus and utensils, and edible smouldering "cigars" that were in fact pork shoulder wrapped in collard greens. The holder of myriad patents, Cantu seemed to have no end to ideas about not only what foods to work with but also how to cook them. He was always eco-conscious and looking out for the disadvantaged as well, as he did when designing an oven that cooked using minimal power such that it might be usable by people in areas without reliable access to electricity.
Cantu reportedly slept no more than four hours per night and was constantly reading or tinkering in the kitchen or garage when not working. His suicide by hanging in 2015 came as a shock to his family, friends, and those in the culinary world.
Marguerite Patten died in 2015 at 99 after achieving renown for her cooking radio shows during WWII
Born in 1915, Marguerite Patten was one of the world’s first celebrity chefs. She initially made a name for herself with a cooking program broadcast via radio during WWII. On her show, she focused on meals her fellow Britons could prepare even given the scarcity of foods available during the war, and in her later work she would often return to the memories of those scarce days of The Blitz and the Battle of Britain.
She would go on to remain a highly relevant figure in the global culinary world for another seven decades until her death, at age 99. Patten penned an astounding number of cookbooks (well over 150 of them), appeared on many TV programs, and was a fixture of 20th century British cooking. In addition to her food writing, radio, and TV work, she was also a noted home economist who retired briefly in her 70s only to get right back to work a few years later. She slid from the public eye after a stroke in 2011 and passed away in the summer of 2015.
Food Network star Cristie Schoen Codd and her husband were murdered in 2015
Cristie Schoen Codd’s death at age 38 was absolutely devastating to her family and friends and to many fans who had watched the chef’s ascendance. The devastation was three-part, as Codd was murdered along with her husband and their unborn child. The suspected killer was a man named Robert Owens who had done work at the Codd’s home. A fiery competitor on the Food Network series Food Network Star, Codd was primarily interested in Cajun cooking and was frequently hired to be the caterer and chef for major Hollywood movie productions, such as for the films Ender’s Game, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Terminator Genysis.
Her passing drew a sorrowful tweet from the latter film’s star, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said Cristie "brought us together at meals like a family." She and her husband had met through the film industry in which Joseph Codd had worked as a key grip.
Food writer Josh Ozersky died by drowning in a shower following a seizure in 2015
Josh Ozersky left an oversized mark on the food world for a man who died at age 47. He wrote for Time and Esquire. He created New York Magazine’s influential column Grub Street. He penned successful books like restaurant guide Meat Me in Manhattan and the social history book The Hamburger: A History. Ozersky’s work served with to elevate the "common" food, such as the burger, as well as to make seemingly highfalutin foods more accessible to all eaters. He was the founder of Meatopia, an event that began as a one-off party in New York, grew into a ticketed event two years later, and soon grew into annual festivals held in multiple cities around the world.
His death in 2015 was a shock and was caused by a freak accident: after suffering a seizure while in a hotel shower, Ozersky collapsed to the ground and subsequently drowned while unconscious. He was visiting Chicago on the occasion of the annual Beard Awards at the time of his untimely death.