Bobby Flay has cooked up quite a reputation as a celebrity chef, but behind the scenes, his personal life has been turning stomachs. Look up his name in Urban Dictionary, and get the definition "biggest jerk ever." We’re not kidding. That exists.
Sure, it’s cool for Flay to be immortalized as part of the pop culture lexicon, and he’s known for being brash during televised cooking competitions — but the Flay hate isn’t relegated to just the viewers at home. His peers aren’t big Flay fans either. "That’s why I laugh when they say, ‘Let’s see if he’s a real chef. Let’s get him up against Bobby Flay on Iron Chef," Gordon Ramsay once told Men’s Journal. "I’m like, ‘F**king do me a favor … come on. I’ve forgotten more than he’s known!’" Ouch. The late, great Anthony Bourdain similarly went full Bourdain with a backhanded compliment on how Flay’s cooking skills are utilized on TV. "Now does anyone actually believe that Bobby Flay can’t make a better chili than a supermarket ground beef-bearing amateur?" he once said (via She Knows). "It’s a cruel exercise in humiliation."
All that said, Flay’s romantic foibles have grabbed even more headlines than his foie gras. He went through a spectacular split with his wife in 2015 and was accused of doing some really despicable stuff. Grab an apron and let’s dig into the double life of Bobby Flay.
Bobby Flay’s Iron Chef Japan fracas
Chef Masaharu Morimoto was not stoked about Bobby Flay’s behavior when they competed against one another on Iron Chef Japan. Apparently, Flay committed quite the cultural snafu by jumping on a cutting board after the timer ran out. He wasn’t declared the winner, but he certainly acted like that was the case. According to The Wire, Morimoto was highly offended by the manner in which his fellow celeb chef treated the tools of their trade, saying, "He’s no chef … He stood on the cutting board. In Japan, the cutting board is sacred."
While we can understand Flay’s exuberance in the heat of the moment, his actions still seem boneheaded and disrespectful. A chef of Flay’s caliber should know the codes of the kitchen. Though a simple fist pump would have sufficed, Flay allowed his life as a celebrity overshadow his life as a chef.
Throwdown with Bobby Flay was allegedly built on a lie
Throwdown with Bobby Flay was supposedly a head-to-head competition between Flay and another chef, where they each made a variation on the challenger chef’s signature dish. As the show was presented, each challenge portrayed Flay as sort of rolling up his sleeves and taking a crack at making a dish with which he was generally unfamiliar.
And yet, according to competitor Ben Sargent, he was the patsy in what became the pilot episode for Flay’s then-brand-new show in 2006 after being allegedly duped by the celeb chef and Food Network into thinking he was getting his own show. In an interview with SlashFood, Sargent said he was under the impression that he was taping "his very own half hour Food Network TV show — all about him and chowder, his specialty," until Flay challenged him to a chowder cook-off "right then and there." Sargent quickly realized what was happening, especially when Flay’s army of help showed up.
"He’s got all his sous chefs. Two women working under him in their black chef’s coats with the little Food Network logo on them. They looked so intimidating. His stocks were prepared in containers. He comes with 100 brand new glistening Japanese prep knives. He had his automatic chowder mixer. I’m sitting there, mixing raw potatoes, dealing with our lack of high flame, Sargent said. Though he did describe Flay as "a sweetheart," Sargent’s thoughts on Throwdown were basically summed up as, "It was fair in that we … no, it wasn’t fair."
Bobby Flay’s alleged infidelity with an assistant
Bobby Flay split with his third wife, actress Stephanie March of Law & Order: SVU, in 2015. It was widely reported that Flay spent three years having an extramarital affair with Elyse Tirrell, an aspiring singer and actress. Tirrell had worked her way up from her role as a hostess at Flay’s Bar Americain in New York City to that of his assistant, according to Page Six.
As cheating rumors swirled, the chef and his PR team issued a statement to Us Weekly about the allegations. "We will continue to refrain from responding to the continued efforts by certain parties to spread rumors and innuendo," the statement said. "This specific allegation was in a letter sent from one attorney in this case to the other. It was written and then leaked specifically to try to insert this story into the press, and that’s unfortunate. Even more unfortunate is that all of this is being done in order to renegotiate a prenuptial agreement that was agreed to over a decade ago and never amended during the marriage." That’s not exactly a denial of infidelity. It sounds more like an ugly chess move to lay blame at his ex’s door.
Bobby Flay didn’t visit his wife during a medical emergency
Bobby Flay’s marriage to Stephanie March ended in 2015, but according to a report by TMZ, it had been "deteriorating" for a while. One of the reasons that contributed to their crumbling marriage happened in 2014, when Flay reportedly opted out of visiting March in the hospital until the day after her emergency surgery for a burst appendix. Once he did show up, he supposedly left early because "he was busy with work" and "offered to send his assistant" to comfort her. Ouch.
To make matters worse, Flay also reportedly skipped out on their ten-year wedding anniversary to attend a wine festival in Florida with his group of assistants who call themselves the "B-Team." One might argue that duty calls, but he’s Bobby freakin’ Flay, one of the most well-known chefs in the business. Missing a festival would not cause his entire culinary empire to crumble.
But don’t worry, March is doing just fine these days. In an interview with the fitness company Physique 57, she discussed emergency appendectomy and revealed that she’d had surgery for endometriosis, as well. "I needed to give my body time to heal and be quiet," March explained. "When I was ready to tackle regular exercise again, I wanted to incorporate more toning, stretching, and core fitness into my routine. I was tired of pounding it out. I wanted something more elegant and lengthening."
With an estimated net worth of $60 million, you’d think Bobby Flay wouldn’t be cheap or possibly vindictive when dealing with his ex-wife. Or maybe $60 million makes you that way. Anyway, according to a 2015 report by TMZ, Flay canceled Stephanie March’s credit cards during their messy divorce, in a move her lawyer called "bullying through economic warfare."
March claimed she was using the cards only for household expenses rather than extravagant purchases, but Flay abided by their prenup and sent March a check for $5,000 instead. March’s lawyer returned the check along with some blistering words for the famous chef in a letter to his attorney, writing: "We regard the support provisions of the pre-marital agreement as unenforceable (not to mention morally reprehensible)." Her lawyer also accused Flay of using this economic tactic in order to force March into issuing a joint statement to lead people to believe their divorce was amicable. We can’t say for certain whether this was true, but if it was … come on now, Bobby.
Bobby Flay’s alleged January Jones affair
Here’s a hypothetical: you are involved in a minor fender bender. Who do you call? Someone close to you, right? A BFF or significant other? Well, when Mad Men actress January Jones was in a small car accident in 2010, she called Bobby Flay for assistance. That would suggest those two were pretty tight, right?
Flay’s account of the affair went like this: he met Jones for the first time that very evening. She asked him for his number because she wanted his input on an interior designer to redo her kitchen. He claimed he had no clue why Jones phoned him to bail her out of her vehicular jam. Regardless, he was a gentleman and came to her aid. An innocuous celeb exchange, right?
Not so fast. Flay’s then-wife, Stephanie March, claimed Jones and her husband were lovers, according to The Daily Beast. Here’s more food for thought: Jones gave birth to a son, Xander, in 2011. For years, it was rumored that her former flame, actor Jason Sudeikis, was the baby daddy, but Jones has not confirmed the identity of Xander’s father. Could Flay have put a bun in that oven?
Bobby Flay was publicly branded a cheater
Getting awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame should be a day to remember. But unfortunately for Bobby Flay, that day was memorable for the wrong reasons. During the June 2015 ceremony, a plane flew overhead with a banner that read "CHEATER" (via Us Weekly). Talk about a PR disaster.
This embarrassing incident occurred in the midst of Flay’s public divorce battle with Stephanie March, during which he, as mentioned, faced allegations of cheating with his assistant, Elyse Tirrell. Naturally, people speculated that his estranged wife might have been the culprit, but her attorney shot this line of thinking down real quick, stating, "Stephanie is absolutely not behind [this]."
It’s easy to understand why March would be eyed as the mastermind behind the plane stunt. A mere two months before Flay’s Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony, March’s friend and fellow actor, Maia Madison, spoke to Page Six about March learning about Flay’s reported affair. "She came to my house and was sobbing uncontrollably,” Madison claimed. "She said, ‘I can’t believe the last 10 years of my life have been a lie.’"
We can’t be certain either way, but we suppose it’s possible that message in the sky was meant for someone else? It is Hollywood, after all.
Bobby Flay’s divorce ended on a sour note
Bobby Flay’s aforementioned divorce from Stephanie March was anything but amicable. Much of the courtroom fighting had to do with the couple’s prenup, which Flay reportedly felt was fair and March reportedly, uh, did not. This led to a number of messy headlines in the tabloids, including fights over what really led March to get plastic surgery and even the couple’s horse.
The divorce was finally settled in July 2015, but not without one last headline. According to Page Six, as part of the settlement, March was forced to vacate the couple’s Manhattan home, where she had been taking care of her sick mother. "She has been staying there with her mother, who has been in poor health. It has been a very difficult time for her. It is unclear what her future living arrangement will be as she continues to care for her mother," an insider alleged.
On the bright side: March has since found love again by way of tech investor Dan Benton, whom she married in 2017.
Bobby Flay’s brash nature
Bobby Flay’s brash behavior is the key ingredient to his notoriety. There’s no shortage of online material about negative fan experiences, and how he appears to act similarly towards colleagues, which overshadows an unspoken culinary code of mutual respect.
Canadian chef Chuck Hughes competed with Flay on Iron Chef America, but before the showdown, Hughes presented his opponent with an official Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey. Flay’s response to this thoughtful gesture? Hughes told the CBC that Flay said, "’Thank you so much — but it’s not going to help." Ouch! Is Flay trying to be a famous chef or a notorious trash talker? Hughes went on to defeat Flay with a plate of lobster poutine (not literally), so we assume Flay’s smack talk didn’t rattle Hughes at all.
To be fair, Hughes also said Flay was "polite" and shared "some great words of encouragement, and not necessarily for the battle, but mostly for life." Was Hughes just being diplomatic, or should we read between the lines?
Bobby Flay’s restaurant employees sued him
In 2009, workers from Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain, Mesa Grill, and Bolo filed a lawsuit against the grillmaster that alleged "they had been cheated out of wages and tips and [sought] to recover minimum wages, overtime compensation and allegedly misappropriated gratuities," according to Law360. The workers’ suit claimed they were not paid minimum wage or overtime, and that they were made to pay for and launder their own uniforms without reimbursement. On top of that, the disgruntled staff members also alleged that tips were not being properly distributed, with even management staff sometimes getting a cut.
Flay eventually agreed to pay an $800,000 settlement to the complainants, although according to DNA Info, the Iron Chef star "denied any wrongdoing, but in court documents said he would rather settle with the workers than go to trial." Hey, if you’ve got the pocket change to spare.
Though he’s clearly one of the richest and most popular chefs in the world, how did Flay get to where he is today? Keep reading to discover the chance job that transformed his troubled start into a remarkable career.
Bobby Flay dropped out of high school
During a 2014 interview with CBS Sunday Morning, viewers learned that Bobby Flay "flunked out of a series of New York Catholic schools" before dropping out of high school altogether at the age of 17. "Maybe I was bored," Flay said. "I guess I was because I had no interest at all."
Flay echoed those sentiments back in 2011, telling The Wall Street Journal, "I really had no interest in doing any school work whatsoever." His scholarly father then laid down the law: get a job. Flay didn’t have time to look, because his father took the matter into his own hands. "Two days later, he called and said the busboy at a restaurant where he was a partner [Joe Allen, in New York’s Theatre District] needed two weeks off to visit his sick grandmother," Flay explained. "I was told to fill in."
When the busboy returned to work, Flay’s life changed instantly. "I was literally walking out of the restaurant and the chef said, ‘Do you want to work in the kitchen?’ And I said, ‘Sure,’" he explained. "It was because I had nothing else to do that day. If I had plans with friends, I probably would have said no. I wasn’t desperate to work in the kitchen."
Did cooking save Bobby Flay’s life?
During the same CBS Sunday Morning interview, Bobby Flay admitted that the grunt kitchen work would lead him to the school he was born to attend. "I remember waking up the in the morning, laying in my bed, staring at the ceiling and saying to myself, ‘I can’t want to go to work today,’" he explained. "I hit me. I was working with my hands, I was creating things, and I could actually do it. I didn’t have to open a book. I was learning in a practical manner."
Flay went on to graduate from New York’s French Culinary Institute (now known as the International Culinary Center) in 1984 and opened his first restaurant, Mesa Grill, at the age of 25. He revealed that he essentially owes cooking for saving his life, as well. "I could have easily gone down a bad road, for sure," he said. "What was I going to do? How was I going to make a living? What [were] my skills?" Flay also acknowledged that, while he didn’t necessarily think he’d end up in a life of crime, a lot of his friends did. "I took a different path."
Giada De Laurentiis didn’t speak to him for almost a year
During a 2018 appearance on the podcast Beyond the Plate (via People), Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis recalled a story that caused her not to speak to Bobby Flay for months. They once teamed up on an episode of Iron Chef and faced off against Rachael Ray and Mario Batali. They ended up losing, and while De Laurentiis was devastated, Flay didn’t appear too bothered. "We lost, and he thought it was funny, he didn’t think it was any big deal that we lost," De Laurentiis said. "I did not talk to him for eight months. Eight months! Nothing."
"And I was really disappointed. And I think that more than the loss, which I was really upset about, I was upset that he didn’t seem to care," she explained. "It didn’t seem to faze him that we lost. He didn’t say, ‘Hey, I’m sorry we lost,’ or ‘Hey, we’ll do it again.’ Nothing! He’s just like, and he walked away. And I thought, you’re a jerk, and I never want to be around you again."
Of course, the Laurentiis-Flay feud eventually ended — the pair went on to co-host Food Network Star together — and now they maintain a good friendship. As De Laurentiis put it, "I think that Bobby is one of those people that if you are his friend, he has your back forever and he will stand up for you."
Bobby Flay’s Iron Chef stunt gone wrong
Bobby Flay shocked fans and producers alike when pulled off his apron during a live 2017 taping of Iron Chef Showdown to show off a shirt, which said, "THIS IS MY LAST IRON CHEF BATTLE EVER" (via Vanity Fair). According to sources cited by the publication, the show’s producers scrambled once the director called cut and confronted Flay, telling him they would be "[unable] to cut around that." His alleged response? "I know. That’s the point." Yikes. The insiders went on to claim that this stunt caused tension between Flay and Food Network, making the world speculate on his future with the channel.
However, all that ended when Flay issued a statement that October to People claiming the move was merely an ill-conceived joke: "This past summer when I was in production on Iron Chef Showdown, I wore a T-shirt to have a little fun during my last battle this season. In hindsight, it was probably not the best decision because it’s just creating confusion."
He went on to call Food Network "his family for over 20 years" and expressed his desire and excitement "to return to Kitchen Stadium" whenever his schedule allowed. However, just four months later, Flay officially quit the show, citing the "exhausting" schedule and stating (via People), "At some point I was like, ‘I’ve been doing this for a long time and I want to go out on a high note.’"