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When we talk about millionaires, we normally never include chefs. We just never would imagine how much a chef could earn in an industry that has been viewed as highly competitive with low compensation. Years ago people thought it was crazy to pay a head chef a six figure salary while the average annual income would range from $40,000 to $50,000. Today, some chefs can earn as much as $500,000 running a kitchen while there are others that earn even more but do more than just cooking. Top chefs are no longer just cooking for an audience. They have achieved celebrity status and have created a brand recognized worldwide.
This year Forbe’s has named ten chefs joining the millionaire club:
Forbes Top 10 Chefs
1. Rachel Ray, $18 million
Ranked at the top is Food Network star and cookbook author Rachel Ray earning an astounding $18 million US. Starting with her first Food Network show, 30 Minute Meals, she quickly gained the attention of viewers who enjoyed her simple home-style cooking. Today, she has created an empire that includes cookbooks, cookware, four Food Network programs, her Everyday with Rachel Ray magazine and the Rachel Ray talk show which is backed by Oprah Winfrey.
2. Wolfgang Puck, $16 million
Born in Austria, Wolfgang Puck started training at age 14 and quickly worked his way around several three-star French restaurants. In 1973, he went to the US becoming a star attraction as a chef and co-owner at Ma Maison. Puck then moved on to open Spago Hollywood which set a new standard of cooking. Combining his extensive French classical training with the use of fresh California ingredients, Puck has influenced chef/restaurateurs across America. Today, he has 15 fine dining restaurants including 86 other restaurants as well as 6 cookbooks, kitchenware and branded food products.
3. Gordon Ramsay, $7.5 million
After a brief appearance in professional soccer, Ramsay returned to college to complete his studies in hotel management. In 1993, he became the chef of Aubergine which received two Michelin stars within three years of opening. In 1998, Ramsay opened his first restaurant in Chelsea. Today his restaurants are spread across the UK, US, Europe, Middle East and Far East. His empire includes 19 fine dining restaurant including 4 other restaurants plus 12 cookbooks, 3 TV shows and kitchenware.
4. Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, $5 million
Dubbed as the world’s greatest sushi chef, Nobu attracts the A-List of celebrities. However, his celebrity status never came easy. After a sushi chef apprenticeship in Japan, Nobu traveled to South America to experiment with local ingredients while crossing them with Japanese. Although creative, his business ventures failed. Determined to try again, he decided to set up in Anchorage. On the opening week of the restaurant, tragic news hit that it burnt down. Devastated, Nobu contemplated suicide but instead moved to the west coast of the United States. Eight years later, Matsuhisa opened which would become his flagship. Today, Nobu has 19 restaurants, 3 cookbooks and kitchenware. He has cooked private dinners for American presidents and prepared meals for the Oscar’s.
5. Alain Ducasse, $5 million
Alain Ducasse is perhaps one of the most recognized chefs in the world. Starting at 16, Ducasse career would include three apprenticeships that would lead him to working at some of France’s most prestigious restaurants. By 33, he was the youngest chef to achieve three Michelin stars and at 42 he was the first chef in 60 years to win six Michelin stars at one time. Now at 51, he continues to work 16 hour days. In 2000, he would open his first American location at the Essex House in New York. The restaurant quickly received four stars by the New York Times, but later received a cold rejection among the locals and critics for its outrageous service. The restaurant featured a $225 prix fixe menu and offered a selection of ten pens to sign the bill. A bad move by Ducasse, he has yet to conquer New York. Currently, he has 26 restaurants, 4 inns, 4 bakeries, 2 cooking schools, a hotel consortium, his own publishing company, 17 cookbooks and a line of kitchenware.
6. Paula Deen, $4.5 million
From being a single mother with two sons and with no college education, no formal culinary or no income, the then 42 year old Paul Deen focused on what she knew best, cooking in her home kitchen. In 1989, she started a lunch delivery service which her sons helped deliver sandwiches and cookies to local businesses. Within two years, the home business grew so big, Deen decided to open her first restaurant called The Lady. Today, she has 2 restaurants, 7 cookbooks, 2 television shows and branded food products. She has made regular TV appearances including CNN Larry King Live and Oprah. She also earned two Emmy awards in 2007 and at the same time was named as one of the 100 most powerful celebrities by Forbes.
7. Mario Batali, $3 million
After a short trail at Le Cordon Bleu in London, Batali dropped out of the famed culinary school and opted for an apprenticeship with London’s renowned chef Marco Pierre White. Furthering his training, Batali spent three years in a Northern Italian village of Borgo Capanne which gave him the essential skills of Italian cuisine. From there he returned to his native home in the US to share his knowledge of Italian cooking. Today, he has 13 restaurants, 1 wine shop, 6 cookbooks, 3 TV shows and kitchenware. In 1999, GQ named Batali “Man of the Year” in the chef category and in 2002 he was given the prestigious James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: New York City award.
8. Tom Colicchio, $2 million
As the participating head judge on the Food Network’s show, Top Chef, Tom Colicchio has earned a number of achievements as a chef and restauranteur. At a young age, Colicchio taught himself to cook by reading various cooking guides by legendary chef, Jacques Pépin. His father encouraged Tom to pursue a culinary career. So at 17, he worked in a kitchen in his hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. He continued his training in various top kitchens in New York starting at The Quilted Giraffe where it took him only four months to be promoted to sous chef. In 1994, he along with partner Danny Meyer opened Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan which quickly received three stars. Today, Colicchio has 8 fine dining restaurants, 3 cookbooks, 1 TV show and has ownership in 10 additional restaurants.
9. Bobby Flay, $1.5 million
Cooking since the age of 17, Flay began his career at Joe Allen’s, a job that was arranged by his father who was a partner in the restaurant. Owner Joe Allen was so impressed with Flay’s culinary talents that he paid for his tuition to The French Culinary Institute. From there, Flay’s career would quickly rise and it was only after he graduated that he discovered southwestern ingredients which would later be his inspiration in all his cooking. At 25, Flay helped open Mesa Grill and after receiving a wide positive reaction, Flay was offered to be a partner. Today he has 5 restaurants, 8 cookbooks, 4 TV shows, kitchenware and branded food products.
10. Anthony Bourdain, $1.5 million
After writing an article for The New York Magazine about life behind restaurant kitchens, Bourdain decided to write a humorous book called Kitchen Confidential which became in international bestseller. In 2000, he launched another book and a Food Network series called A Cook’s Tour which describes his travels around the world searching for the perfect meal. He is the author of seven books and is currently the executive chef at brasserie Les Halles in New York.
Let us not forget Emeril Lagasse, the one chef that has inspired other chefs to create their own brand. Known for his highly entertaining Food Network show, Emeril Live and his signature line, “Bam!,” Emeril has created an empire that includes 10 fine-dining restaurants, 10 cookbooks, 3 TV programs, kitchenware and a line of gourmet sauces. Perhaps the biggest news came last February when Lagasse sold his non-restaurant holdings to Martha Stewart Omnimedia for $50 million
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