The double life of Bobby Flay

Celebrity chef Bobby Flay has cooked up quite the reputation as a celebrity chef, but behind the scenes, his personal life is 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. However, his romantic foibles have grabbed 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.

The Iron Chef Japan fracas

Chef Masaharu Morimoto was not stoked about 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 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 (2006-11) is supposedly a head-to-head competition between Flay and another chef where they each make a variation on the challenger chef's signature dish. As the show is presented, each challenge is portrayed as Flay sort of rolling up his sleeves and taking a crack at making a dish with which he is 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."

His alleged infidelity with an assistant

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.

His brash nature

Flay's brash behavior is the key ingredient to his notoriety. There's no shortage of online material about negative fan experiences, and 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. 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?

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?

He didn't visit his wife during a medical emergency

The Daily Beast reported that Flay opted out of visiting his ailing wife while she was holed up in the hospital after her appendix ruptured in 2014. He also reportedly hightailed it out of town for their 10th anniversary, heading to Florida for a food and wine festival instead. 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. Even though the marriage was reportedly falling apart at the time, Flay could have extended an olive branch or at least kept up appearances to avoid the negative press.

Bad credit

Denied! Flay cut off March's credit cards during their messy divorce, according to TMZ. She claimed she wasn't making extravagant purchases; just using the cards for necessities, like food and pet supplies. March reportedly described her husband's actions as "bullying through economic warfare." According to Hollywood Take, the successful chef's net worth hovers around $20 million. If you ask us, financially handcuffing your partner during a divorce seems petty and tasteless.

The 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 (2007-15) actress January Jones was in a small car accident in 2010, she called 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, 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?

He keeps dating famous women

Returning to the dating scene after an ugly and public divorce is inevitable, whether you're famous or not. About a year after his divorce, E! reported that Flay was hooking up with Masters of Sex (2012-16) star Heléne Yorke. Flay is 52 years old; she is 32. It's a sizable age difference, but nothing we haven't seen before, especially in Hollywood. Even so, Flay's bitter divorce and all the seedy details served up during the breakup have tarnished his rep. Perhaps it would be best for the celebrity chef to take actresses off the menu.

But hey, maybe it was meant to be. Flay and Yorke celebrated their one-year anniversary with a lovey-dovey Instagram post in February 2017.

He was publicly branded a cheater

Getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is normally a refreshing and exciting milestone for any celebrity's career. Unfortunately for Flay, his ceremony was met with a PR disaster when a plane flew overhead with a sign that read "CHEATER" trailing behind it. Considering the incident occurred during Flay's messy divorce, all eyes pointed to March as the culprit, which she quickly denied.

Maybe that message in the sky was meant for someone else? It is Hollywood, after all.

His divorce ended on a sour note

Flay's aforementioned divorce from 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.

His restaurant employees sued him

In 2009, workers from 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 "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.

He delivered pizzas

Hard as it may be to believe, Flay was once a regular kid working a regular ol' job like the rest of us. Speaking to the New York Daily News in 2008, he said his first food job came in the sixth grade as a pizza delivery boy.

"When I wasn't delivering pies, the owners of the parlor let me open the cans of tomatoes and grate the mozzarella," he said of his time at Mimi's Pizza on the Upper East Side. "When I was 15, I scooped ice cream at Baskin-Robbins."

Flay later quipped to CBS Sunday Morning that he graduated from UCLA—or, as he put it, the "University of Corner of Lexington Avenue."

He dropped out of high school

At age 17, after flunking out of multiple Catholic schools in Manhattan, Flay dropped out of high school. "I really had no interest in doing any school work whatsoever," he told The Wall Street Journal in 2011.

Immediately after, Flay said his father, whom he described as "very much a scholarly guy," forced him to fill in for a bus boy at the restaurant Joe Allen in Times Square. When the bus boy returned, moved to the kitchen. "I was literally walking out of the restaurant and the chef said, 'Do you want to work in the kitchen?'" Flay recalled. "And I said, 'Sure.' 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."

He quickly developed a love for cooking

While at Joe Allen, Flay said he quickly learned a valuable life lesson that he had not experienced in school.

"I remember waking up in the morning, laying in my bed, staring at the ceiling and saying to myself, 'I can't wait to go to work today,'" he told CBS Sunday Morning in 2014. "It hit me."

"I was working with my hands," he continued. "I was creating things, and I could actually do it. I didn't have to open a book. I was learning at a practical manner."

He graduated from the French Culinary Institute

Incidentally, Flay's time out of the classroom didn't last forever. At age 18, with financial assistance from the owner of Joe Allen, he enrolled in the inaugural class at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan.

"It was not my favorite thing," he said of his return to the classroom. "But I knew this was my last chance without my father killing me."

"It gave me a foundation forever," he continued. "I utilize things I learned in FCI every day."

He was mentored by a top New York Chef

Given all the success he's had in his career, it should come with little surprise that Flay's cooking career got off to an auspicious start. According to The Wall Street Journal, he became the chef of a restaurant on the Upper East Side at the age of 20, just two weeks after it opened. The experience was stressful, to say the least.

"I was 20 years old, and way over my head," he said. "I had to hire the cooks and do the menus. I did it for a year, but I thought, I need to know how to cook better."

From there, Flay formed a relationship with his mentor, the legendary chef Jonathan Waxman, working for him at three of his renowned restaurants.

He opened his first restaurant at age 26

Remarkably, at the young age of 26, Flay made a legitimate name for himself when he opened the Mesa Grill in 1991.

The process itself was relatively simple. "Jerry Kretchmer [the New York restaurateur] had just come back from a trip to the Southwest, probably because he wants to be a cowboy," Flay told The Wall Street Journal. "And he asked around—who cooks really good Southwest food? So he heard about me, and he asked if I wanted to open a restaurant with him and I said yes."

The rest, of course, is history.

TV followed shortly thereafter

Over the years, Flay has managed to reach a global audience through his many TV ventures on the Food Network and elsewhere. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal in 2011, Flay said he got the idea to do television to help publicize his restaurants.

"The Food Network was just starting in New York, and I was getting lots of attention from Mesa Grill," he recalled. "They had no money, so if you couldn't get there by subway, you couldn't be on. It wasn't like TV was something I really wanted to do—but I knew it would be great publicity for my restaurants."

Great, indeed.

Did cooking save his life?

Looking back on his troubled youth, Flay confessed to CBS Sunday Morning that, in many ways, cooking essentially saved his life.

"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 drugs and crime, a lot of his friends did. "I took a different path," he said.