Bizarre Celebrity Chef Scandals That Really Happened

In the past few decades, the entertainment world has been cracked wide open by perhaps the most unlikely group of entertainers: professional chefs. With countless networks around the world devoted to shows about every single aspect of food, it's not surprising that some of the featured chefs have risen to become household names as well-known as any of Hollywood's A-listers. It can be tough at the top, though, and some of the world's biggest and best chefs have been surrounded by scandal. Strange, bizarre, crazy scandals that leave you wondering how they ever could have happened in the first place.

Nigella Lawson's drug use

In 2013, Nigella Lawson was called to the stand in a fraud trial. On trial were her former assistants, Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo. The sisters were accused of using credit cards owned by Lawson and her ex-husband, Charles Saatchi, for their own personal use, and accumulating a massive series of charges. They were eventually acquitted, but that wasn't the biggest part of the story.

The sisters' defense hinged largely on the idea that Lawson had unconditionally approved of all the purchases that were made, amounting to a staggering £685,000, to cover up her cocaine use. When Lawson was called to the stand and questioned as a witness, she admitted that she had used cocaine several times starting in 2010. At the time, she was married to John Diamond and the couple used the drug a handful of times to escape from the reality of his diagnosis with terminal cancer. It wasn't long after his death that she used again, this time to escape what she described as "intimate terrorism" inflicted by her now ex-husband, Charles Saatchi, according to BBC. According to her testimony, the claims of habitual use had spiraled out of control because of his false claims and the infamous photo of him grabbing her in a Mayfair restaurant.

Lawson maintained that Saatchi was the one that blew the whole thing out of proportion in an attempt to ruin her, but another moment in the same trial revealed some other shocking information. When Elisabetta was asked about one particular charge, she responded that she had bought "cigarettes for the children", according to the Telegraph. According to her testimony, Lawson and Saatchi not only knew their assistants were supplying their children with cigarettes but also allowed them to smoke weed. (Lawson had previously admitted to smoking weed in front of her children, according to the New York Daily News.) After the acquittal, Lawson talked about how horrifying it was, forced to speak about such private issues on a public stage, and said that Saatchi had been out to destroy her any way he could.

L'ubomir Herko allegedly cuts cocaine on live TV

The world of the celebrity chef is a sordid one no matter what country you're in, and for anyone who's not familiar with the name L'ubomir Herko, he's a celebrity chef in Slovakia. He was featured in an interview segment on the Slovakian television show Telerano in early 2016, and when it was time for the camera to cut to his kitchen, he apparently wasn't ready. The camera caught what appeared to be Herko, using a credit card to cut a line of cocaine on his prep table, according to Vice.

Even though the station insisted that he was just joking around, most of the viewers seemed to take his wide-eyed, vacant grin seriously. About 85 percent of viewers responded to a survey (via Vice) saying he should be released from the show, especially in light of what a problem substance abuse is throughout the entire industry.

Mario Batali's tip-skimming lawsuit

In 2010, 117 of Mario Batali's employees took him to court amid accusations that he had taken as much as 5 percent of tips that should have gone to wait staff, kitchen employees, bartenders, and servers, using the money (particularly from the sales of wine and alcohol) to pay the salaries of his sommeliers.

Batali and his partners settled the lawsuit in 2012, agreeing to pay a whopping $5.25 million out to employees who were shorted in their tips. Monetary awards were to be divided up between staff who had worked in the restaurants between 2004 and 2012, based on the number of hours each person had been on the clock, according to the Huffington Post. It's unlikely any more information will come to light, as part of the settlement specified that it was not to be publicly discussed further.

Paula Deen's alleged racism

Paula Deen's troubles started in 2012, when she and her brother were sued by a former manager of her restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, for racial and sexual harassment. According to the Huffington Post, the former manager, Lisa Jackson, claimed she was subjected to repeated racism, violence and discrimination on the job that finally drove her from her position five years later. Things came to a head for Deen during a 2013 deposition for the trial, during which Deen admitted to a number of jaw-dropping things, including using the "N-word" at some point in her life. Her lawyer, for what it's worth, still denied Jackson's allegation, according to CNN.

Although the case was later dismissed, the scandal catalyzed the downfall of Deen's business and television empire as she was quickly dropped by numerous sponsors and employers, including Target, QVC, and the Food Network; her embarrassing apology tour did not do her any favors, either. Nor did the subsequent scandals that came out during and after the original, like another employee who accused Deen of once asking her to dress up like Aunt Jemima; or the time she tweeted a photo of her son in brown face.

Her career hasn't altogether tanked; she's still regularly getting work. Still, the cable channel Evine is certainly a far cry from the Food Network.

Jamie Oliver unites nations against him

Jollof rice is one of West Africa's most prized traditions, a tomato-based dish that the BBC described as representing the "heart and soul" an entire region. In October 2014, that region was united against Jamie Oliver when he reportedly took the recipe and reinvented it into something that looked absolutely nothing like the original. Thousands and thousands of outraged comments were posted in response to his recipe, according to the report, and African food bloggers were quick to point out just why people were angry. It wasn't just a matter of offending, it was a matter of skewing the way African culture was represented in the mainstream media of other parts of the world.

BBC Africa's Vera Kwakofi said, "The danger is that in five years, his version will become the official one." It was the latest in a long line of instance of Europe taking African culture and simply doing whatever they wanted with it, and the hate-rage was strong stuff.

Two years later, Oliver was on his way to making another country so mad at him that he started getting death threats. This time around, it was Spain, where citizens were outraged over his take on paella, according to the Guardian. "They went medieval on me," Oliver later recalled to British television personality Graham Norton in November 2016. "By the way, it got so much darker than that," he added. "It trended. For weeks! I had death threats and all sorts because of a bit of sausage."

The legal troubles of Geoffrey Zakarian

Geoffrey Zakarian is one of the friendliest faces on the Food Network, and that makes it so much more surprising to find out that he was in the center of a not-so-publicized legal dispute that saw more than 150 of his former employees taking him to court in a class action lawsuit. The 2011 lawsuit claimed that not only had he not paid the employees and chefs of the Country, a now-closed restaurant inside the Carlton Hotel, the overtime pay they were owed, but it also claimed that he submitted false pay records in order to get out of paying his employees what they were entitled to, according to the New York Times. He was also accused of charging employees for meals they didn't have, and the employees involved were looking for $1 million in damages and another $250,000 in penalties, the report added.

Accusations got pretty heated, with line cooks claiming they were shorted pay for up to three hours every day they worked. According to the Times, Zakarian filed for bankruptcy in the midst of the proceeds, and the lawsuits soon grew to include one from his former partner, Moshe Lax, who accused Zakarian of violating labor laws. Another former partner, Adam Block, wrote in an affidavit claiming that he felt he knew that Zakarian's "narcissistic behavior and arrogance caused Country to fail and inevitably allowed whatever wage and hour violations occurred while he was Country's operator," the Times reported.

In 2013, Lax's case was sent to arbitration, but only a few years later Zakarian was back in court. This time, he was taking on Donald Trump over the then-presidential candidate's remarks about Mexicans. Zakarian (and fellow chef José Andrés) dropped out of a deal to open restaurants in Trump properties, saying that his viewpoints "... do not in any way align with my personal core values." Trump filed breach-of-contract lawsuits against Zakarian and Andrés and the chefs countersued, according to Grubstreet. The cases are still ongoing, according to the Washington Post.

Anthony Bourdain speaks out in support of clubbing seals

The hunting and clubbing of baby seals for their fur is one of the most controversial of the world's hunting practices, and in 2013, dozens of celebrity chefs signed a petition boycotting Canadian seafood to protest the continuation of a pretty barbaric practice. The boycott was backed by the Humane Society of the United States, and chef Anthony Bourdain took issue with it.

He tweeted in opposition to not only the attempts at boycott, but his colleagues' support of the movement. Condemning the movement as having the potential to destroy entire communities of Inuit living in the Arctic Circle, he took issue with the idea of calling foul at a sustainable hunting practice that's been done for countless generations. It spiraled out from there, prompting a quick response from both the Humane Society and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The Humane Society was quick to point out that the same boats used for seafood were used for moving the furs skinned from the corpses of baby seals, and that they weren't actually protesting the Inuit hunting practices at all, according to CBC News. What they were protesting was what they felt was an "inhumane commercial industry," which seemed to have been completely missed in Bourdain's tirade. By this time, a few other chefs had jumped on his bandwagon, and the IFAW chimed in with still more information. Not only was there no ban on Inuit hunting practices, it claimed, no one was suggesting there needed to be. In fact, the IFAW said, the Inuit had nothing to do with the petition at all. They accused Bourdain of being completely clueless when it came to the industry he made his living being a part of, and suggested he get his facts straight.

Amy's Baking Company vs. Gordon Ramsay (and the world)

It's a given that not everyone Gordon Ramsay helps on Kitchen Nightmares actually wants him there, or is in a good position mentally to admit that they're at the head of a failing business and need help. But Amy's Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona, took it to a whole new level during a 2013 episode, and the infamous chef ended his attempts at trying to help them by storming out for the first time ever.

Fallout from the episode led to responses from viewers on Yelp and Reddit, as well as a retaliation post on Facebook by owners Samy and Amy Bouzaglo that may or may not have been the result of a hack, according to Eater. Whatever the case, scandals for the Bouzaglos continued. Shortly after the episode aired, Gawker reported that Samy, a Moroccan-born Israeli citizen, was facing deportation after he allegedly was not forthcoming about prior drug distribution and extortion charges that sent him to prison before he got to the United States. Amy, meanwhile, had reportedly served time in prison for misuse of a social security number.

The end of the episode wasn't the end of Ramsay's association with the restaurateurs, either. The episode aired in the spring of 2013, and in November that year, Samy posted a video on YouTube that accused Ramsay of sexual harassment. According to Samy's rant, Ramsay not only took advantage of Amy, but undoubtedly every other restaurant owner's wife, too. He then continued, telling everyone who would listen. A Kitchen Nightmares rep denied the allegations, and the whole thing sort of dropped off the face of the earth. (In spite of the fact that another of Ramsay's shows, Master Chef, was also the target of sexual harassment allegations, according to Eater.) Amy's Baking Company finally closed in 2015, although they insist they simply closed because of a sewer-like smell the landlord refused to remedy, according to the Associated Press.

Ina Garten turns down Make-A-Wish

In a world of over-the-top personalities, Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa might be the one least likely to offend. But that's exactly what she in what can only be described as a publicity nightmare. According to ABC News, the celebrity chef, who's worth about $50 million, allegedly turned down two requests from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, in 2010 and 2011, respectively, to meet a 6-year-old fan who was battling leukemia and would watch her show in bed. As the story made headlines, Garten reportedly reached out to the family to invite the young boy to the Food Network, according to TMZ. Apparently, though, the gesture was too little, too late: "I don't want to put my son through all these emotions. We're better off just leaving everything the way it is," the boy's father told TMZ.

Around the same time, the family claimed (via ABC News) that the boy had "already moved on" to his second wish, which was to swim with the dolphins.