How much money do chefs make? According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the leading U.S. food-service trade magazine, the average annual salary for an executive chef at a stand-alone restaurant in 2010 was $71,063. All together, now: Do you think that’s what Mario Batali takes home? Do you reckon that’s how many bucks Guy Fieri pays taxes on each year? Yeah, sure. The rules are different for celebrity chefs — first of all, simply because they’re celebrities and hence demand the big bucks, but also because, without exception, the most financially successful ones do lots of things at once. In fact — spoiler alert — very few of them ever actually cook in their own kitchens anymore.
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They’re far too busy thinking up and launching new restaurants (and even, like Charlie Palmer, hotels), writing cookbooks, developing (or lending their names to) products of various kinds, and of course appearing on TV… The most successful chefs in America aren’t just chefs — they’re entrepreneurs, they’re brands. Sometimes they’re virtually whole industries. Being Wolfgang Puck, Tom Colicchio, or José Andrés isn’t just a job: It’s a way of life.
With that in mind, we thought it would be fun — and even maybe educational — to try to figure how many clams some of our nation’s most famous culinary celebrities actually rake in. How much, in other words, do these guys (and occasionally gals, like Paula Deen and Barbara Lynch) get paid?
In drawing up our list of chefs, we decided first of all that they must actually be chefs, in the sense of having run restaurant kitchens and built their careers from there. Sorry, Rachael. Tough luck, Alton. We’ve included a few citizens of other countries (Alain Ducasse and Jamie Oliver among them) because they have restaurants and/or TV shows in America, though the bulk of their business is elsewhere.
In order to obtain accurate, up-to-date income figures for these fabulous food folk, we bribed an IRS official and obtained copies of their personal tax returns.
In fact, our researchers consulted Experian (through LexisNexis), the Orbis International Financial Database, and BookScan. We considered net worth rankings and previous salary estimates from Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and several trade publications.
We scoured the popular press for news stories and rumours. Then we called up savvy restaurant pros (not the kinds who’d make the list) and got their feedback, threw in a pinch of common sense, and calculated what we believe to be a reasonable approximation of each chef’s personal income for 2010.
Though we’re confident that we got relative scale right, we admit that the actual figures might be merely ballpark — so, sorry kids, but no dollar amounts here. Suffice to say that the range extends from six figures to eight. Oh, and if you’re on the list and think we’ve put you in the wrong position — or if you’re not on the list but think you should be — you know where to send those tax returns that we couldn’t get from the guy at the IRS.
Though Puck, whose name is synonymous with 'California Cuisine,' has worked the celebrity angle hard, his endlessly creative takes on a multitude of cuisines, from pizza to Asian food, still earn him the respect of the food world.
As enterprising as they come, Puck can boast 21 fine dining restaurants around the nation, numerous cookbooks, a TV career that has included appearances on Frasier, Las Vegas, and The Simpsonsas well as a cooking-show Emmy, and lines of food products, cookware, and appliances (among them a coffeemaker and the coffee pods to go with it). He has even made forays into fast(ish) food with more than 50 Wolfgang Puck Express locations in the U.S., Canada, and Japan.
Just one of his enterprises, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, which oversees his casual dining restaurants and food products, is estimated to be worth over $400 million, and some estimates of the total annual income generated by his various concerns reach more than twice that.
His countryman Joël Robuchon may be more respected by most critics as a chef, but Ducasse, who can certainly hold his own in the cooking department, operates about 30 restaurants and three hotels spanning the globe, with a total annual revenue of more than $80 million.
He has made missteps (his original New York City establishment, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, closed after six years), but in both 2005 and 2010 he achieved the unparalleled distinction of having three three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the same year.
Filling out his bulging portfolio are a Parisian culinary school, a number of cookbooks, and a thriving consulting business.
'The Chef of the 20th Century,' as he was dubbed by the Gault/Millau guide, is making an equally strong impression in the 21st century.
As big in Asia as he is in the West, Robuchon has about 20 restaurants throughout the world and more Michelin stars (26) than any other chef.
He's also the author of some 16 cookbooks and has done popular TV shows in Europe, though he hasn't yet tried the American television market.
The rise of Paula Deen -- seen at left with her splendidly named husband, Michael Groover (he's the one on the right) -- as the queen of fried foods has been simultaneous with a renewal of interest in Southern cooking all over the U.S.
Between her appliances, foodstuffs, tools, and dinnerware plus lucrative live appearances and an estimated $9.13 million in book sales, her Food Network TV shows and two restaurants -- including The Lady and Sons, her original Savannah establishment, where the Deen myth got started -- seem almost an afterthought.
Nobu restaurants are getting to be like Starbucks; sometimes it seems like there's one on every corner.
All right, that's an exaggeration, but Nobu Matsuhisa-- who virtually reinvented Japanese food for non-Japanese diners (his black cod with miso became one of the signal dishes of the 1990's in restaurants all over the country) -- does oversee, with varying degrees of personal involvement, almost 30 restaurants, three with Michelin stars, in locations ranging from Aspen to Athens, Dallas to Dubai (with three each in New York, London, and the Los Angeles area).
Factor in his four cookbooks, his line of Nobu Original Dinnerware, and his premium sake and beer brands, and it's clear that he's a real contender.
A French chef who doesn't own any restaurants in France, Boulud rose to prominence in New York City, where he runs eight establishments, including a newly opened épicerie, marking his first foray into retail (though he has long sold private-label wine, champagne, and smoked salmon).
His Dinex Group also has restaurants in Miami, Palm Beach, London, Beijing, and Singapore, and his Feast and Fêtes catering company is known as one of New York's best.
The portraits on Todd English's web site look more like a would-be soap star's portfolio than documentation of a working chef, and English has had his share of problems lately -- among other things, he was deposed last month for reportedly failing to pay $80,000 rent on a SoHo loft, a waiter is said to have stolen $91,000 from one of his restaurants, and Boston magazine recently told him to take a hike.
But English oversees a roster of restaurants nationwide (the number seems to fluctuate frequently), and his Olive Group reported earnings of $53 million last year. Cookbooks, a popular TV show, and his own branded cookware and olive oil help fill the coffers.
Michael Mina may not have the TV cred or multiple book deals of a Guy Fieri or a Bobby Flay, but his company does run 18 restaurants. And those restaurants -- all over America, in California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Detroit, D.C., and New Jersey -- are no slouches.
His eponymous flagship in Las Vegas is a Michelin-starred affair, RN74 in San Francisco was a James Beard Foundation Best New Restaurant finalist last year, and his other locations are consistently recognised by local and national press for excellence.
He's not a household name, but with help from investor Oliver Grace, Palmer has slowly but surely built an empire with an annual revenue estimated at more than $30 million.
After a stint at the River Café in Brooklyn, Palmer gained fame as chef-proprietor of the original Aureole in Manhattan (once given four stars by The New York Times). Aureole still exists in another New York location (there is also one in Las Vegas), but today Palmer's holdings also include nine other restaurants (three of them dubbed Charlie Palmer Steak), the home goods store Lime Stone, and the Hotel Healdsburg in Sonoma County; he also designs menus for Seabourn Cruises.
Widely accepted as one of America's best chefs, Thomas Keller hasn't done too poorly for himself since leaving New York City after the failure of his first restaurant there, Rakel.
Now, he's the only American-born chef with two three Michelin-starred restaurants. He shouldn't have to worry about money much for the rest of his life either. There's Per Se and The French Laundry, of course, along with the three Bouchons, Ad Hoc, four Bouchon Bakery locations, speaking engagements, and book sales estimated at more than $1 million.
Although a respected chef (he was co-founder of Manhattan's award-winning Gramercy Tavern and cooked there for years), Tom Colicchio is known to the general public today mostly from the comfort of their own homes.
He has become a TV star as a judge on Top Chef, and has also been a producer of that insanely popular Bravo series and one of its spinoffs, Top Chef Masters. His celebrity has helped him expand his original Craft Restaurant in New York to a total of eight Craft-related establishments in L.A., Dallas, Las Vegas, and the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.
In addition, his foray into casual dining, the 'wichcraft sandwich shops, has been wildly successful, and he has just debuted Riverpark, in Manhattan's Kips Bay neighbourhood. Less successful, at least from a branding point of view, were his ballyhooed Diet Coke ads -- but he is still said to command $80,000 for public appearances.
Today his far-flung domain includes restaurants in Boca Raton, the Napa Valley, Hawaii, Tokyo, New Delhi, and Mumbai -- and to wash it all down with, he has also developed a series of Japanese-inspired beers for Oregon's Rogue Ales.
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