Above, Robert Irvine, left, appears in an episode of the Food Network’s Chopped All Stars with host Ted Allen, center, and Anne Burrell. (Food Network)
Paula Deen has been let go by the Food Network, a fall from a certain type of grace after she admitted to using the N-word. But she’s not the first food celebrity laid low by scandal. Though we do seem to be a pretty clean-living bunch, there have been some notable exceptions. In roughly ascending order:
Richard Nelson: Largely forgotten today, Richard Nelson was a promising cooking teacher and food writer in the 1980s. An acolyte of James Beard, his book “Richard Nelson’s American Cooking” was released in 1984 to high acclaim and hot sales. And then he was accused of lifting more than 40 of the book’s recipes from the redoubtable Richard Olney and even more from other writers. Olney sued and Nelson’s publisher settled and pulled the book from store shelves. To this day, though, there are those who insist that Nelson had gotten those recipes, with permission, from Beard in cooking classes and then was hung out to dry.
Robert Irvine: Padding the resume may be a hallowed tradition. But when the padder becomes famous, it sometimes comes back to bite. Robert Irvine probably thought he was engaging in a little harmless filigree when he claimed to have worked on Princess Diana’s wedding cake and having been a White House chef. But after he became well-known with the Food Network show “Dinner Impossible,” the St. Petersburg Times dug a little deeper (he was reported to be opening a couple of restaurants there) and found that neither of those claims were strictly true.
His website biography now has been amended to read: “As part of his service for the Royal Navy, Robert was selected to work on board the Royal Yacht Britannia where the Royal Family and their entourages regularly dined. During his time training U.S. Navy chefs as part of a guest chef program, Robert worked in the White House kitchens and his creations were served to high-ranking government officials.” Irvine seems to have weathered the storm – he’s back on TVFN with not one, but two series, and has more than 100,000 Twitter followers.
Martha Stewart: Once the biggest name in the food world and a rival to Oprah Winfrey for the title of queen of all media, Martha Stewart was convicted in 2004 following a highly publicized trial on charges relating to insider trading of stocks. She paid more than $150,000 in fines and served five months in federal prison. Today she remains one of the most powerful people in food, with her own monthly magazine and radio network, several marketing deals and a cooking show on PBS.
Juan-Carlos Cruz: A similar comeback is not likely for Juan-Carlos Cruz. The star of the Food Network’s Calorie Commando and Weighing In was arrested in 2010 for hiring two homeless men he found at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade to kill his wife, an attorney who had been his high school sweetheart. He pleaded no contest to solicitation of murder and was sentenced to nine years. According to state records, he is still serving time at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi.
Jeff “Frugal Gourmet” Smith: In probably the greatest fall from grace the food world has seen, Smith, who had built a television and cookbook empire on his reputation as a kindly food-loving minister, in 1997 was sued by a half-dozen young men who accused him of having sexually abused them when they were in their teens. In the blowup that followed, Smith was portrayed as a despotic crank on set and unreliable in his information and recipe writing. He settled the suits out of court and disappeared from the public stage. Smith died in his sleep in 2004.