Worst Celebrity Chef Restaurants in History
If you’ve reached the pantheon of chef stardom, chances are your knife skills are on point. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good restaurateur.
Thanks to television, new celebrity chefs are being created like Dixie cups coming out of the side of a water cooler. Each new season of “Top Chef” produces one winner each and five or more new celebrity chefs. And what are people who cook for a living inclined to do? Open restaurants! After all, fans of “Top Chef” and other shows are constantly wondering what the food made by their favorite contestants or TV personalities actually tastes like. And a restaurant is the perfect canvas for such displays.
But just because you’re famous and cook food well doesn’t necessarily mean your restaurant will be a winner. And even if you’re famous, cook food well AND have previous restaurant success, everyone is closer to failure than they’d care to admit.
Here are 12 times a celebrity chef’s restaurant was overbaked, underseasoned or just plain rancid. Still want to get your favorite celeb-chef fix? We're also sharing recommendations on where to go instead.
12. Jonathan Waxman’s Jams (2.0), New York City
The man credited with bringing California cuisine to New York City in the 1980s was hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again with a 2015 reboot of his then-famous Jams. Except this trip to the fountain of youth didn’t work.
Perhaps Waxman was clinging too much to the past, or California cuisine is so ubiquitous these days that it demands a serious wow factor to succeed.
Where to Eat Instead If You Love Jonathan Waxman: Adele’s
Reflecting its setting, this Nashville-based restaurant focuses on comfort food, but with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. Diners dig it, and so do critics.
11. Tyler Florence’s Rotisserie & Wine, Napa, California
This Food Network icon had all the makings of a winner when he opened this Napa restaurant, but it was gone within a year. Florence had found restaurant success in San Francisco with Wayfare Tavern, and for this venture teamed up with renowned culinary maestro Jeremy Fox.
Perhaps that’s too much heat in the kitchen, as the result was lackluster and uninspired in a place where celebrity alone won’t put butts in seats.
Where to Eat Instead If You Love Tyler Florence: Wayfare Tavern
Not all hope is lost for Bay Area visitors (or locals) who adore Florence: The chef’s Wayfare Tavern remains an excellent spot for inventive American cuisine in a classy setting. Zagat superlatives for the restaurant include “genius,” “amazing” and “charismatic.”
10. Gastón Acurio’s La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, New York
The father of Peruvian cuisine is used to success, which makes his New York City failure sting worse than the leche de tigre potion accompanying La Mar’s ceviches.
This “New York Times” review carried much weight and had almost nothing good to say, noting: “La Mar is a sometimes exciting, often disappointing demonstration of the ways in which a global restaurant chain opening an outpost in New York faces more complex challenges than a retailer planting a new Abercrombie & Fitch in SoHo. When you reproduce a menu from afar without testing it on the locals, or bet on a style of cuisine without scoping the competition, or hire servers who aren’t versed in the care and feeding of the natives, the city’s response can be cold and lingering, or brutal and swift.”
Brutal and swift indeed; the restaurant was shuttered not long after it opened.
Where to Eat Instead If You Love Gastón Acurio: La Mar in San Francisco
While it failed to gain traction in New York, the La Mar outpost in San Francisco continues to fare well, earning solid reviews from diners and local critics alike.
9. Masaharu Morimoto’s Tribeca Canvas, New York City
Morimoto is a true legend, so much so that he doesn’t even need to use his first name. Anyone who’s been to a Morimoto location anywhere in the world will remember that meal for years to come.
But when the Japanese master traded chopsticks and uni for corn dogs and mac and cheese as part of an ill-advised American-themed eatery, the result was akin to wrongly cutting the pufferfish.
It shuttered less than a year after opening.
Where to Eat Instead If You Love Masaharu Morimoto: Morimoto
The chef’s flagship restaurant still dazzles guests with its Japanese-meets-Western dishes and fresher-than-fresh sushi. There are outposts all across the world; if you’re a true fan, head to the original location in Philadelphia, a sentimental favorite.
8. Richard Sandoval’s Aqimero, Philadelphia
Nothing says restaurant failure like being completely out of touch with your surroundings. In this case, a luxury hotel chain (Ritz-Carlton) in a blue-collar city (Philadelphia) brought in an emerging celebrity cook (another “Top Chef” alum) to create a “global” menu (Latin-Asian fusion) for the well-heeled guests.
The problem is when you ignore the locals, the locals bite back; in a brutal review for “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” food critic Craig LaBan called Aqimero “Ritz-Carlton's latest out-of-touch and bungled attempt to create a destination restaurant that matters to anyone other than its out-of-town expense-account guests.”
Sandoval and team invested heavily in slick decor and fancy ingredients, but failed to do the one thing required of a restaurant: serve good food. The restaurant has managed to survive, but it’s best to trust the locals on this one.
Where to Eat Instead If You Love Richard Sandoval: Zengo
Fusion cuisine doesn’t always work, but it does at Zengo, where dishes creatively mix Latin and Asian influences. The restaurant has locations in New York City, Dubai and Doha, Qatar; the latter outpost in particular has earned industry acclaim.
7. Graham Elliot’s Grahamwich, Chicago
You know him as the beefy hipster judge on “MasterChef,” but he really should be referred to as the vaunted celebrity chef who doesn’t know what goes between the bread. Graham’s homage to the humble sandwich was nothing more than processed cheese and mayo with some very sad and wilted iceberg lettuce and out-of-season tomatoes making the Wonder bread soggy.
When Elliot’s poorly reviewed sandwich shop closed, local media snarked that it would be “unmourned by all.” Ouch.
Where to Eat Instead If You Love Graham Elliot: Petit Harvest
The menu at this well-regarded Santa Monica, California restaurant reflects Elliot’s hipster spirit by focusing on all things local, organic and artisanal. And its sandwiches (including a popular ahi tuna banh mi) are anything but abysmal.
6. Fabio Viviani’s Firenze Osteria, Los Angeles
Viviani was a flamboyant fan favorite on “Top Chef,” but it seems he can’t take the heat when it comes to the quality — or lack thereof — of his restaurant. The most he could muster after a“Los Angeles Times” dressing down was that critic S. Irene Virbila was doing “kindergarten things” and “I don’t give a sh*t.”
The sad part is that Fabio still reps the place on his own website, even though it’s closed down. The link directs visitors to a different restaurant with a similar name that’s located in Milwaukee.
Might be time to change the PR team.
Where to Eat Instead If You Love Fabio Viviani: Cafe Firenze
This Italian joint, also in LA, hasn’t been put through the critical ringer and boasts decent Yelp reviews. Plus, there’s an entire menu of items for under 10 bucks, a rarity for celeb-chef restaurants.
5. Wolfgang Puck’s Cut, New York City
It’s hard to be more famous than Wolfgang Puck, period. The most celebrity of celebrity chefs, this dude has an incredible legacy in the food world. His New York City outpost of Cut, however, will be left out of the history books.
As Eater put it, it’s the most expensive steakhouse in the city and, lacking any sense of place, cannot justify the price tag. Other reviewers, too, have lamented the restaurant's exorbitant prices.
Cut is still open, and certainly has its admirers, but this is a place only the wealthy can comfortably eat at.
Where to Eat Instead if You Love Wolfgang Puck: Spago
Puck’s flagship restaurant has earned love for its reimagined California fare (like the truffle pizza pictured here). And while it's by no means cheap, this restaurant also won't force you to remortgage your house.
You can find outposts of Spago in Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, Maui, Singapore and Istanbul.
4. Art Smith’s Joanne, New York City
In what is easily the oddest partnership in the history of the universe, Art Smith — Oprah’s affable former personal chef — teamed up with the parents of one Lady Gaga to open a Manhattan restaurant called Joanne.
It didn’t go well.
Soon after opening, there were reports of a mice infestation, and the reviews were generally scathing; the “New York Daily News” said it was like “a weird facsimile of a restaurant rather than the real thing.”
Let us find wisdom in the words of this pop star: If “Russian roulette is not the same without a gun,” then a restaurant isn’t the same when the food is subpar and mice run the game.
(Somehow, though, the restaurant is still in operation. Little Monsters loyalty knows no bounds.)
Where to Eat Instead If You Love Art Smith: Blue Door Kitchen & Garden
Smith’s talents are put to far better use at this farm-to-table favorite in Chicago known for its hearty brunch, featuring beloved chicken and waffles with rosemary maple syrup.
3. Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian, UK
Before Jamie Oliver became a superstar chef, he helmed restaurants that offered high quality at low prices. But with rising fame came disappointment on the restaurant front; this year, all of the UK locations of Jamie’s Italian were closed, save for one at Gatwick Airport.
Financial woes and an unfavorable business climate were partly to blame, but the food also wasn’t exactly loved. Reviewing the first Jamie’s Italian, a “Sunday Times” critic said the experience was so bad, it made her want to “swear and kick something. Possibly Jamie Oliver.”
Yelp reviewers weren’t much kinder, saddling many of the Jamie's Italian outposts with 3-star reviews — not great for a chain run by a supposedly A-list chef.
Where to Eat Instead If You Love Jamie Oliver: Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria
Following the closure also of Oliver’s flagship Barbecoa and Fifteen restaurants, there’s not much to recommend to fans of the Naked Chef. His namesake pizzeria still has locations, though (including in Budapest, Hungary and Mumbai, India) and earns solid reviews.
2. Gordon Ramsay’s Fat Cow, Los Angeles
Ramsay — the living, breathing expletive behind the hit show “Hell’s Kitchen” — is considered one of the finest chefs in the world, with Michelin stars and a cultish fan base to prove it. But Gordon’s still human, and humans are wont to fail from time to time.
Exhibit A: Fat Cow in Los Angeles. The restaurant closed a few years ago following legal challenges and scathing reviews, with critics calling it a "cynical exercise” with "lowest-common-denominator food, made without soul, and banking on celebrity." It fared just as poorly with diners, landing far more 1- or 2-star reviews than 4- or 5-star reviews on Yelp.
For someone who’s made a career out of reminding others of their woeful inadequacy, the misfire was seen by some as textbook poetic justice.
Where to Eat Instead If You Love Gordon Ramsay: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
Located in London, this namesake restaurant was the very first the hellraiser chef opened — and all these years (and all this fame) later, it remains his best.
The artfully prepared French cuisine here has come by its three Michelin stars honestly.
1. Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar, New York City
There’s never quite been a celebrity chef like Guy Fieri, and there’s never quite been a restaurant review like the one in "The New York Times” that raked his Times Square restaurant over the proverbial coals. Among other scathing takedowns, the critic said the restaurant's blue cocktail glowed “like nuclear waste” and called the calamari “a plate of pale, unsalted squid rings next to a dish of sweet mayonnaise with a distant rumor of spice.”
The “New York Post,” too, was vicious in its criticism, calling the restaurant “a story of Times Square hubris — the belief that tourists who cheerfully support hustling Elmos and lousy chain eateries like Bubba Gump Shrimp will empty their wallets for anything.”
The restaurant closed not long after opening, and has gone down in history as, without a doubt, the most gleefully lambasted celebrity-chef restaurant ever.
Where to Eat Instead If You Love Guy Fieri: Guy Fieri’s Chophouse
Guy is known more as a walking, talking double shot of Fireball cinnamon whiskey than a kitchen maestro. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (Fireball cinnamon whiskey can be a lot of fun!), but it does mean none of his restaurants are exactly critically beloved. Fieri’s steakhouse in Atlantic City, though, touts decent, if not great, reviews from diners, and is worth checking out.
Better yet, you could head to a restaurant Fieri’s recommended on his beloved “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”