Bobby Flay: biography and career
One of America’s most famous tv chefs and restaurateurs, Bobby Flay has cooked for U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and was the first chef to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is known for his regular appearances on Food Network, where he was the most successful contestant on competitive cookery show Iron Chef of America and also hosted several shows of his own, including Grill It! with Bobby Flay, Throwdown with Bobby Flay and Beat Bobby Flay.
Flay’s big break in the culinary world came when his father, a manager at New York restaurant Joe Allen’s, called him in to replace a sick busboy. This soon turned into regular work in the kitchen, where his boss was so impressed that he paid to send the young Flay to the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. He opened his first restaurant, Mesa Grill, in 1991 to widespread acclaim. The establishment was named ‘Restaurant of the Year’ by New York Magazine’s food critic, Gael Green, and Flay himself was awarded the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef of the Year in 1993.
Rise to fame
Flay opened more restaurants in the years that followed, and became a household name in 1994, when he began appearing on the Food Network channel. Often referred to as ‘Iron Chef Bobby Flay’ due to his frequent appearances on Iron Chef of America, Flay has also hosted several competitive cookery shows, where contestants are challenged to beat Flay himself in a cook-off. He is known for his spicy, southwestern cooking, and has gained a reputation as master of the grill.
In addition to his restaurant empire, Flay has written nine cookbooks, and has his own signature range of spices, sauces, dishes and cookware. With an estimated net worth in the millions of dollars, he has been listed as one of the richest chefs in the world. He has also been a master instructor and visiting chef at the French Culinary Institute and established the Bobby Flay Scholarship, awarded annually to a student in the Long Island City Culinary Arts Program, in 2003.
However, Flay is also known for being outspoken, which has led to disagreements with other high-profile chefs. When competing with Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto on an episode of Iron Chef, Flay was so confident he would win that he climbed onto his cutting board and began showboating to the crowd. Embarrassingly for Flay, Morimoto was declared the winner of the contest, and the Japanese chef took a dim view of his rival’s antics, saying, ‘He’s no chef. He stood on the cutting board. In Japan, the cutting board is sacred to us.’
His best-known culinary feud is with hot-tempered British chef Gordon Ramsay, which began when Ramsay insulted Flay in a magazine article in 2013. Dismissing those who claim he has become more personality than chef, multiple-Michelin-starred Ramsay told Men’s Journal, ‘I laugh when they say, “Let's see if he's a real chef. Let's get him up against Bobby Flay on Iron Chef,” adding that, ‘I've forgotten more than he's known!' Flay responded by challenging Ramsay to a cook-off, saying ‘Let's settle this like men, in the kitchen! No words, just knives. Show up or shut up,’ while a scornful Ramsay retorted that he could give Flay a 45 minute head start and still beat him.
Flay later said that the exchange was ‘mostly in good fun,’ and that he had hoped to ‘make something positive’ out of it with a charity cook-off. Both chefs have restaurants in legendary Las Vegas hotel Caesars Palace, famous for its boxing matches, and Flay had envisioned a showdown between two heavyweights of the culinary scene. ‘Why don't we create some kind of kitchen stadium outside on the Strip in front of Caesars Palace?,’ he said, ‘Get some sponsors and Caesars to put up a bunch of money, winner takes all to their favourite charity?’ Thus far, no cook-off has taken place, although it has seemed as though it might happen a couple of times over the past few years, each time ending with one or other party reportedly ‘chickening out’ or making too many demands.
Bobby Flay Michelin Stars
Bobby Flay does not currently have any Michelin Stars. His second Mesa Grill restaurant, in Las Vegas, was awarded one star in 2008, but unfortunately did not retain it in the 2009 Michelin Guide. Worse still, Michelin stopped publishing their Las Vegas edition after 2009 so Flay was unable to win it back.
But with several restaurants across the USA, Flay actually has the potential to win many stars. Stars are awarded to the restaurant itself, meaning that chefs with several restaurants can hold multiple stars at once. The record currently goes to French-born Monégasque chef Alain Ducasse, with 20 Michelin stars in total.
Bobby Flay Restaurants
Mesa Grill, Las Vegas
Mesa Grill is where it all started for Flay, and since his original New York restaurant closed in 2013, the Las Vegas branch has become his flagship restaurant. Mesa Grill, Las Vegas is located within the Caesars Palace hotel complex, and showcases Flay’s signature style, which the restaurant website describes as ‘marrying the flavours of southwest with his love of grilling’. Mouthwatering dishes on offer include New Mexican Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon-Ancho Chile Sauce, Sweet Potato Tamale, and Crushed Pecan Butter.
Shark, Las Vegas
Flay is particularly active on the Las Vegas culinary scene, and is a regular at the Vegas Uncork’d culinary festival, a four-day weekend of events culminating in a Grand Tasting outside Caesar’s Palace. No surprise, then, that he chose to open his newest restaurant in the Entertainment Capital of the World.
Shark, which opened its doors in 2019, is an ultra-modern seafood restaurant featuring ingredients from Mexico, South America and Japan. The style is ‘seafood-focused cuisine with a Latin beat,’ according to the website, and signature dishes include scallops with panca chile, roasted salmon with yellow chile-ponzu dressing and tuna tartare with Peruvian chile sauce.
Bobby Flay Steak, Atlantic City
Flay’s steak restaurant is located within the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, and its website offers ‘a menu that honors the traditions of classic steakhouse fare’. Signature dishes include blackened prime rib with bèarnaise butter and a cast-iron New York strip with brown butter and chimichurri.
El Gato, New York
El Gato is a vibrant New York eatery with a Mediterranean flavour, which, according to its website, combines ‘NYC roots with a European sensibility’. The restaurant is jointly owned by Flay and Laurence Kretchmer, and is intended to rekindle the spirit of much-missed Spanish restaurant Bolo, which the two ran together until its demolition in 2007 to make way for a condo. Fans of Mediterranean cuisine can enjoy dishes like kale and wild mushroom paella with crispy artichokes, or black fettuccine with lobster.
Bobby’s Burger Palace
As well as his fine dining restaurants, Flay also owns a gourmet burger chain, with outlets in 19 locations across 11 states. The menu features all-American classics like burgers, fries and milkshakes, with a gourmet twist.
Other Michelin-Starred American Chefs
While Bobby Flay is very well known due to his TV presence and, of course, his culinary acumen, there are many other American chefs that have won more accolades from the Michelin Guide.
There’s Mario Batali, who has also often appeared on the Food Network and The Iron Chef. He brings his Italian heritage into the kitchen, and he has headed two restaurants that have been awarded stars in the Michelin Guide.
David Chang is known for popularising modern Asian cuisine, and his restaurant Ko in New York City has been awarded two Michelin stars for many years running. His attitude about the Michelin guide and the point of dining: “To eat well, I always disagree with critics who say that all restaurants should be fine dining. You can get a Michelin star if you serve the best hamburger in the world.”
Of course, no list of decorated chefs would be complete without mentioning Thomas Keller, who holds a whopping seven Michelin stars and is the only American chef to have two restaurants awarded three Michelin stars at the same time (Per Se and The French Laundry).