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9 Celebrity Chefs Who Skipped Culinary School


Mario Batali succeeded without a formal culinary degree
From Online College.org: It's great if you graduate high school knowing exactly what you want to do in life, and how you're going to get there. But for many of us, college — and the years after school — is the time we start rethinking our interests. Your major in college may not be relevant to the career you wanted as a child, and it may not even have anything to do with the job you end up having later in life. Just like these celebrity chefs, you might find that your hobbies are more important than you thought — and that your own expertise is worth more than any degree or formal training. Here are 9 celebrity chefs who skipped culinary school and relied on their own talents and ambition to find success.
  1. Mario Batali: James Beard Foundation Chef of the Year award winner Mario Batali is one of America's most well-known masters of Italian cuisine. He's opened several restaurants and recently helped launch the Italian market and restaurant center Eataly in New York City, winning awards and competing as a Food Network Iron Chef along the way. After graduating from Rutgers University, Batali enrolled in London's Le Cordon Bleu but quickly realized he wanted a different sort of training. He turned to apprenticeships and studied under chefs around Europe, even living with an Italian family as he completed his education.
  2. Pat and Gina Neely: It's been said that audiences sometimes feel like a third wheel when watching this lovey-dovey cooking duo whip up special meals, desserts and cocktails on their Food Network show, Down Home with the Neelys. But their honest, conspicuous devotion to each other is also evident in their love for food, and its ability to bring people together. Pat and his brothers opened Neely's Bar-B-Que in 1988 in Memphis, TN, after learning how to cook great southern barbeque from their uncle. Pat and Gina — who dated in high school — were married in the mid-1990s, and Gina brought her background in business to the table, establishing a catering aspect to Neely's Bar-B-Que. The restaurant opened other locations in Tennessee, and the Neelys appeared on local TV and on Paula Deen's Food Network show before being asked to host a cooking show themselves.
  3. Ina Garten: Better known as The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten has a massive following across the United States, thanks to her immensely popular Food Network show, her seven cookbooks and her Barefoot Contessa Pantry products line. Garten fell into her cooking as a hobby, though, studying fashion design and then economics at Syracuse University before moving to Washington, D.C. with her husband Jeffrey. While Jeffrey went to fight in Vietnam for four years, Garten kept herself busy by learning how to cook, eventually joining her husband in France after his tour ended. Upon their return to D.C., Garten earned her MBA at George Washington University and got a job working as a nuclear energy budget analyst at the White House. But after seeing an advertisement in the newspaper for a specialty foods store in the Hamptons, Ina decided to give up Washington and make food her full-time job. She quickly expanded the store, ultimately hiring twenty cooks and bakers to prepare food, inspired by her own recipes.
  4. Paula Deen: Paula's Home Cooking host Paula Deen is known for her folksy style and comfort food recipes, helping the rest of America eat just as well as Deep Southerners do. Deen — who learned how to cook from her grandmother — opened up a small lunch catering business in Savannah, GA, just after getting divorced. It became so popular that she opened a restaurant in a Best Western hotel, but soon relocated to downtown Savannah. Since then, Deen has earned recognition and awards for her cooking, and has published several cookbooks.
  5. Nigella Lawson: Nigella Lawson's a hopeless romantic when it comes to food: her Cooking Channel show is basically an ode to the pleasures of food — enjoying it and cooking it. But despite her expansive, lyrical vocabulary, Lawson is actually a very democratic cook, preferring easy short-cuts and fresh but easy-to-find ingredients to snobby, presumptuous methods of cooking. The British cook graduated from Oxford University and worked as a book reviewer, restaurant critic, and eventually the deputy literary editor for The Sunday Times. Later a freelance writer and journalist, Lawson began publishing her own cookbooks. She got her own show on British public television, which helped her win several awards and to graduate to coverage on the BBC and the USA's Food Network channel. Best known for offering up helpful suggestions to make cooking and entertaining more enjoyable, Lawson learned how to cook from watching her mother, and never received any formal training.
  6. Mireille Guiliano: French Women Don't Get Fat author Mireille Guiliano hoped to enlighten American women to the naturally elegant joie de vivre that French women enjoy, focusing on their seemingly ironic obsession with eating well and maintaining a sensible weight. Her book is filled with tips on finding a balance that encourages us to revamp our relationship with food, as well as recipes that satisfy our taste buds and need for indulgence, without going overboard with fat and calories. Besides writing and cooking, Guiliano served as CEO, president and spokesperson for the LVMH owned Champagne Veuve Clicquot. Dubbed one of the worst bosses in New York City by Gawker, Guiliano has also been praised for being one of the few women to rise to the top of the luxury brands industry, and her book reached the number-one spot on the New York Times bestseller list, despite never have gone to cooking school.
  7. Guy Fieri: Guy Fieri is all over TV these days. He's a frequent host on Food Network shows after winning the second season of The Next Food Network Star, like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and The Guy Fieri Road Show, as well as the host of NBC's Minute to Win It. Fieri graduated from junior college with a degree in Hospitality Management and worked as managers of various restaurants before opening his own spot, Johnny Garlic's and Tex Wasabi's with a partner in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
  8. Gordon Ramsay: As one of the most celebrated chefs in the UK and in the world, Gordon Ramsay has been awarded 12 Michelin Stars, once holding three at the same time. Best known in the U.S. for being an impatient kitchen dictator on shows like Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay's first career path pointed to playing football. But after an injury, he left college and enrolled in the North Oxfordshire Technical College, graduating with a degree in Hotel Management. He worked under top chefs at hotels around Europe before opening his own restaurants in London.
  9. Rachael Ray: As the daughter of restaurant owners, Rachael Ray grew up learning how to cook. Her family owned restaurants on Cape Cod, and then moved to upstate New York so that her mother could supervise a restaurant chain. Ray broke away from the family tradition when she was in her twenties, and moved to New York City to work at the candy counter at Macy's and later at the marketplace Agata & Valentina, two jobs which taught her about gourmet foods. Ray later moved back upstate and managed pubs and restaurants on Lake George, worked as a food buyer and chef for a gourmet market, and started teaching cooking classes for extra money. She was signed with a local CBS affiliate to do a 30-Minute Meals segment and was nominated for two regional Emmys her first year on TV.
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