Food Network Stars Reveal Their Mentors

While many of these chefs are now mentors themselves, they all learned from others along the way.

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Giada De Laurentiis

I think a lot of my culinary mentors are my family members. My Aunt Raffy's a big one. My grandfather was a big one. Mario Batali probably as well; we have a real kinship because we have the love of the same type of food. And although he grew up in Seattle, we have a lot of similar stories of Italy. And we have similar cooking styles of Italian food. ... I'd say Bobby's probably a mentor too — maybe he doesn’t think so, but I think so. I've done a lot of shows with him too. He's more of a veteran of Food Network Star than I am. I think for women it's harder because there aren't that many women at a certain level in this business; they're mostly men. ... I think Julia Child [is a mentor] also.

Alex Guarnaschelli

I have had many mentors, most notably Guy Savoy, who has an eponymous restaurant in Paris. I worked for him for many years, and he was amazing to me. He yelled at me a lot, but mostly yelled at me to help me believe in myself and in my own abilities. I certainly count Daniel Boulud as one of my other mentors. He’s an amazing chef. And Bobby Flay. I think I will never stop having mentors. I’ve had mentors who wear many different hats. I totally believe in the power of mentoring.

Bobby Flay

Jonathan Waxman, Wolfgang Puck. I actually learned from all the people I cook with — people I cook with every day in my restaurants. We also learn from each other, so it's really a collaboration of hundreds of people.

Rachael Ray

My mother. [The greatest lesson she taught me is] don't take yourself too seriously and [that] food is just food. She just had us in the kitchen all of our lives — all three of us kids. I grew up working in restaurants as well, but the kitchen is where our family spent all of its time. My mom was the firstborn of 10 kids, and my grandfather was the primary cook. My grandmother was the seamstress — she was a terrific sewer — and she was a great baker, but all of the meals for the kids were made by my grandpa. And Mom being the firstborn, she was always in the kitchen with him. So I went to the Culinary Institute of My Grandfather and My Mom.

Tyler Florence

I’ve had a lot of really good mentors along the way: every chef I’ve ever worked for in Greenville, S.C., my hometown, and Charleston, S.C., where I was in culinary school, and then in New York City, where I moved to in the early ’90s and worked for Charlie Palmer, which was a big deal. I think my insatiable curiosity, having seen hard times when my back was up against the wall and having no choice but to succeed has really given me a lot of fortitude, a titanium backbone, and there’s nothing that scares me.

Jeff Mauro

I’m gonna say Geoffrey Zakarian because we spent the most time together, and he's a good friend and he really has taught me a lot, on set and off set, not only about food, but about this food business. There's not a lot of people who do what we do for a living — a couple handfuls of them — so when you can get wise advice from someone who's been at the game for a while, you listen to that advice. And he's always quick to give me advice.

Valerie Bertinelli

The women in my life, my nonni and my mom. My mom had a wonderful risotto that I still haven’t perfected. She really makes a mean roast chicken. I mean, it was perfect every single time, and I still don’t know how she did it.

Robert Irvine

When I was growing up, it was everybody. You know, when you first start in the culinary world, it’s "take as much knowledge as you can from whoever is giving it, and disregard what you don’t want." When I came to the States, it became evident that there were some amazing chefs here. Roberto Donna was one of them. Michel Richard, Jeffrey Buben. All these all-star chefs, [like] Jean Georges, they’ve got something, and it’s called passion and a direction of food that [are] all different. Food never changes as an ingredient, but how we handle it and prepare it does. So, you know, mentors come in all forms. You know, it’s just not chefs. 

Ted Allen

It started with Martha Stewart. These days it's the judges that I'm lucky enough to work with on Chopped. It's people like Mario Batali. It's definitely Ina Garten. ... Ina is very much an example of the kind of cooking that I love, which is sort of almost an Italian idea — not a lot of ingredients, but very high-quality ingredients and food that almost anybody could cook but still food that's luxurious and special. So you spend a few extra dollars at the butcher for really good-quality stuff and get a nice cheese and a nice bottle of wine, and it's simple and it doesn’t require so much French-y, fancy technique.

Katie Lee

Bobby Flay has become a great mentor to me. He’s one of my very best friends and kind of like a big brother, and I always feel like I can go to him for any kind of advice. And whether it’s personal or professional, you know, I can ask him what he thinks of something that’s a bigger deal, or I can send him a text message and say, “Do you think adding some toasted almonds to this salad would make it better?” So he’s always there, and I’m very lucky to have him as a friend and a mentor.

Michael Symon

The chef that I’ve always looked up to and has helped mentor me and is now one of my dearest friends is Jonathan Waxman.

Sunny Anderson

My mom and my grandma.

Marcela Valladolid

I would have to say my Aunt Marcela. I think she and my grandfather.

Scott Conant

There's so many people. I take a lot from different people. Mario Batali — the guy's a legend, so it's not just what he does from the culinary side, but who he is on the charitable side as well. 

Curtis Stone

I worked for Marco Pierre White for eight years. And he was someone who I read about and looked up to, heard stories of from the other side of the world, and I literally traveled to England to go work for him — without the promise of the job, mind you. Marco was a huge mentor to me. My very first shift, Eniford Bach was his name, old German fellow — he’d hate that I called him old — he was a huge mentor to me at the Savoy. My mum was a really good mentor for me. She sort of had a really incredible work ethic and she cooked really nice food as well, separate to her profession. My granny.

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