You can call them television stars. You can call them best-selling authors. You can even call them chefs ... but they don't like it when you call them celebrities.
"It's a term that I don't personally like," said Michael Schlow, an award-winning chef and owner of five restaurants in the Boston area.
"Running around ... on the Food Network, that's not my gag," said Gordon Ramsay, who runs 22 restaurants around the world, has 14 best-selling cookbooks, cookware and bakeware, an entire airport terminal selling his food as well as five television shows -- one of them is the wildly popular series called "Hell's Kitchen."
"I think the phrase 'celebrity chef' is a very overused phrase," said Bobby Flay, who has seven restaurants, six shows on the Food Network, nine books and two endorsements. "It drives me crazy."
And what about Wolfgang Puck, believed to be the patriarch of celebrity chefdom?
"I really don't like it because it's a very confusing term," he said. "Chefsf became, over the last 10 to 15 years, really like rock stars in a way. You know, you walk through the airport and people come up to you and ask for autographs! Thirty, 40 years ago it wasn't like that at all."
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Forbes magazine puts Puck's 2008 annual earnings at approximately $16 million. He jokes, "Yeah, it was a very bad year."
He says that's a generous estimation but admits that "I'm doing well."
So what's the secret to building a culinary empire?
"It's never just the food," he said. "I could go into the dining room today and talk with the people for 10 minutes and they would prefer that than if I stayed in the kitchen and cooked their pasta or their meat or their fish and then never came out and said hello."
Puck, who was born in Austria and trained in France, said he first came to the United States because he "thought everybody in America is rich. So, I said, I'm going to come to America make some money and then maybe go back and retire in Europe somewhere. Little did I know, in America you have to work very hard to move forward."
And move forward he did. Today, at the age of 59, Puck is the owner of 17 fine dining restaurants, the author of six cookbooks, and has recently opened Wolfgang Puck Expresses in airports and Wolfgang Puck Bistros, which offer "fast casual" service during the day and table service at night. There are about 80 of them -- so many that he says he's "lost count."
He also sells a line of pots and pans on the Home Shopping Network and a line of prepared foods including tomato soup and frozen pizzas. But there is more. He caters giant events like the Grammys and Oscars and spends time with his two young sons.
"I try to follow my intuition," he said. "And most of the time when I follow my intuition, I'm right."
When he does appear on television, Puck says he always tries to focus on the home cook.
"I always try to think, what would people do out there? What do they do in the kitchen or how can I help them in the kitchen and also showing people that it's really easy and it should be fun in the kitchen," he said. "You know, have a glass of wine and cook, and even if it doesn't come out right -- the worst thing is that it doesn't come out right and you throw it in the garbage."
Puck always wanted to be a chef, and his first food memories involve his mother, who was also a professional cook.