Celebrity Chefs Who Had Near Death Experiences

Closeup of Chef Eduardo Garcia smiling
Closeup of Chef Eduardo Garcia smiling - Jeff Schear/Getty Images

Life as a celebrity chef can be really hardcore. Whether chefs rise through the ranks of world class kitchens, find success on television, or both, the demands of the profession are immense. Being a chef can be dangerous for many reasons — and these culinary stars know first-hand. All of the celeb chefs on this list faced near-death experiences but lived to tell the tale.

Sadly, a chef's near-death survival is more the exception than the rule. The number of notable chefs who have died tragically is so staggering, it forced the industry to reckon with glamorizing such an intense lifestyle. Fine dining kitchens — where many celebrity chefs start out — are notoriously grueling. Long hours, hostile working conditions, extreme stress, and normalized substance abuse is the fabric from which haute cuisine culture was built, and the many tragedies that occur within it have been well-documented.

The celebrity chef persona is a subject that has captivated and disturbed the public. Some of these chefs nearly died before they were well-known, while others had their survival stories splashed across the media. Here are some celebrity chefs that are lucky to be alive.

Read more: Famous Chefs Who Are Jerks In Real Life

Gordon Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay wearing a cycling outfit and helmet
Gordon Ramsay wearing a cycling outfit and helmet - gordongram / Instagram

He's one of the most successful celebrity chefs to ever exist, but in June 2024, Gordon Ramsay had a brush with death in a serious cycling accident. Ramsay has been a serious cyclist for years, but a bike ride in Connecticut almost put a stop to all that. On a June 15th Instagram video, Ramsay still looked pretty rattled as he opened up about what happened.

"This week unfortunately I had a really bad accident ... it really shook me." Ramsay went on to say that he is "lucky to be here" after receiving treatment in a New London, Connecticut hospital. The TV star did not sustain any broken bones or severe injuries, but toward the end of the video he lifts up his chef coat, revealing a monstrous, purple bruise covering the side of his torso. Ramsay assured that he's healing, and that his helmet saved his life. "You've got to wear a helmet" Ramsay said into the camera. The video message was followed by photos showing significant damage the accident caused to his helmet and cycling clothes.

This wasn't the first close call for Ramsay. In 2008, Ramsay was filming in Iceland for his show "The F Word" when he fell from a 280-foot cliff and plunged into the freezing water below. Bogged down by his heavy boots and clothing, he remained submerged underwater for 45 seconds until crew members threw him a rope and pulled him to safety.

Eduardo Garcia

Chef Eduardo Garcia smiling in stone kitchen
Chef Eduardo Garcia smiling in stone kitchen - chefeduardogarcia / Instagram

After traveling the world as a private chef on luxury yachts, Eduardo Garcia returned to his boyhood home of Montana. It wasn't unusual for the avid outdoorsman to hunt or explore in Montana's vast backcountry, but an archery hike Garcia took in October 2011 changed his life forever. Upon noticing the remains of a baby black bear inside a halved oil drum, Garcia prodded the animal with his knife, an innocent action that caused 2,400 volts of electricity to surge through his body.

Unbeknownst to Garcia, the oil drum was a marker for a live electrical box. Electricity blasted through his torso, taking out four ribs. The charge left nine electricity exit wounds, the largest bolting out of his inner thigh. His left arm was charred beyond repair. Somehow, Garcia managed to walk back to civilization and was airlifted to a trauma burn unit in Salt Lake City, Utah. His blown out ribs were removed and his left hand amputated at the forearm. When tissue samples returned from lab testing, Garcia found out he had testicular cancer.

Garcia credits his positive outlook on saving him from the brink of death. Accepting help from others allowed him to come to terms with what his life would look like going forward. Today, Garcia cooks with a prosthetic arm, and is endearingly known as the "bionic chef". His accident is the subject of the 2017 documentary, "Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story".

Mark Iacono

Mark Iacono holds pizza pie with fresh basil
Mark Iacono holds pizza pie with fresh basil - Vivien Killilea/Getty Images

Mob shakedown? Love triangle? These are some rumored causes of what led to the near-fatal 2011 stabbing of Mark Iacono, famed Brooklyn pizza chef and owner of Lucali. What we do know is that Iacono has the hardened New Yorker act down. Speaking about the violent incident to Grub Street in 2012, Iacono insisted the whole thing wasn't that serious. "I have no feeling in, say, about 50 percent of my body, maybe forever. But that's okay, it's nothin' really."

On April 15, 2011, Iacono's Dunkin' run took a sour turn when he encountered Benny Geritano, an ex-con with mob ties — and someone Iacono knew since childhood. A verbal spat ensued, and later in the day when Iacono visited a Brooklyn deli near his restaurant, Geritano appeared again. Their exchange escalated, Geritano brandished a kitchen knife and stabbed Iacono repeatedly in the torso, neck, and legs — hitting Iacono's femoral artery and landing him in critical care.

When Geritano arrived at a local hospital with slash marks on his hands, both men were charged with attempted murder. Neither Geritano nor Iacono cooperated with the investigation, and the case was dropped. Iacono continues to helm Lucali, which has a second location in Miami. The trauma — if it was ever there at all — is behind him. "It was no big deal. Like, I got into a fight. It was just a fight" he told Grub Street. "Yes, it was a near-death experience but it didn't affect me."

Rachael Ray

Rachael Ray mixing salad greens
Rachael Ray mixing salad greens - John Lamparski/Getty Images

She's an American sweetheart of the celebrity chef world, but back in the day, Rachael Ray had to get scrappy on the streets of New York City. Let's just say, the girl can handle herself. Before Ray was a culinary megastar, she lived and worked in New York City. In 1993, she took a job managing Agata & Valentina, a gourmet food store on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Ray commented from her apartment in Woodside, Queens — which is where things got dangerous for the up-and-coming TV personality.

Late one night, Ray walked into the entryway of her apartment and was met by a teenage boy holding a gun. Describing the event to The New York Post, Ray said, "He has literally a glock in his hand and sticks it in my back, and I scream so loud. I think they heard it in Jersey ... I sprayed him in the face with mace and he was not happy."

Not happy is right. Days later, the boy came back. He pulled Ray into an alleyway beside the apartment and hit her with his gun. Ray screamed for the building's guard dog who luckily scared off the attacker. Ray didn't stay in N.Y.C. much longer after that. "I felt the whole universe was telling me, You're not supposed to be here right now," she told Vanity Fair in 2007.

Grant Achatz

Chef Grant Achatz in spotlit kitchen
Chef Grant Achatz in spotlit kitchen - Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images

The story of how Grant Achatz nearly lost his life is so intense, the chef practically had no choice but to write a book about it. In Achatz's, "Life, on the line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat," the classically trained chef describes how cancer took away his sense of taste — and nearly took his life.

He was a leader in the molecular gastronomy movement of the 2000s and a co-founder of Alinea, a Chicago restaurant that was Gourmet magazine's pick for the best restaurant in America in 2006. By 2007, Achatz's career and life hung in the balance. He was diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer which had spread to his neck. Surgeons advised Achatz they could cut out 75% of his tongue and replace it with muscle tissue from elsewhere in his body — but the chances he would survive two years beyond the procedure was 50%. He was 33 at the time.

Achatz opted for 12 rounds of chemotherapy and 65 radiation treatments, which burned the skin on his face and neck from the inside out. It also made him lose his taste, but only temporarily. When he won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 2008, Achatz was still in the process of learning how to taste again. He's been in remission since December 2007, and said the experience made him a better chef.

Gregory Gourdet

Gregory Gourdet speaking at 2024 James Beard Awards
Gregory Gourdet speaking at 2024 James Beard Awards - Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

Gregory Gourdet won our hearts on "Top Chef" and "Top Chef All-Stars," and has had illustrious professional cooking career. It is a career that almost didn't happen — Gourdet miraculously survived a horrific car wreck in 2007 while in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction. He lost years of his life to the disease of addiction, but in recovery, his success skyrocketed.

Gourdet's path to culinary stardom was paved by false starts in other academic pursuits. When his pre-med studies and a collegiate foray into wildlife biology proved unfulfilling, Gourdet pursued cooking — a mere hobby at first — as a serious occupation. Through it all, he struggled with substance abuse, and his consumption increased when he entered the fast-paced environment of fine dining kitchens. Drinking through the day and freebasing at night led to him being fired from his position as chef de cuisine at Jean Georges' restaurant, 66.

Months after leaving rehab in 2007, Gourdet totaled a car on New Year's Eve after a 12-hour binge. In an essay published by Today, the chef reflected upon his near-death experience, "Somehow, I escaped the shell of bent metal and broken glass with just a small scratch above my left eye. I was lucky that I spent the night in jail and not the ICU." It would take another two years for Gourdet to get clean, but once he did, the James Beard Award winner flourished.

Michael Caines

Closeup of Chef Michael Caines in suit and tie
Closeup of Chef Michael Caines in suit and tie - Devon County Show / Facebook

At 25, Chef Michael Caines was on his way to becoming a prominent chef in his native U.K., until a tragic car accident threatened to take it all away. The accident occurred in 1994 on a stretch of road called the M4. Caines was coming home from his niece's christening in South Wales and fell asleep at the wheel. The car drifted and hit a barrier and flipped upside down. Caines came to and saw his hand lying nearby. His right arm was gone from the elbow down.

Caines admits that in the immediate aftermath of the accident he hoped he would die, as he couldn't imagine continuing his career without the use of his dominant hand. Yet, Caines was back to work on a part-time basis in just two weeks, and with the help of a high-end prosthetic, he relearned how to do everything in the kitchen — and more.

Caines went on to earn two Michelin Stars and appear in a number of culinary TV shows in Britain. In conversation with The Irish Times, he said, "It made me a better person in many ways, and it made me realise that resilience and perseverance are important. I could have lost my life that day and I didn't, so it gave me purpose and meaning. Life's too short, so why waste a day."

Kevin Gillespie

Chef Kevin Gillespie smiles at camera
Chef Kevin Gillespie smiles at camera - chefkevingillespie / Instagram

"Top Chef" alum Kevin Gillespie was just getting started in 2009 when he made it to the finals of the show's 6th season. The competition helped his star rise, but in 2018, Gillespie was diagnosed with a rare and potentially deadly form of kidney cancer. Just 35 at the time, the news was a shock. Gillespie had been completely asymptomatic, but was told that his kidney needed to be removed immediately.

The surgery was successful and left Gillespie grateful to be alive. Discussing the ordeal with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he said, "I feel like I dodged not a bullet, but an atom bomb. The kind of cancer that I had is so fatal because it's not detected ... You don't feel sick. You wake up one morning and you're peeing blood, then you die a few months later."

When "Top Chef" approached him to appear on "All Stars Season 17," Gillespie jumped at the chance. In an interview with Forbes, Gillespie said, "I really don't care if I win. I have always been way too driven by money and success and I just don't care anymore. It is my goal to make it to the finals and be on enough episodes to tell my story."

Justin Sutherland

Chef Justin Sutherland holding Emmy Award
Chef Justin Sutherland holding Emmy Award - Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Justin Sutherland is another "Top Chef" notable who faced a near-death tragedy. In 2022, the chef, who competed on the 16th season of "Top Chef," was involved in a boating accident that almost cost him his left arm. It was something as innocuous as reaching for his captain hat after it blew off that tossed Sutherland into open water and into the path of the boat's propellers. The moment he took his attention from the steering wheel, the boat hit a wave and capsized the talented culinary star.

Sutherland sustained a broken arm, broken jaw, and a host of lacerations. After numerous surgeries, the chef was able to make a full recovery — but it was a journey. In a November 2023 Instagram post, Sutherland said, "In my line of work I rely heavily on my hands and arms, and the thought of losing use of my left arm was devastating. Fast forward 14 months and I'm fully recovered and back to doing what I love."

Chris Cosentino

Chef Chris Cosentino poses in kitchen
Chef Chris Cosentino poses in kitchen - chefchriscosentino / Instagram

Fame came to Chris Cosentino easier than most. He found early culinary fame on "Iron Chef" and from there, the TV offers rolled in. Cosentino balanced his media presence with fatherhood, and a full-time job at the esteemed restaurant Incanto. The fragile balance proved to be too much.

A 2009 collapse landed the chef in the hospital, where doctors bounced between diagnosing him with stomach cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. The truth was, Cosentino's stomach lining was pocked with third-degree alkaline burns — likely from the hot pepper eating competition he was paid to perform on TV. Forced into downtime, Cosentino began watching his television appearances and hated what he saw. "I looked like a bully," was how he described the experience to Men's Journal.

His conclusions were bolstered by the fact that Incanto's sales were on a major downturn. The events forced Cosentino to reconsider all that he knew about celebrity chef fame. He now focuses his time on cycling, charity causes, and spreading awareness for mental health.

Hubert Keller

Hubert Keller poses in chef coat
Hubert Keller poses in chef coat - Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Eating a South Pacific tuna while in Tahiti should have been nothing more than a satisfying meal for renowned chef and restaurateur Hubert Keller, but when he did just that circa 2005, he almost died. The bout of food poisoning Keller suffered soon after was nothing short of debilitating. "I couldn't walk anymore," Keller said. "I was literally going (to die), and nobody could do anything" was how the chef put it in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Keller was raised in the Alsace, France and in the 1980s, helmed the revered Fleur de Lys in San Francisco. He eventually made his way to the glittering landscape of Vegas, running the popular eateries Burger Bar and Fleur. Keller stepped away from both ventures in 2021.

If Keller, now almost 70 years old, is nudging into retirement, we can't blame him. The chef recalls being on his death bed for six months after contracting food poisoning, until one day the infection subsided, allowing him to make a full recovery. Keller is a longtime donor to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and his near-death experience bolstered his passion to the cause even more. Keller told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Now when I do a charity event for kids or other adults, I feel like I was fortunate to make it back."

Sean Brock

Chef Sean Brock poses with hand on his glasses
Chef Sean Brock poses with hand on his glasses - thedabneydc / Instagram

Acclaimed chef Sean Brock was accustomed to the all-consuming hours and hard-partying existence that comes with the upper echelon of culinary life. He vomited often and never felt 100%, something any chef at the top of his game might write off as hazards of the job. What Brock came to understand, was that he suffered from the autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis (MG), which primarily affected his vision and eyelid muscles, but also wreaked havoc on his immune system, hands, and brain.

Multiple surgeries were needed to treat the condition, which introduced painkillers to Brock's life — one that was already mired in illness and too much bourbon. Brock, an admitted workaholic, saw no other way but to power through the misery. When loved ones finally suggested rehab, Brock's immediate thought was "thank god". Today, Brock lives a sober lifestyle and works to spread awareness to those suffering from MG and other conditions often suffered in silence.

Matty Matheson

Matty Matheson poses at an awards show
Matty Matheson poses at an awards show - Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

He wasn't a household name until finding immense success on TV's "The Bear," but Matty Matheson's culinary journey brought him to tough places earlier in life. Born in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1982, Matheson's rise to public consciousness came about in an era when the bad boy chef persona was not yet looked at as fully problematic. To someone like Matheson, who struggled in school and had an early taste for rebellion, an edgy reputation actually boosted his media presence.

Despite his penchant for debauchery, Matheson trained under serious chefs and became the executive chef at Toronto's Parts & Labour in 2010. Meanwhile, his boisterous — albeit self-destructive — lifestyle caught the eye of Vice Media. The popular news outlet regularly showcased Matheson on its online show "Munchies". Although things seemed to be looking up for the unlikely celeb chef, his behavior caught up to him in the worst of ways.

After a three-day bender in 2012, Matheson woke suspiciously early — at 7 am — to the sensation of his heart being squeezed. At the hospital, doctors confirmed that the then 29-year-old had survived a heart attack. The near-death experience was slow to change him. In 2013, Matheson was nearly fired from Parts & Labour for openly conducting a drug deal in front of patrons. It was the catalyst that led to his sobriety, and a career trajectory that shows no bounds.

Read the original article on Mashed.