The Nepo Babies of the Food World

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The nepo baby discourse of 2022 has been a veritable powder keg, and this week, Vultures read the match. On Monday, the entertainment news site published “How a Nepo Baby Is Born,” an investigation by senior writer Nate Jones that digs into our collective obsession with the famous children of famous parents (ie, products of nepotism).

None of this is anything new—Hollywood has always been replete with A-listers’ progeny entering doors wedged open for them—but TikTok has recently latched onto the phenomenon with such fervor that celebrities are now asked point-blank in interviews how they feel about being deemed so-called nepo babies, and few have provided graceful answers. Naturally, this all makes us wonder: Who are the nepo babies of the food world?

The nepo babies of the food scene

One variety of nepotism is not really equal to another, at least not in terms of the status, power, glamor and fame with which it can provide you. A few stars on the Food Network, for example, are the children of skilled chefs and restaurateurs—but learning a trade from one’s parents isn’t the same as nepotism. Here’s how Jones puts it Vultures: :

Better to imagine nepo babies on a spectrum. At the top are the classic nepo babies, inheritors of famous names and famous features: Dakota Johnson, Maya Hawke, Jack Quaid. The next tier down are people who got a leg up from family connections even if they weren’t famous per se. These include figures like Lena Dunham, whose artist parents supplied the necessary cultural capital, as well as “industry babies” like Billie Eilish, daughter of a voice actress, and Kristen Stewart, whose mother was the script supervisor on The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas […] And we can probably draw a line when it comes to figures like Paris Hilton, for whom the term rich people is already sufficient.

For our purposes, let’s focus on people whose parents are bonafide celebrities in some fashion (food-related or not), and whose children rose to cheffy prominence after their parents’ celebrity was long since established. Fair?

Trawling through famous chefs, Cooking Channel hosts, and Food Network stars turns up a refreshingly small amount of people who might be deemed nepo babies.

jade From Laurentiis

The longtime Food Network star, who rose to prominence as a chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago before hosting the series Everyday Italian in 2003, he published a dozen cookbooks and racked up multiple Daytime Emmy awards. De Laurentiis is the eldest daughter of Italian-American actress Veronica De Laurentiis and Alex De Benedetti, executive producer of Evil Dead II, of all things. Giada’s maternal grandparents were also celebrities: Italian film star Silvana Mangano and notable film producer Dino De Laurentiis. Giada studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

Her Wikipedia page is vague about how she got her start at the Food Network, saying simply that she “was contacted by the Food Network after styling a piece in Food & Wine magazine in 2002.” However, her Food Network bio states, “Giada’s career started on Food Network in 2002 when she was discovered by a network executive upon reading an article about her and the De Laurentiis family in Food & Wine magazine.”

So, while Giada’s skill has taken her far in the 20 years since making her cable debut, who knows whether she would have gotten the opportunity without a mother and grandfather worthy of profiling in a fancy food publication.

Bobby & Jamie Deen

These strapping lads have their very own page on their mother Paula Deen’s official website. Isn’t that sweet? Paula, an erstwhile icon of Southern cooking, began her tenure with the Food Network in 2002 with the premiere of Paula’s Home Cooking, a series on which Bobby and Jamie often guested. Although Paula has been all but scrubbed from the Food Network’s website following various public controversies, the boys continued to host the odd Baking Championship here and there after their mother’s contract ended in 2013.

Bobby and Jamie aren’t so many grand babies; rather, they appear to be somewhat less engaging satellite personalities to their mother’s formidable screen presence, two members of a family restaurant business that enjoyed a solid decade on the small screen. The boys have written half a dozen cookbooks together, a rather harmless way to capitalize on a name that was on a lot more people’s lips ten years ago.

Sophie Flay

“Sophie Flay grew up in New York City, surrounded by some of the best chefs and restaurants in the world.” So begins the Food Network bio for the daughter of the greatest thing to ever happen to a culinary cable channel, Bobby Flay. It goes on, “Sophie is currently a community journalist for ABC7 in Los Angeles, a position the young reporter secured shortly after graduating from the University of Southern California, with a degree in broadcast and digital journalism.”

Anyone else see the nepo bat signal there? That’s right: the word “shortly.” This is a rather high-profile gig to have secured so swiftly after graduation—but I mean no disrespect towards Sophie’s skills and screen presence, both of which I assume are substantial, especially since her father is someone with the gravitas to get away with inserting his name into the title of virtually every Food Network television show that’s ever been produced.

Besides appearances on her father’s flagship programs, Sophie also stars alongside Bobby in the Food Network shows The Flay List and Bobby and Sophie on the Coast. She’s not a “food” nepo baby, per se, but still someone with all the right people in her corner while she’s hustling.

Hunter Fieri

Just as young Simba was told from childhood that Mustafa’s kingdom would someday be his, 26-year-old Hunter Fieri has spent the past decade being carefully positioned on camera alongside his larger-than-life father, chef Guy Fieri, as they head to America’s greatest diners, drive-ins, and dives. It is foretold that one day young Hunter will assume his rightful place as Mayor of Flavortown.

But is is it his rightful place? Does anyone…like Hunter all that much? Does anyone care whether he enjoys a chef’s poke bowl, or whether he thinks the tenderloin is next-level? Sure, he is offered the occasional profilebut his TV show in collaboration with Shell gas stations has such a small online footprint that Google kept suggesting the wrong results.

Hunter just doesn’t seem at home on camera, and he’s had half his life to practice. Ultimately, his milquetoast TV career helps us better understand Guy’s secret sauce: You need something loud enough for people to make fun of you for, like flames or spiky hair or an embarrassing set of catchphrases. Without those footholds, there’s nothing to latch on to, and you’re left looking like, well, a nepo baby.

Brooklyn Beckham

Hunter Fieri can take solace in the fact that he is, at least, 1,000 times more charismatic than Brooklyn Beckham, son of Spice Girl Victoria and soccer star David Beckham. The recently-married-to-a-billionaire 23-year-old king of the culinary nepo babies has worn many hats in his short time on Earth—soccer player, model, photographer—but in 2021, it was decided (perhaps by algorithm ) that Brooklyn would “try his hand at becoming a professional chef,” as Wikipedia so aptly put it.

The lad’s efforts deserve our attention, if only to see nepotism’s obvious downside: the expectation that you become something fabulous fast, in front of an audience that will be more entertained if you fail. Brooklyn’s guest spot on Rachel Ray’s show is painful to watch, as he has been a cook for so little time that he has not yet learned to banter while incorporating spices into ground beef. Even worse could be his appearance cooking alongside James Corden Mr The Late Late Showhis canned laugh quickly reverting to a frown as he drops a garlic clove while attempting to peel it.

“I’m a nut in the kitchen,” he tells Bustleand then prepares a gin and tonic.

It’s possible Brooklyn will change his mind about being a chef in the years to come. He might even get better at it. But until we see which of those outcomes we’re headed towards, we can probably turn off the cameras and cancel the airtime offers while he figures it all out.

Nepo babies will always be around

Granted, most of these examples seem at least somewhat harmless. Even if he got the job by virtue of his mother’s success, it’s pretty hard to make the argument that Jamie Deen stole someone else’s hard-won opportunity by starring in Road Tasted (2006).

There’s probably a reason you can’t immediately name countless nepo babies in the food world, by the way. Cooking, for all its pomp and circumstance, can be an absolute slog—an unglamorous, work-your-way-up-from-the-bottom onslaught of late nights, verbal thrashings, and deeply-flawed visionaries whose most beloved creations are still relatively anonymous. That anonymity, which can turn a work of singular genius into a contextless pile of food atop a nondescript white plate, might be a bitter pill to swallow if you’re used to a life in your family’s limelight.

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