Flay was born on December 10, 1964, in New York City to Bill and Dorothy Barbara (McGuirk) Flay. He was raised on the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan. He is a fourth generation Irish American and was raised Catholic, attending denominational schools.
Flay dropped out of high school at age 17. He has said his first jobs in the restaurant industry were at a pizza parlor and Baskin-Robbins. He then took a position making salads at Joe Allen Restaurant in Manhattan's Theater District, where his father was a partner. The proprietor, Joe Allen, was impressed by Flay's natural ability and agreed to pay his partner's son's tuition at the French Culinary Institute.
Flay received a degree in culinary arts and was a member of the first graduating class of the French Culinary Institute in 1984. After culinary school, he started working as a sous-chef, quickly learning the culinary arts. At the Brighton Grill on Third Avenue, Flay was handed the executive chef's position after a week when the executive chef was fired. Flay quit when he realized he was not ready to run a kitchen. He took a position as a chef working for restaurateur Jonathan Waxman at Bud and Jams. Waxman introduced Flay to southwestern and Cajun cuisine, which came to define his culinary career.
After working for a short time on the floor at the American Stock Exchange, Flay returned to the kitchen as the executive chef at Miracle Grill in the East Village, where he worked from 1988 to 1990. He caught the attention of restaurateur Jerome Kretchmer, who was looking for a southwestern-style chef. Impressed by Flay's food, Kretchmer offered him the position of executive chef at Mesa Grill, which opened on January 15, 1991. Shortly after, he became a partner. In November 1993, Flay partnered with Laurence Kretchmer to open Bolo Bar & Restaurant in the Flatiron District, just a few blocks away from Mesa Grill.
Entrance sign to Mesa Grill in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
Bolo Bar & Restaurant closed its doors on December 31, 2007, to make way for a condominium.
Aside from his restaurants and television shows, Flay has been a master instructor and visiting chef at the French Culinary Institute. Although he is not currently teaching classes, he occasionally visits when his schedule permits.
Flay established the Bobby Flay Scholarship in 2003. This full scholarship to the French Culinary Institute is awarded annually to a student in the Long Island City Culinary Arts Program. Flay personally helps select the awardee each year.
On Throwdown! with Bobby Flay, the chef challenges cooks renowned for a specific dish or type of cooking to a cook-off of their signature dish. On Episode 5 of Season 4, Harlem chef Melba Wilson and Bobby squared off over who had the best chicken and eggnog waffles. While being interviewed on "Conversations with Allan Wolper" on WGBO 88.3FM, Wilson confessed that she had been nervous because Bobby brought a cast-iron skillet. Having grown up in a family that used cast-iron skillets, Wilson was nonetheless forced to use a deep fryer because her restaurant was too small for a cast-iron skillet. Towards the end of the anecdote, she explained, "Can I tell you? When he pulled out the skillet, it was a rough day. Girlfriend started sweating bullets. But at the end of the day, we threw down - I don't know, I think it was the eggnog - and I won."
Flay was an Iron Chef on the show Iron Chef America. In 2000, when the original Iron Chef show traveled to New York for a special battle, he challenged Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto to battle rock crab. After the hour battle ended, Flay stood on top of his cutting board and raised his arms in what one journalist wrote was "in premature victory". As Morimoto felt that real chefs consider cutting boards and knives as sacred, and being offended by Flay's flamboyant gesture, he criticized his professionalism, saying that Flay was "not a chef". Flay went on to lose the battle. Flay challenged Morimoto to a rematch in Morimoto's native Japan. This time, Flay won.
Flay and Morimoto, both Iron Chefs on Iron Chef America teamed - took on and won - against fellow Iron Chefs Mario Batali and Hiroyuki Sakai in the Iron Chef America: Battle of the Masters "Tag Team" battle.
On a special episode of Iron Chef America originally airing on November 12, 2006, Flay and Giada De Laurentiis faced off against, and were defeated by, Batali and Rachael Ray. This was the highest rated show ever broadcast on Food Network.
Flay and Michael Symon defeated the team of Iron Chefs Cat Cora and Masaharu Morimoto in a special episode titled "Thanksgiving Showdown," which originally aired on November 16, 2008.
On November 29, 2009, Iron Chefs Morimoto and Flay faced off one-on-one again in Battle Egg Nog. The battle, which featured ice-carvers, was won by Morimoto by a single point.
In an episode recorded in July 2010 and broadcast in March 2011, Montreal cooking show host Chuck Hughes beat Flay to become the youngest Canadian champ. In an interview afterward, Hughes recalled, "When I met him I said, 'Hi Bobby,' and my voice cracked a bit and I gave him an official [Montreal] Canadiens jersey, to which he replied, 'Thank you so much -- but it's not going to help.'"
Beat Bobby Flay
This half-hour series pits select chefs against host Flay to see if they can create dishes that are better than his. As Flay's most successful series on Food Network the prior season, episode 5 of season 17, featuring Debbie Gibson and Katie Lee, was chosen as the 2018 lead-out show for season 14 of Food Network Star.
Bobby's Vegas Gamble -- Covers the opening of Mesa Grill Las Vegas.
Restaurant Revamp -- Flay tries to help a family restaurant.
Chefography: Bobby Flay -- Biography of Flay's life and career.
Tasting Ireland -- Flay takes a food tour of Ireland, his ancestral homeland.
Food Network Awards -- The Food Network recognizes people and places that have impacted the food world.
Flay had a cameo appearance in the Disney Channel original movie Eddie's Million Dollar Cook-Off as the host of the cook-off. He appeared on the television game showPyramid with fellow Iron Chef Mario Batali as the guest celebrities in an episode originally airing on November 18, 2003. He appeared as a judge on the CBS television show "Wickedly Perfect" during the 2004-05 season.
In 2010, Flay was impersonated in the South Park cartoon episode Crème Fraiche. In 2011, Flay had recurring appearances in the final season of Entourage as the boyfriend of Ari Gold's wife. In 2012, Flay appeared on Portlandia, in a director's cut of the episode Brunch Village. He showed director Jonathan Krisel how to make the perfect marionberry pancakes. Flay guest stars as himself on season two of the TV series Younger, which initially aired in 2016.
Flay married Debra Ponzek, also a chef, on May 11, 1991. Flay and Ponzek divorced in 1993, and Flay married his second wife, Kate Connelly, in 1995. They have a daughter named Sophie. Flay and Connelly separated in 1998, and later divorced. Flay married actress Stephanie March, on February 20, 2005. According to media reports, March and Flay separated in March 2015 and their divorce was finalized on July 17, 2015. Flay dated Heléne Yorke from February 2016 to early 2019.
^Hall, Trish (May 8, 1991). "Sharing a Life Of Chefs' Hours And Pancakes". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007. Bobby Flay and Debra Ponzek, two well-known chefs in the New York food world, are getting married on Saturday [May 11, 1991].