San Diego-Based Celebrity Chef Brian Malarkey Facing Online Backlash Following April Fools "Joke"

April 1, 2024

San Diego-based celebrity chef Brian Malarkey is facing online backlash following an April Fools "joke" many are saying is insensitive.

"After Years of Rumors & Speculation - & denials - Puffer & I are officially COMING OUT!" read Chef Brian Malarkey's social media post along with the above photo of himself and business partner Christopher Puffer. "The truth will set us FREE!"
Social media followers were quick to react to the post, with many accusing the former Top Chef contestant of being insensitive, specifically to gay people who have struggled to come out.

"If this is true than congrats," wrote one Facebook user. "However if this is an April Fool’s prank, as a gay man who had a hard time coming out to friends and family and lost both some family and friends for being gay, it is not funny. You do not know what it is like for someone to come out."

Brian Malarkey first tasted celebrity stardom when he became a finalist on Bravo's Top Chef Season 3 while working as Executive Chef of downtown San Diego's now-defunct Oceanaire Seafood Room. The Bend, OR, native steamrolled his newfound stardom into his own fabric brand of restaurants with the launch of Searsucker in the San Diego Gaslamp in 2010. Malarkey went on to open and close more than a dozen other restaurants over a short time before he and then-business partner James Brennan sold off the majority share of their Enlightened Hospitality Restaurant Group to Abu Dhabi-based Hakkasan Ltd. in 2014.

"Is this an April Fools joke?" commented an Instagram follower. "If so, it's not funny. People struggle to come out everyday and it's not cool to mock them for their struggle. 

Malarkey even chimed in to respond to one critic. 

"[T]his should make people realize it's not a big deal - laughter & happiness make the world a better place - lot of my friends are gay & they are laughing hysterically.....", wrote Malarkey on his Instagram in response to the above comment. 

After the greatly-successful rebirth of the Malarkey empire with the launch of Herb & Wood in Little Italy in Spring 2016, Malarkey has continued to grow his culinary empire over the years. In September 2019, Malarkey and Chris Puffer opened the $5.5 million Animae, an upscale French-meets-Japanese and Southeast Asian fusion restaurant located in the 15,000 square-foot ground floor space at downtown San Diego's uber-luxury high rise condominium building Pacific Gate by Bosa. Malarkey also opened Herb & Sea in downtown Encinitas in fall 2019. Puffer Malarkey Holdings also operate Herb & Ranch, a multi-concept food hall in Orange County. Most recently Puffer-Malarkey took back the 7,500 square-foot Herringbone space in La Jolla from the Tao Group for an incoming French bistro & steakhouse concept named Le Coq. Le Coq will reportedly be Malarkey's last restaurant. 

Malarkey also serves regularly as a judge on Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, makes regular appearances on the Today Show and Good Morning America, and was a winning mentor on ABC’s now-defunct The Taste primetime culinary competition led by the dearly-departed Anthony Bourdain. Malarkey also appeared as a cheftestant on Season 17 of Bravo’s Top Chef, dubbed the "All Stars LA" edition, and was recently on Food Network's Superchef Grudge Match cooking competition, where he lost to his longtime chef de cuisine, Charles "Carlos Anthony" San Martano, formerly of Little Italy's Herb & Wood. Malarkey also served as the team lead for the West Coast team on the second season of Food Network's Beachside Brawl culinary competition. 

"Before I unfollow- do you know how difficult it is for people to actually come out?" wrote another Facebook user. "The possibility of losing loved ones, a job, friends. Coming out is not a joke to some people."

In July 2021, Malarkey filed a dissolution of divorce against his wife of two decades Chantelle Hartman Malarkey, who he married in September 2002. The divorce is still not finalized. The longtime couple share three minor children together. Last year, Malarkey made it "social media official" with the announcement of his new sweetheart, who is 18 years his junior. 

Chef Malarkey is currently working hard to erect Le Coq, a $3.5 million French-inspired restaurant set to unveil this spring in the space that last housed Herringbone in La Jolla. Malarkey is also opening a new restaurant in his home town of Bend, OR, and will be bringing a food hall to the renovated Terminal 1 inside San Diego International Airport.

For more information about Chef Brian Malarkey and his restaurants, visit