A fourth-generation Irish-American, red-haired Bobby Flay dropped out of high school at 16 and worked briefly on the floor at the American Stock Exchange. He then took a job as a cook at Joe Allen Restaurant in the Theatre District of New York City, where his father was a partner. The owner, Joe Allen, was so impressed by Bobby's natural ability that he paid his tuition at the French Culinary Institute, where he received a degree in Culinary Arts in 1984.
After graduating from culinary school, he was hired as a cook at Brighton Grill and soon after become the sous chef after the then-current chef was fired. He worked there for about a year and quit the job, and considered leaving the industry. However, he wanted to cook and learn, so he took a job at Bud and Jams, where Jonathan Waxman introduced Flay to southwestern cuisine, which decided his culinary career. From 1988 to 1990, he worked as executive chef at Miracle Grill in Manhattan. Restaurateur Jerome Kretchmer dined at Miracle Grill regularly and soon offered Bobby a position at Mesa Grill, where he was made partner. Kretchmer and Flay subsequently opened Bolo Bar & Restaurant in November 1993. Bolo Bar & Restaurant was closed on December 31, 2007 to make way for a new condominium.