From TV to Vegas

Two more cooking-show vets talk shop

Rock Harper
Culinary school at Johnson & Wales University
Head chef at Terre Verde
Fame claim:
Hell’s Kitchen winner (3rd season)
How has winning Hell’s Kitchen changed your life?
Besides the flashing lights of fame, it has really been a gift for me. I feel like I have been given a huge responsibility to give to those less fortunate than I. So many times you see people get a small amount of success and forget to give. I am living proof that you can do what you put your mind to—now hopefully I can inspire others to do the same.
Was the competition really that intense?
It was probably more intense than you see! This may sound strange, but Gordon Ramsay is not all that you have to worry about. There is the lack of sleep, food and ‘alone time,’ which is enough to drive anyone crazy. There are no days off in Hell’s Kitchen; we work every day. Unlike some shows, we don’t have cushy conditions; we had it hard. If you didn’t cook for yourself, you don’t eat. Didn’t have time to brush your hair? Too bad, get to work. Only got three hours of sleep? Tough! Get down to the kitchen and get ready to work. It is a lot like real life; that’s why I liked it so much. And people say Gordon is mean, intense and a perfectionist? You should see the unedited version!
Had any Gordon Ramsay-esque outbursts in the kitchen [at Terre Verde]?
Maybe a couple. But we have an open kitchen, so they can’t be too loud. I haven’t made anyone cry lately; I have to get up on that.
What’s the next step in your culinary career?
I am working on opening a few different restaurants around the country. Until then, I’m just continuing my role/Hell’s Kitchen prize as head chef at Terra Verde and traveling around the country spreading the good word of food.
Akira Back
Ex-snowboarder; protege of Masaharu Morimoto
Executive chef at Yellowtail Sushi Restaurant & Bar
Bellagio hotel-casino
Fame claim:
Battled chef Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America
Did Bobby Flay try to psych you out?
Absolutely not. I met him many times before, and he’s always been nice to me. I worked so hard to get in the show that I wasn’t nervous at all.
How did you get on Iron Chef?
I used to work for Nobu Matsuhisa. In Aspen at the Food and Wine Festival three years ago, I was in charge of the chef-tasting menu. A producer on Iron Chef loved my food and asked if I would be interested in being an Iron Chef. He [the producer] called me. I wanted to go against Masaharu Morimoto, but got Bobby Flay.
What’s more intense: Iron Chef or snowboarding?
Snowboarding is a totally different feeling. Your legs are shaking before hitting a big jump. Iron Chef is more mental. There are so many cameras and so much going on. You have to think a lot. Iron Chef is more intense. Cooking-wise, it was fun for me. My cooks were nervous. We never guessed the secret ingredient would be spinach. I went to Flay’s restaurant five times to get a bead on him. I thought it [the secret ingredient] would be mahi mahi. I practiced with it three or four times.
Anything positive you can take away from losing?
So many people e-mailed or went to YouTube [to watch the competition], and 95 percent of people say I got robbed. It was really good publicity for me. A lot of people saw what my approach was and, in talking to other chefs, they now get my theory about cooking.
Where do you envision your culinary career taking you?
Opening my own restaurant; chefs dream about their own restaurant with their own name.

Previous Discussion:

  • Diablo's Cantina takes a more authentic turn with executive chef Saul Ortiz, a native of Mexico City known for crafting authentic cuisine ...

  • The sandos lasso in ingredients obvious—beef brisket on the Dallas and pulled pork on the Houston—and not so much, like the Waco (ham and pineapple) ...

  • Fortunately for lovers of Athens fries, Paymon’s has expanded into the suburbs with locations in the southeast Valley and Summerlin.

  • Get More Dining Stories
Top of Story