Chef Rock Harper: “You Have To Encourage Kids To Try Everything”

Chef Rahman “Rock” Harper is the National Spokesperson for March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction events. Since his Hell’s Kitchen Season 3 win, Chef Rock has written a book helping parents cook healthy meals for their kids. The acclaimed celebrity chef opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about his strong devotion to the March of Dimes. He also shares some great tips and meal suggestion for even the pickiest of eaters.

CBS: Tell us about your three kids: Elijah, Leah and Jaiden. Do they enjoy cooking/baking with you?

RH: “Elijah, my 10 year old was very picky at first. He’s a very sensitive and gentle person and he eats the same way. He would freak out about his foods touching, it’s been a roller coaster, but, he’s evolved. I make a mean scallop dish and both my older kids love them. I presented them as treasures of the sea- it’s really about engaging your kids.

Leah, who’s 7, is my wild child! It’s amazing; she will try anything, from gizzard pate to octopus seviche! I mean, she’ll even try things I won’t. Both Leah and Elijah cook with me, but it’s Leah who absolutely loves it – she’s really into it. They’re constantly in the kitchen asking, “Can I help? Can I do that?” I’ve even got them using knives, my wife Tamara doesn’t like it, but I think it’s important to show kids the proper way to do things.

I have big plans for Jaiden my 2 month old and his palate development. We grow into adults, so it’s very important to have an encyclopedia of food. I mean, the mind is very powerful – we have to add flavors and plan to introduce flavors at least once a week. Salt, sweet, hot pepper – whatever! It’s all about, if it’s good for you, it’s good for your kids too. We have to broaden their horizons – chicken fingers are everywhere! Children have to know they have other choices other than chicken fingers and peanut butter and jelly.”

CBS: Congratulations on winning Season 3 of Hell’s Kitchen! Was it really ‘hell’ working with Gordon Ramsay? Do you consider him a mentor or enemy? How did you keep your cool?

RH: “[Laughs] I’ve never been to hell, but that was ‘kitchen boot camp’ and he was the Chief General for sure! I really do love him like a brother though – he only wants the best for you. It’s funny because, of course he’s brash, but the bad stuff was cut out!

Look, I came from working with old school sous chefs that probably even cursed at church! But, when you’re getting cursed out by your peers, you want to cry. I had that experience in the real world, so when the foremost chef in the world is doing it? It’s laughable because I knew the end rewards would be so great. All I focused on was the food.

He throws fits yes, but he has to test you in a very short time. He’s trying to see if he can break you. At the end of the day it was a great learning experience- people take shots at you all the time when you’re successful.”

CBS: You have been closely involved in the March of Dimes fundraisers. Why is this cause so close to your heart? Is there a fundraiser coming up that you will be attending?

RH: “As I speak, I’m in Omaha for the ‘Signature Chefs Auction.’ It’s a big foodie event with 20-30 chefs and wineries. All the proceeds go to the March of Dimes- my package went for $10,000! It’s beautiful! I really feel as though helping the March of Dimes is my calling; it’s really been therapeutic for me.

In 1998, my wife and I lost a child on November 26th, three days prior to birth. We spent three days at the hospital over Thanksgiving delivering a still-born. So, being involved with this organization has helped me definitely, and hopefully, many other people as well.

My daughter Leah was preemie and has three holes in her heart. So, however I can help I will! I hope to raise a million dollars and do something purposeful with my craft. I believe we as Americans are generous people – we are people of service. I’m a chef, not a neo-natal surgeon, but I’m cooking and helping to save lives. My mother always asks, “What can you do to help? How can you stay in your lane?” Meaning, how can you use your talents to be of service to others?”

CBS: Tell us about your upcoming book 44 Things Parents Should Know About Healthy Cooking For Kids.

RH: Well, it’s actually a guide because there are enough cookbooks out there! I wanted to write principles about living a healthy lifestyle. These big companies are really crafty about feeding us garbage (he quotes from the movie Dirty Dancing) “Don’t put your baby in a corner” by feeding him/her only carrots. You have to broaden their palates.

Use the opportunity when they’re young to expand their encyclopedia. They won’t like everything but it gives them options. It’s also about a lifestyle. You have to move your butt! I do believe in moderation though, you don’t want to hit it too hard because you will quit. You have to cheat every once and awhile. You have 21 meals a week – cheat once a week – that means you’re eating healthy 99% of your meals.”

CBS: Why do you think there are so many food allergies these days? It seems like every other child has a wheat or gluten allergy these days.

RH: “Picky eaters have definitely changed my view on that. You have to encourage kids to try everything and they have to be involved; picking it, preparing it and cooking it. They have to be involved from the root. They’ll be more apt to eat it that way. I do believe the farm to table method will help with that. Of course, you can’t do that every day, but you have to expose them little by little. That way, you can wean them off the norm.

I grew up poor, and dinner was dinner; you ate what was in front of you. But if you can, offer them a treat. We have to meet them in the middle. Even fried food and certain fats can’t be taboo. That way, it won’t be out of the norm for them and they won’t over indulge. If they’re picky, guide them in the right direction.

As far as allergies go, I’m not certain of the root of that, but I do think part of the problem is in the way we process our food. It’s crazy the way we process our chicken, beef and the recalls on chemicals. We have no idea how close we are to catastrophe every day. Americans just look the other way without thinking about how it’s affecting our bodies. We weren’t built to process all of it – it’s not in our DNA.”

CBS: Wat’s your best advice to parents who say they’re too busy to cook homemade meals (in other words, not frozen/packaged)?

RH: “I don’t judge but, you have to make a decision. There is always time for SOMETHING. Have a prep day and then freeze the food until it’s cooking day. That process is not as involved as people think. If you’re comfortable with obesity and diabetes then that’s your choice. But try something different; go to the grocery store and buy food in its natural state and then have a day to prep your sauce. Make a gallon of it! Then it starts fresh. Be your own prep cook and make small steps.”

CBS: What can concerned parents do to improve the school lunch programs?

RH: “We are literally killing our kids with school lunch. We as parents have to take a hard line against FDA guidelines. We can start with one letter to the mayor and then c.c. the school superintendent and other government officials, and we must be very harsh. This is garbage they are feeding our kids and they are helping to kill them. You must stay involved!

Make them aware of healthy choices, maybe make their lunch but don’t send them to school with just a salad either. Give them a treat too. Most importantly, discuss with them why they are being guided away from junk. When you have conversations with them ask, ‘Did you eat your fruit?’ You can’t scold them though or they will start lying to you. Create an environment for open and honest discussion. It’s your job to find out what they like to eat that’s healthy and then provide that for them. We as parents and Americans have to commit to this. It’s a sustainable effort.”

CBS: What are the top 5 fool-proof meals that every family should know how to make?

RH: “1. Breakfast! A good scramble egg or omelet recipe. Eggs can be very health conscious and an inexpensive source of protein. Substitute in some egg whites and add some vegetables.

2. Pancakes and waffles. You could easily use whole wheat or flax seed, they’ll never know! Heat your syrup too. It covers more easily so you use less.

3. Pasta. Everyone loves this comfort food. Buy whole wheat and add vegetables. You don’t always have to use meat.

4. Bread, buns and pizza dough. You have to know how to enjoy with great flavor. Healthy bread products are essential.

5. Sauce! Everyone needs to know how to make great healthy sauce; it brings everything together. Sauce is really about using what you have and it’s the cornerstone of culinary arts.”

CBS: What’s up next for you?

RH: I’m currently working on another book titled, 35 Things to Rock Your Kitchen & Your Love Life and I’ve got a sports bar concept I might possibly bring to D.C. It will be very service oriented – think “Cheers.”

Also, there is another ‘Signature Chefs Auction’ in D.C. on October 26th that I will be involved with again. But at the end of the day I’m enjoying family, love and life. I’m embracing every moment.”

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