Chef David Rose

No Flash in the Pan

“I’ve always been around food,” says this cheery New Jersey transplant. “Both of my parents were cooks; I would go where they were working and watch them.” By the time he was a teenager, David Rose says he was allowed to be sous chef on occasion, the title making him second in authority to the head chef. Adolescence, in fact, found him soaking up culinary skills that would “prep” him for his future career in the kitchen and beyond, like the “Food Network Star.”

“Food Network Star” is the uber-popular television program that features talented people making food preparation at once “a piece o’ cake” and exciting—so exciting that cooks from all over the country vie to compete on the program. The heated competition portrays dedicated cooks who face possible elimination as they stir fry, bake, broil, whip and sometimes melt under the pressure, the winners having determinedly lasted through three demanding episodes.

Rose is among the 12 finalists this season. How he arrived at this pinnacle of culinary success seems obvious to Rose. “It takes a lot of hard work and long hours,” says Rose. “You have to improvise sometimes; the more the pressure, the better.” Downplaying the understandable tension palpating in a roomful of winner cooks, Rose sounds like a motivational speaker. “You have to think on your feet and believe in yourself,” he says.

Believing in himself seems a given for Rose, the youngest of eight siblings whose Jamaican parents, siblings and other relatives relocated to Atlanta after he moved to the city in 2003. “I had a cousin at Morehouse and I fell in love with the city—everything but the traffic,” he says.

Traffic notwithstanding, Rose enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Recognized as “the guardian of French culinary technique,” the school was founded in France in 1895. It is “the largest network of culinary and hospitality school in the world,” training 20,000 students from 20 countries and 100 nationalities each year. Rose was one of them in 2003, the year Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts was founded in Tucker, Georgia, 15 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta.

Rose graduated summa cum laude. Only 21 years old at the time, Rose says his culinary resume will soon include a book and cookware. He finds many opportunities for experimenting with various herbs and seasonings and compares recipe creation to playing jazz. “You never make the same dish the exact same way,” says Rose.

This maxim will be tested Sunday, August 13 at 9 p.m. “It’s not about the pressure; it’s how you react,” says Rose. No cook knows what they are expected to cook until the moment of competition.

He plans to keep his routine of daily fitness workouts to maintain stamina and he hopes to find time for a ride on his motorcycle here and there. His nickname, “Swole” (as in “swollen,” a reference to his buff physique) comes from the motorcycle club. Rose’s health maintenance hardly resonates with the stereotype of the alcohol-abusing cook. Rose explains it this way: “Alcoholic beverages are served in most restaurants, and cooks have to know what wine, for example, goes best with a particular food.” Jamaican dishes are among his favorite to serve: “Rum anyone?”

Rose also loves the diverse culture of his childhood in Teaneck, New Jersey, “the home of the Isley Brothers,” he likes to say. This diversity extends to food. “I’m open to try—eat as well as cook—foods from different cultures.” Friends and family regularly savor his cooking. “I enjoy giving joy to people.” But joy comes after preparation, the proof of the proverbial pudding. Aware that food preparation is both art and science, creativity and molecular gastronomy, Rose says, “When a dish is presented, you first eat with your eyes.”

All eyes will be on “Food Network Star” cooking in Los Angeles when Rose lights up the stove. Big on contrast and texture, creamy/crunchy with sensitivity to allergies and client input, Rose doesn’t sound like he’ll be running around like a headless chicken. He plans to be executing, cool as a cucumber. When Rose says, “I love to cook,” we believe him.