Chef Terry French has cooked for baseball broadcaster Harry Caray, New York Yankees’ Bobby Brown, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, and a smorgasbord of stars at restaurants where bills can be higher than most people’s monthly salaries. Surprisingly, the Evansville native didn’t get his big break at any well-known restaurant, nor did he get it with a helping hand from one of his A-list clients. Instead, French’s opportunity of a lifetime came from an answered ad on Craigslist.
“The ad said, ‘Are you a culinary bad-ass?’ And I am, so I responded,” says the now reigning Food Network “Extreme Chef” winner. “When they called me, I thought it was another Craigslist person trying to sell me something,” says French. “I threw down the phone and starting cussing those salespeople to my wife. I had no idea I hadn’t hung up the phone.”
It wasn’t a salesperson; it was a Food Network representative offering French an interview for a new show, “Extreme Chef.” His rant convinced the producers that he was just what they were looking for on the show: someone with edge, extraordinary culinary skills, and a taste for adventure. “When I realized they were on the phone and they told me who they were, I was stunned,” he says. “I did my interview with the executives right then, in boxers with a Corona in my hand.”
French’s friends and family were thrilled at his prospective role on the new reality series. Adventurous by nature, the chef attributes his culinary skills to his childhood in Evansville, where he would hunt and fish with friends in the woods and along the banks of the Ohio. “We would find a rabbit, kill it, cook it, and eat it,” he says. “That’s learning to cook right there.”
After graduating from Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., French was a U.S. Navy specialist for four years. Though he never cooked in Evansville, he met several rock stars at Avanti’s in Phoenix, Ariz., and eventually became a sous chef at a Ramada Renaissance hotel before attending the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona. He then opened Emma’s Rotisserie in Philadelphia before his first major TV debut in June 2011.
Known as “The Rebel Chef” on the second season of “Extreme Chef,” French dominated the competition episode after episode, searching for ingredients and creating five-star meals from the depths of rainforests, mountainous terrains, desert dust storms, and 48-degree waters. The father of 8- and 5-year old daughters braised, brewed, and blanched his way into the top two, and with his coveted “final bite,” beat out Utah restaurant owner Viet Pham for the win.
“It was a good feeling,” he says. “It just made me realize how everything in my life has come together in a way I never could have planned. Everything I was is a culmination of who I am today.”
French, now $50,000 richer from the show’s grand prize, resides in New Jersey outside of Atlantic City with his family. The go-getter has not slowed down to enjoy his success, and continues to tirelessly pursue other opportunities, such as his catering company, Culinary Dreams. His intensity shows in the business, which specializes in extreme requests. His company has brought meals to cliff sides, into caves, forests, parks, and even the Bahamas where a lack of water and electricity would trip up most chefs. “If someone wants to have five-star food on a mountain peak, I do that,” says French. “I’ll do whatever someone can dream up. It’s all about the harmony of food and experience.”
To find out more about “The Rebel Chef,” visit www.rebelbbq.com.