Have you ever unexpectedly laughed so hard that you made a scene in a restaurant? That’s exactly what happens when you talk with Chef Aaron McCargo Jr for an interview. He is so extremely funny while being very serious about food.
It’s essential to life. We consume it with smiles and laughter any time of day or night. It is especially important to Chef Aaron, who has made a living instructing people all over the country on how to create masterpieces in the kitchen. He is not only an amazingly talented culinary mastermind, he is also very down-to-earth. Sitting with Aaron is a delight because he is not afraid to display his big personality. His unique perspective on the issues that face youth and families and nutrition is refreshing. He has a heart to steer youth in the right direction.
Chef Aaron is from Camden, NJ and is still in the area with his family. His roots are here and he aims to give back to the community through his non profit organization, Play to Win. He has been very successful throughout his career and pays it forward to youth in the region. In his words he is “doing what God put on his heart,” which is a very noble attitude that is commendable. He wants to expose the good part of the city. He looks at Camden like the Bible speaks of Nazareth; people used to say, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” He feels that a lot of good can come out of Camden, this is why his organization looks for ways to bring it out.
Aaron’s TV career was unexpected. He had no idea that this type of career was going to come his way; he just wanted to cook. He is known for winning on the Food Network show – The Next Food Network Star Season 4 although auditioning for it wasn’t even his idea. His wife saw the commercial and encouraged him to try out. She reminded him of all the entertaining he had done with friends at their apartment. He quipped that their apartment was not very big so it wasn’t ‘entertaining,’ it was just a few friends ‘getting greedy with it!’ On TV, we see chef as a the funniest guy in the kitchen but this is just how it was growing up. Friends and family came over and meals were prepared and they all just had a good time during the process. Fast forward to the present, he is doing the same thing now, his kitchen is just much larger and has a camera and lights.
His path to the big screen was not conventional. It had a few curves and bumps along the way. He didn’t stand in line waiting for a chance to wow the producers. He created a short video on a cell phone and sent it in to the contest. Originally they didn’t receive it so he had to resubmit, then he missed the deadline and they extended it. There was always some sort of delay until finally out of thousands of applicants, 10 were selected. One of the 10 was a talented self-proclaimed ‘knuckle-head’ from Camden. He says, “they didn’t know what they were getting in to!” He realized that once he was cast, the competition part was over. Now it is just an opportunity to do his favorite thing which is cook delicious, flavorful food with flare.
These days, Chef Aaron has aspirations to have his own show. He has been traveling and starring on other talk shows and programs but he feels that there is nothing like being on your own show. You can be yourself, prepare your food in your own style and everyone trusts that what you’re showing the viewers is phenomenal. When he is on camera people think he is funny although he is not trying to make them laugh, he is just being his genuine self. He is not bound by conventional rules in the kitchen. While the unwritten rule may be to pair wine with steak, he says why not pair steak with Tequila? He makes it work and audiences have a fun time doing it.
It’s not all jokes and laughs though, though, he is knowledgeable about what it takes to be a successful chef. He has been trained and knows about the nuances of running a restaurant, it’s not just a kitchen, but a business – there are food costs, materials, time, staffing, building a menu, keeping customers and much more.
Currently, Chef Aaron is consulting on projects to bring new foods to the Camden area. He has always wanted to bring a Restaurant Row into the city. He envisions it as a place where an eclectic group of establishments can be in one place and offer more to the residents. There is already a selection of cheese steaks and Chinese food but he would like to give people a sampling of different cultures and traditions. These new and interesting flavors and textures can really make Camden a destination for people to come to from miles around.