By Shenise Foster
Alexandria, VA – Alexandria Noir’s first profile is of Alexandria’s native son, Chef Rahman “Rock” Harper. You may recognize Chef Harper from his well-deserved win as the Season Three winner of the acclaimed reality cooking show, Hell’s Kitchen. I interviewed Chef Harper to gain insight to what inspires him and what he is currently up to in the Washington, D.C. area.
Zebra: As a native Alexandrian, how has your experience growing up in the city influenced your career choice?
Rock Harper: My grandmother Esther Harris and mother Carole Harper really introduced me to the power of cooking and all that could be done with love and food. It wasn’t until my 8th grade year at George Washington Middle School that I considered becoming a chef. The lasagna I made in Mrs. Hill’s home economics class really was an “aha” moment for me. I couldn’t believe I made something so good that people would pay for it. Chef John Dorney, my culinary instructor at T.C. Williams High School, really supercharged my dreams and goals.
Zebra: Would you say your ambition is the foundation for your overarching success as a chef, community activist, healthy food advocate, podcast host, restaurateur, and author?
Harper: Ambition is certainly high up on the list, but I’d have to lean more towards my purpose being the foundation for my success. Being a man of service to my family and community is what propels everything else forward.
Zebra: From all of your many accolades, which one brings you the must joy?
Harper: Winning “Funniest” in my 9th grade year at George Washington Middle School. Weird for a guy that’s traveled the world, opened businesses, and been on television in front of millions, right?
But I worked really hard to be a comedian that year and my peers voted me the funniest guy in school. How cool is that for a 14-year-old kid? I do regret the headache I caused my teachers and classmates but it was fun and I don’t remember any of it. Laughing at my younger self cracks me up.
Zebra: Your company, RockSolid Creative Food Group, LLC, is based on helping the chef and restaurant community. What initiatives has your LLC spearheaded in the DMV to help this community during COVID-19?
Harper: We have engaged in quite a few conversations online that have been geared toward providing resources and information for chefs that have been severely impacted, which is just about everyone. Behind the scenes I’ve been working really hard to connect chefs and restaurants to the financial resources available.
Many small business owners weren’t prepared to apply for and accept the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, so I spent a good portion of the summer working with entrepreneurs on how they could better structure their businesses in order to be in line to benefit from some of the programs.
Zebra: What are your food and restaurant predictions for the rest of 2020?
Harper: I predict that predictions should be thrown out. It’s going to get more challenging as we move closer to the election. Politics is affecting our businesses and food system in ways unseen and I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but I believe more challenges lie ahead. Human beings are resilient and intelligent, so we will get through this.
Zebra: What are some of your favorite Alexandria establishments and why?
Harper: Ultimate Styles Barber Shop on Mount Vernon Avenue. Kariem Perry has been cutting my hair for over 20 years! His father, Bob, used to run Touch of Class in Old Town and there was always a good vibe and a sense of community in the shop. Kariem maintains that same atmosphere in Ultimate Styles Barber Shop to this day.
Zebra: What’s next for Rock Harper?
Harper: I’m frying chicken! I opened a new restaurant, Queen Mother’s at Ghostline DC, and that’s my main focus. I take pride in fried chicken and I learned it from the women before me. Black women are responsible for a great deal of the food we enjoy today in America. It’s my mission to honor our rich history and culture through the most wonderful creation to come out of a cast iron skillet.
Zebra readers can stay informed with Chef Rock’s future endeavors by following him on Instagram at @rockharper @queenmothersdc or by visiting his website rocksolidfood.com.