By Margo Gabriel
The art of relationship building is crucial in this current climate where so many are suffering job losses amidst the pandemic. This soft skill is what has led chef Rahman “Rock” Harper to an incredibly successful culinary career. The San Diego native grew up in Alexandria, Va. and spent summers watching his grandmother cook delicious southern food such as angel biscuits, yeast rolls and apple butter.
Harper is a nationally recognized chef, community activist, educator, healthy food advocate, restaurateur and author. He’s worn many hats throughout his decorated 25-year culinary career that also includes being the third winner of Gordan Ramsey’s “Hell’s Kitchen” and executive chef for B. Smith’s in D.C. from 1999 until 2007.
In 2016, Harper formed RockSolid Creative Food Group, LLC, which focuses on helping chefs and restaurant communities attain higher levels of success. He’s the host of The Chef Rock Xperiment podcast, and a food industry radio show called Shift Drink.
During this interview, Harper shares gems about cultivating relationships beyond the networking stage we’re typically used to and approaching these liaisons with the intention of creating authentic connections. Even if they don’t pay off right away, be patient as they may in one, five or ten years.
He is candid about the advice he wished he could have told his younger self: slow down, develop discipline, listen more, talk less and ask more questions. With a mission centered around “entertainment, education and empowerment for the food industry,” it is evident that the principles and mantras he lives by definitely motivate the work he’s doing through his business.
What led to your pivot from the food business to food media?
I got tired of being strung along based on someone else’s schedule. Not having the control over my schedule motivated me to start my own business in the food media space. This was, for me, a lesson in self-empowerment. You have to position yourself for success. COVID-19 taught me that more than ever. Before COVID-19, I knew I wanted to position myself and shift into another arena and that was the food media space. I also love teaching and launching RockSolid Creative Food Group, LLC made sense.
What’s been COVID-19’s impact on the food business and your peers in the industry?
Many of my peers have switched their businesses to take-out only due to COVID-19. This pandemic has forced them to change. So there is this shift happening. It’s a very scary time for many in the industry.
What advice do you want to share with BTB readers?
Get started and do what you can. The best thing is to simply get started. Learn to grow relationships. And what I mean by that is again how can I serve? Know that the person you meet today, or you met at a mixer, don’t look for them to make you rich by next year or in three months. I feel like this is a problem in American society. We just want, want, want and we want to consume, consume, take, take, take and what people can do for me. When you get older, you have less time to have a wide net, depending on who you are. Every meaningful sort of leap that I’ve had in my path, whether that be new businesses or old businesses, has been the result of some sort of relationship that I’ve had.
Great jobs, great business relationships, it comes as a result of just knowing people and getting to know people. We call it networking, but I want to make it deep and help people nurture relationships. Think, “How can I serve? Am I offering more value to this relationship than I am taking? Sometimes it takes 10 to 15 years for someone to come back and say, “Hey Rock, are you still doing XYZ? I own a company now. Or we’re going to feed a million people in Northern Africa next month, would you help with that?” It’s important to value and grow relationships as best as you can.
What books are you currently reading?
I am reading a bunch of Robert Green. “The Laws of Human Nature” by Robert Green, is a big one. It does a ruthless look at self. I like a lot of his books. “The Laws of Human Nature” also by Robert Green. If you know yourself and if I would have read this book and studied it at a young age, things just would have been different. Another [book] is chef Jeff Henderson’s “If You Can See It, You Can Be It” has informed my work.
Thought leaders whose work I follow are Eric Thomas the Hip-Hop Preacher and Gary V. and mediation helps; that’s a massive one for me. I am studying Michael Bernard Beckwith and his teachings and anything that has to do with stillness.
We say that business is a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly. Knowing this as a seasoned entrepreneur, what would you tell yourself as a young entrepreneur today.
Know thyself. Just relax. I am constantly learning about myself, go deeper. You’re on the surface. When you’re youthful, you can be very pragmatic. I say go deeper, get more spiritual and begin to know yourself. Just be easy about it, flow and allow life to take place. The restaurant and food industry is very “gung-ho” and hard to slow down at times. Take your time.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
I want to be happy. I want people to chase their happiness. I want people to chase their true happiness. We put so much time into external things and things we are told it’s just not so. I want people to say man, “He had a child-like spirit. He did the stuff he wanted to do when he was 12.” Right about the time, maybe before 12, we knew exactly what we wanted to do, the core of it. We’ve had life changes. If I left anything behind, I want to enjoy this physical plane as best as possible.
About Margo Gabriel
Margo is a freelance writer, photographer, music lover, churro aficionado and all-around life enthusiast behind Margo’s Creative Life. She loves a good gin and tonic, hold the cranberry juice. Follow her jaunts around the world on Instagram.