The celebrity chef is as intriguing nowadays as any movie star, musician and socialite TV personality. He has a skillful profession in which he soars creatively, a personality as big and captivating for entertainment, and a penchant for having a refined palate and creating exciting meals.
Thanks to Julia Child, celebrity chefs have evolved into household names. Locally, Keith Rhodes has as well.
Bravo TV has cashed in on the allure of the chef, now going into season nine of the celebrity-inducing reputation bestowed upon everyday cooks across the nation. They’re restaurateurs, they’re sous chefs, they’re personal chefs, they’re moms and dads, sons and daughters—with a dream. They want to be the best in their cities, nation and maybe even the world.
Rhodes, who owns Catch II off Market Street and Phun Seafood Bar downtown, will be making his debut among them on “Top Chef” in November. Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and their newest celebrity-chef judges, Emeril Lagasse and Hugh Acheson (of the last “Top Chef Masters” division), will school and scowl over numerous dishes the 29 contestants create. It’s the largest cast yet for the show. Rhodes is thrilled to be included.
“They called me,” he explains of the Emmy award-winning program. “I never applied to ‘Top Chef.’” Whether or not he will move forward among the chosen 16 remains to be seen.
Well-known all over Wilmington, Rhodes has a love affair with seafood, kicked up by Asian flair and homey, Southern delicacies, made with seasonal, organic ingredients. He will “quick-fire” and go head to head with varied competitors. Included are vegetarian chef and former extreme skier Colin Patterson, and determined and molecular —err “mo-local-ar”—gastronomist Janine Falvo.
“I was definitely going 100 miles per hour,” Rhodes says of his immersion into the show. “It was competition mode immediately.”
Rhodes has had a wonderful year thus far. He was a semi-finalist for James Beard Southeast Best Chef 2011, something he credits as “the biggest happening of [his] culinary career.” Yet, he’s not putting off the gravity of being on one of TV’s most renowned reality shows.
“Though ‘Top Chef’ doesn’t define me,” he says, “I thought it was a great opportunity to tell my story.” The chapters are continuously being written, too. Since his return, Rhodes has undertaken president of the Food Truck Rodeo Group, and he plans on launching two trucks in upcoming weeks. With his recent restaurant transition into Phun Seafood Bar from Catch I, he’ll be putting more focus on “Vietnamese snack food, local beer and exciting wine, with very accessible pricing and more,” he says. “We are just adding some spice into the Port City’s food choices.”
Driven to make a difference in the community and on Wilmington’s culinary scene, Rhodes continually pushes himself to the limit, often working seven days a week. But it’s worth it for the place he calls home. “I love Wilmington,” he says. “We have some good chefs to support.”
See Keith Rhodes compete on “Top Chef” season 9, San Antonio, Texas, at 10 p.m. on Bravo, November 2nd.