Motivational speaker, published author, and TV personality only briefly describes some of the titles of Robert “Chef Stew” Stewart. Stewart’s energy is invested in all ventures equally, but his utmost passion lies in cooking his exquisite five-star cuisine for guests.
His impressive clientele includes actress/comedian Luenell, Lalah Hathaway, Jasmine Guy, Tony Terry, Demetria McKinney, Shaquille O’Neal, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Tracee Ellis Ross. Stewart has made appearances on the OWN Network’s Raising Whitley; Food Network shows like Guy’s Grocery Games and Cutthroat Kitchen; his hometown of Baltimore’s FOX 45 morning show; and the Delmarva Life Morning Show.
The Daily Meal had the opportunity to chat with Stewart about his love for cooking, some of his favorite dishes, and his experience on Cutthroat Kitchen. Learn more about Stewart here:
The Daily Meal: How and when did you know that cooking was your calling?
Robert Stewart: I always enjoyed great food, trying different restaurants growing up, but it was my grandmother who put the passion in my heart for food. I’ve seen how good food makes people happy, so I decided to attend Eastern Vocational Technical High School in Maryland, majoring in Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management. After exploring a few career choices and doing inventory of my life I decided that I wanted my own restaurant and never looked back. Everything else was always a job. Cooking I could do with my eyes closed. It really hit home when I lost my home in Atlanta and was forced to move back to Baltimore. My first day back, I got a job as a line cook at Chick and Ruth's Deli.
What are some of your favorite dishes to cook and eat?
Man, that's a great question. I love so many different types of food it's too many to have a favorite. It really depends on the day. I literally wake up and say, “Hmmm, I want Indian,” and then make tandoori chicken with cilantro chutney and cumin-scented rice with curried cauliflower, or “Hmm, I want Asian,” and make beef short ribs with vegetable lo mein and sushi. “Hmm, I want Southern,” and make fried-chicken lollipops and Brussels sprouts with bacon and raisins with smoked Gouda macaroni — so it’s literally up to my stomach. My catering packages offer tours from all across the globe, so I just wait and see what my clients want to order or I push them in the direction of something that I may have a taste for or haven't cooked in a while.
What are some of your exciting and upcoming projects and initiatives in 2017?
Currently I’m working on my Free Culinary Arts Program Transition Kitchen, in my hometown of Baltimore. I plan to open my next one in Atlanta and then San Francisco. I have several television appearances scheduled. Sorry, no spoilers, but I will be getting lots of airtime. I’ll also be traveling out the country to get some more knowledge and experience in the culinary world.
How is the food scene different in Maryland compared to California?
The food scene is California is hands down no comparison to Maryland. California is much more diverse than Maryland. It has many more opportunities to try authentic food from various countries and cultures. But the way the Bay Area glorifies the Dungeness crab like we do the blue crab makes me feel right at home.
How was competing on Cutthroat Kitchen?
It was the most amazing experience ever. To be able to compete on such a high level and ultimately use every quality that's needed in a great chef is fantastic way to see if you have what it takes. You will have to use critical thinking skills, execute without hesitation, and remain calm. It's like jumping out of a plane before you strap on your helmet tightly and then figure out how to land safely on the way down. It also gave me an opportunity to show my kids, family, and friends what I've been doing all these years. More importantly, winning has opened so many doors. I'm still taking it in.
If you could collaborate with any chef, who would it be with and why?
I would like to work with Alton Brown. I think he is the smartest chef in the industry, and he is very easy to learn from and work with. Also Richard Blais or Bobby Flay – I think they are similar to my approach to the culinary arts — talk shit but back it up — and are proven champions.
What do you want your visitors to ultimately gain from their experiences at your restaurants?
I don't have a restaurant currently, but I do own the catering company Stewart's Bistro. I pride myself on foreign and domestic comfort foods. I want my guests to experience healthy, high-quality food presented beautifully from all across the globe. I’ve always said allow me to give you the same experience as the stars.
What advice do you have to offer to young and aspiring chefs out there?
There are too many ways to get to the top to say this is the only way. I would suggest working with as many staffing agencies as possible, this way your getting experience while making money. It's literally paid training. Also nobody likes a know-it-all. Remain humble, teachable, that way you're easy to work with. Never bite off more than you can chew. And no matter how big or small the task is, execute with finesse.
What does cooking mean to you?
Cooking is therapeutic for me. I can escape all of life’s tribulations and focus on making great food. It's a bridge of life that we all walk across three times a day. It's not only my source of income but it’s essential to my health and wealth. It's a challenge and an adrenaline rush out of this world. From store to stove to plate, it’s like putting together a puzzle.
Did you think you would get to where you are today? What do you wish you had known prior to experiencing all that you have thus far?
I had no idea that it would lead to some much. I do remember learning the importance of a definitive aim, a burning achievement for one accomplishment and sticking to it through hell and hot water, being relentless in my pursuit, and having faith in myself and the universe. I just wanted a restaurant, which I currently don't have, but I ended up becoming a Food Network star, personal chef to Luenell. I’ve appeared on Roland Martin’s show @TvoneTv, Raising Whitley on OWN, Fox 45. I’m also the owner of a catering company, clothing line, have comic cook sponsors, host Bringing It to the Table [a reality TV show based on chefs in the Bay Area] and have won countless awards and interviews for my accomplishments. I can't and wouldn't change a thing! My only complaint is that the one who taught me passed away before I was able to show her everything that was in the deck for her grandson.
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