If you’re fans of of Chopped like we are, you know there are some interesting items in the mystery basket. A recent Halloween-themed episode featured ingredients such as gummy rats, mummy dogs, witch’s brew and pretzel spider webs. Along with the basket items, we were treated to not one BUT two contestants we’ll remember for both their culinary talent and entertaining banter. One of these contestants was Rian Morales, aka RoRo. We recently caught up with him to learn more about his experience on the show and what he does with his occasional free time.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking?
RM: I essentially started cooking as a fluke. My first career was in fashion in NYC. I finished high school a year early and started attending the Fashion Institute of Technology. I was swept up in the glamor and the drugs. Mostly the drugs. I abused heroin and pretty much got myself blacklisted from the industry. About fifteen years later, I finally decided to get clean and I needed a new career path. I felt like cooking could be a good fit, since I come from an immigrant family and everything was made from scratch, I helped my mother cook from a young age. It was just part of the fabric of our family. So, it was a natural progression for me.
FP: Glad to hear you’ve found a new career path!
Tell us about your experiences on Chopped.
RM: My experience on Chopped was exciting, confounding and surreal all at the same time. Being from NYC originally, it was emotional to be back for the first time since we moved to Portland, Oregon. It was also extremely emotional to have to tell my story to the judges. It brought up a lot of feelings about my past and how I allowed myself to get lost, the hurt that I caused to the people that I cared about in my life and the way that my life has changed for the better.
FP: As NY residents, we were definitely rooting for you!
What was the hardest ingredient work with?
RM: The hardest ingredient I had to work with was probably the Graveyard Pudding, although I didn’t really find any ingredient all that difficult; it was more of the clock ticking away that was the biggest challenge.
FP: We can only imagine the pressure of cooking under a time constraint and hearing Ted Allen counting down…
What was your inspiration for the dessert round?
RM: My inspiration for the dessert round was Lexi Extine, Jeff’s wife. I have very little pastry experience and I am lucky enough to have a friend like Lexi, who gave me a 2-day, crash course in desserts. She showed me a bunch of tricks and easy-to-memorize recipes that I used in that round.
FP: Great to have talented friends!
Name three chefs you would like to cook with in the same kitchen and why.
RM: If there were 3 chefs I would like to cook with in one kitchen, it would be: Franklin Becker, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Anthony Bourdain. Two of these chefs I have worked with already and one I have not.
Franklin was my mentor for 12 years and gave me many opportunities and believed in me when others would not. He showed me cooking could be fun and artistic. I would like him to see how much I have changed for the better. Alex, besides being a judge on the show, was my chef for a brief time when she took over the reins at Butter. I only got to cook with her for a short period and would like to have soaked up more from her. Anthony is like me, a former addict who challenged himself to change his life for the better. His success is an inspiration to me and I hope to one day meet him and tell him “thank you”.
FP: Talented and inspiring chefs indeed!
What are some of your favorite meals to cook at home for yourself?
RM: I like to cook anything Mexican inspired. It reminds me of my childhood, somewhat, since I am Puerto Rican. I love the earthy flavors, the vibrancy of the dishes and the aroma that you smell from down the block.
Also, my husband and I enjoy making Eggplant Parmesan together. He makes the sauce while I bread and fry the eggplant after it has soaked in milk. It is our time to cook together and connect with each other. Cooking strengthens our relationship. Lastly, I enjoy cooking for friends at dinner parties in our home. So, I like making all kinds of pates, terrines and other “cocktail party” type foods. I make a mean Deviled Egg and a decadent Chicken Liver Mousse.
FP: When you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in your area or other cities you’ve visited.
RW: Three places that I like to eat at are: Biwa in Portland, Oregon, The Redhead in NYC, and Beauty and Essex, also in the Big Apple. My friend Gabe Rosen, who owns Biwa, does an excellent job of running a true Yakitori restaurant. Everything is so well prepared and the attention to detail is amazing. I think it is one of the best restaurants in Portland.
At the Redhead, I LOVE the fried chicken. It manages to have a crispy, well-seasoned skin but maintains a juicy interior, which is a difficult thing to achieve. And they give you free cookies with your check.
Beauty and Essex gives you an elegant atmosphere combined with excellent food and a gorgeous presentation. The space is absolutely one of the best in Manhattan: dark and sexy and mysterious. To get into the restaurant you walk first into a pawn shop and then quickly are shuttled through a secret doorway into a multilevel room with white chinchilla walls and the largest, grandest chandelier I have ever seen. It is truly breathtaking and extremely dramatic.
FP: Half of FP (Kristina) has been to The Redhead a number of times and LOVES those cookies! Beauty and Essex sounds interesting. We’ll have to check it out!
What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name :)
RM: My guilty pleasure is anything with peanut butter. I actually eat a spoonful of peanut butter before bed every night and my husband is instructed to bury me with a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Although, I strangely hate peanuts.
FP: Half of FP (Allen) is with you on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!
What are some of your non-cooking related hobbies and interests? Describe a typical day off for you.
RM: A typical day off for me usually involves lots of drag queens, burlesque dancers and the body positive. Besides being a chef, I also make custom garments for many of Portland’s talented performers. My husband and I started a design house called House Ro Squared. Essentially, I spend my days off in a whirlwind of fittings, fabric shopping and LOTS of sewing. We then usually attend the events where our garments will be featured. Dressing up, partying with drag queens and dancing all night… Yeah, I do a lot of that.
FP: An artist in the kitchen and with fabric is a great combination! Thank you so much for your time. We wish you continued success!