First, you learn to scrub out the pots

The Baltimore Sun

Chef Rock Harper told a roomful of aspiring chefs - no doubt a few of them aspiring celebrity chefs - not to expect instant success.

The winner of TV's Hell's Kitchen, who addressed students at the National Academy Foundation High School in Federal Hill yesterday, seems to have achieved just that. As the last chef standing in the Fox reality TV show, he landed a $250,000 one-year contract as head chef at Las Vegas' Terra Verde.

But years of training and hard work came before that big break, Harper told the students, two of them wearing toques.

After graduating from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., Harper thought he'd start out as somebody's sous chef. "I got my reality handed to me" - in the form of a more menial kitchen job that paid $7 an hour.

He worked his way up in a variety of restaurants, which helped prepare him for the pressures of the TV competition.

In town to participate in a March of Dimes fundraiser last night, Harper stopped by the school in the morning to talk with kids in its hospitality and tourism program.

Was it hard, one student wanted to know, putting up with Gordon Ramsay, the show's foul-mouthed and insulting star?

Harper explained that he'd grown up in a poor neighborhood in Northern Virginia. He described a situation years ago, when a cop put a gun to his head. He mentioned a cousin who'd gone away for murder.

"I've been robbed, shot at before," he said. "When I can go through something like that, [Ramsay's] nothing."

At least the role's not a kitchen wench

Baltimore City Councilman Bill Henry appears on stage at the Mobtown Theater through Tuesday. Not that he wants you to know.

The councilman has kept the acting gig under his hat. The staffer answering the phone at Henry's City Hall office knew nothing about it, though it all made sense when I mentioned the show was The Best Man by Gore Vidal.

"I've been seeing that on his calendar," he said. "I didn't know if he's going to a wedding rehearsal or what."

Not a lot of shrinking violets in politics. Why has Henry kept it quiet?

Henry was a member of the Hopkins theater club as an undergrad, as was his future wife. After they graduated and married, both did some community theater. But that was before kids. Henry hadn't been on stage for six years. And even in his prime, Henry said, he was no Laurence Olivier.

"I don't really act," he said. "I perform. I go on stage, and I'm funny."

Henry is on the board at Mobtown Theater, which Hopkins classmate Ryan Whinnem founded. He said that's why the Mobtown Players thought of him for the part, which became open amid a last-minute reshuffling of the cast.

The play is about a two candidates vying for their party's presidential nomination. To make it topical, the director made one of the candidates female and gender-swapped other parts. But the company that owns the rights to the play nixed those changes, something rights-holders can apparently do in the land of the free, so parts had to be recast. They found themselves in need of a guy to play a campaign manager.

Henry was asked and accepted. Reluctantly. Quietly.

"I didn't go out of my way to spread the word about it," he said. "I wasn't sure how good I would be. ... I've never thought of myself as an actor. I've often told people that I considered it a threshold point of success for a theater company when they stopped calling to say, 'Hey, can you play Guard No. 2 or Nell the kitchen wench?' "

A smile and a plea

E-mail from Steven Appel, president of Nouveau Contemporary Goods in former Councilman Ken Harris' old district:

"A young lady with a beautiful smile came in the store while I was working with a customer and I saw her talking with one of our designers for a few minutes and she handed him a paper then left shortly there after. ... It was Kenny Harris's daughter Nicole and she was handing out fliers to local businesses explaining to them that her Dad's murderers had not been caught yet and the metro crime stoppers reward was only $2,000, an embarrassing amount for an official who fought so hard for this community, and could we send them some money to help up the reward and get her Dad's killer's caught.

"We will certainly send some money in, I hope that other businesses do so. ... It was and is heart breaking to see this young lady with this big smile going around the neighborhood asking for help. What guts, just like her Dad. He would be so proud."

Connect the dots

The New York Post reported hearing yesterday "THAT Olympic hero Michael Phelps - besides banking a bundle from endorsements - picked up $100,000 for appearing at an LA pool party for a TV network chief's wife and swimming some laps." True? Phelps' agent, Peter Carlisle, did not return messages seeking comment. I'm wondering if for, like, $10, Phelps would come over and bring in the mail. ... Some fancy-schmancy Samuel Kirk tea silver comes out of the governor's mansion this afternoon for a $50-a-head Flowermart fundraiser at The Center Club. Some City Council members, Comptroller Joan Pratt and other dignitaries will pour - but not out of the historic stuff. That will just be for show and discussion, led by Elaine Rice Bachmann of the Maryland State Archives. "They're very much only going to be handled by me as the curator," she said. The state silver used to come out every Thursday afternoon, from the 19th century until World War I, when Maryland first ladies held open houses. Now the sterling is considered too precious to use even at the mansion, where it's for display only.

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