Carol Buckman remembers taking her son, Hosea Rosenberg, to a Russian restaurant in Washington, D.C., when he was about 10 years old.
“His eyes were size of saucers through the whole meal,” Buckman recalled. “They’d bring out a dollop of this and a dollop of that. After dinner I said, ‘You really liked this didn’t you?’ and he said ‘Mom, I’ve never seen anything like it.’ I think that was when it really hit him: Wow I want to do this.”
And do it he has. Last week, Hosea Rosenberg, now executive chef for Jax Fish House in Boulder, Colo., was named Top Chef on the finale of Bravo’s reality cooking program. He was pitted against some of the leading chefs from some of the biggest cities.
“Early on I really thought I had a good shot (at winning),” Rosenberg said. “But toward the end of my time in New York I was worried about the direction I was going. I had a break between New York and (the final competition in) New Orleans. I got to go home and clear my head a little bit and I did a lot better toward the end of New Orleans.”
His winning dish: Seared Scallop with Foie Gras on Pain Perou, Apple Preserves and Foie Gras.
Rosenberg, of course, knew he had won months ago. But he wasn’t able to tell anyone, including his mother.
“It was exciting, it was thrilling,” Buckman said, “but it was just nerve wracking. There’s your baby up there and they’re being mean to him! How can you say you don’t like his soup?”
Rosenberg himself said that standing at the judges’ table was the hardest part of the competition. But another difficult part has been the emotional drama surrounding the competition. The editing of the show focused on rivalries and romances between the chefs participating and many of the post-win blogs have been downright hostile from people who thought their favorite chef should have won.
“I don’t know why there are haters out there,” Rosenberg said. “Obviously some people were rooting for Carla and some thought Stefan should win. I didn’t win every challenge I have a lot of respect for Carla. I thought Carla would be taking this prize because when I looked at her dish, that’s what I wanted to eat. If we had to do it all over again tomorrow, who knows what the outcome would be.”
And that, Buckman said, is what makes her proudest of her son. The way he handled the competition: Remaining humble and not getting nasty.
His biggest contribution to the high drama was his romance with another chef, Leah. “The editing (of the show) is interesting,” Rosenberg said. “I know they’re doing it for entertainment purposes but it’s not about the food. For me it was about the food.”
For Rosenberg, it’s always been about the food. Buckman, a single mom who raised Hosea and his sister Sondra in Taos, remembers trying to fake Rosenberg out one day when he was in high school and already working at the best restaurants in town. She told him she and a friend had spent the morning making tamales and they were now simmering on the stove for dinner. He opened up the pot, sniffed around for a minute, and said, “Not bad for frozen.”
He’s never been a food snob, Buckman said. He loves greasy spoons and he always requests a chicken and rice soup she made him growing up. When asked what he would make for his own last meal he said, “A wonderful BLT.”
But food and restaurants have been his passion. Rosenberg never trained at a culinary school. Instead he worked his way up at various restaurants while working on his engineering degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder. At his graduation party, Buckman recalls, he handed her his diploma and said, “Mom, this is for you. Now I’m going to go do what I want to do.”
In the show, Top Chef, contestants are often given ingredients and a challenge — like make breakfast that is a single bite — and very little time to cook. In addition, they live squeezed together in an apartment and sometimes had to do two shows a day.
At times producers even got them up in the middle of the night. There was no way, Rosenberg said, to really prepare for any of the challenges.
“I tried to have a couple of tricks up my sleeve; you need a few things you’re comfortable with. But if I was going to offer advice for a future contestant I would have to say to try to minimize the stress. When I was my most stressed I was cooking my worst food.”
Rosenberg said Taos definitely contributed to his success.
“I grew up with a lot of strong personalities, passionate people,” Rosenberg said. “Even though I didn’t go to France and train, I grew up in an artistic community and that helped me with the artistic part of cooking.”