But not because he’s actually rude (anybody can make the mistake of taking his sobriquet literally). It's simply a subtle hint of his upbringing in the West London community he was part of, which, at the time, was heavily peppered with Caribbean influences – from reggae music, to West Indian cuisine, to the rude boy culture.
A Turbulent Past
While the so-called “rude boy” can refer to the slick 70s fashion trend among men, it is often associated with juvenile delinquents and gangsters. “It was good if you’re called a rude boy in where I’m from,” recalls Aaron.
Being brought up in the West London Sink Estate, Aaron’s past was a roller coaster of madness just like the idea that his last name suggests. He was born into a family of criminals, dropped out of school at the age of fifteen, and took a string of low-paid jobs, like working as a gardener in a cemetery and as a carpet-fitter on a yacht, to make ends meet.
Becoming a chef had never crossed his mind back then. “I didn’t even think about cooking. It wasn’t something in my head,” says Aaron about his life before getting bit by the culinary bug.
It was his partner Nicci, who steered his life towards cooking. She sent out an application form on his behalf to partake in renowned chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver’s “The Fifteen Apprentice Programme”, a social experiment to train disadvantaged youngsters. To his surprise, he earned a spot. Aaron eventually discovered and developed a strong passion and love for food during his time in the programme.
“I never even cooked anything before I met Jamie,” he admits. “But he was like ‘Anyone can cook.’, and people got confident because he made cooking look easy.”
Jamie Oliver’s unconventional way of teaching made Craze realise that nobody has to stick to a recipe to be a good cook. “Jamie said ‘Just start a fire and cook something!’ And that’s it. For me, I was like ‘Wow, doors have opened here. I can do just whatever I want with food.’”
After graduating from the programme in 2004 with merit, Aaron won in the cooking competition “Jamie’s Chef” in 2007, ran a pub which he painfully had to close down in 2008, penned a cookbook on Italian food called “Aaron Cooks Italian” (“Italian was the first food I was introduced to. I just fell in love with it,” chimes Aaron), and hosted cooking shows including “Junior Bake Off”, “Taste Off”, “Pet School”, and “Aaron Craze’s Rude Boy Food”.
His latest stint is hosting the third season of Asian Food Channel’s “The Amazing Food Challenge: Fun in The Philippines”.
Pinoy Food Trip
Aaron doesn’t hide his love for the Philippines. He has been in the country thrice, and has even cooked adobo for his family (“They really enjoyed it,” he notes). But if there’s one thing that stuns him most about the Philippines and its cuisine, it’s that “It’s not as Asian as I thought it would be.”
Well-travelled around Asia, Aaron finds the Philippine food culture very different from its neighboring countries. “When you’re in Europe, when you think of Asia, you think ginger, lemon grass, chilli – that’s what you’ll think. But the Philippines is completely different. It’s got a European twist to it.” He was quick to point out that such is most likely the result of the centuries-long Spanish occupation in the country – the man did his history homework.
Over the course of shooting the third season of The Amazing Food Challenge: Fun in The Philippines, Aaron travelled around the country with twelve contestants from all over the world, who took on a series of rigorous cooking and physical challenges, including racing on traditional wooden bikes with no brakes, crab fishing, and preparing fiesta dishes for fifty hungry townspeople, in the hopes of winning 30,000 USD and an all-expense paid trip around the country. Esteemed Filipino chefs Rob Pengson and Fernando Aracama served as the program’s resident judges.
Aaron guarantees that the show will be more exciting than the previous seasons, and would have more fun and energy. “It was pretty full-on. It wasn’t sugar-coated at all. It was quite scary for the contestants. It really is an edge-of-your-seat stuff,” he assures.
Among all the places in the Philippines where they filmed the show, he singles out Banaue, Ifugao as his favorite. “It was really nice, peaceful, and mystical because of all the mountains. I got really spiritual there,” he gushes. He also recalls getting awe-struck by the Banaue Rice Terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “It was unbelievable to look at. It was breath-taking. That was my most memorable place.”
Another destination that he enjoyed is Batanes, which reminded him of Scotland and Wales. “Apart from the sea, that beautiful, clear sea, and the sun, it looked just like being in Britain. I couldn’t believe I was in the Philippines,” he says.
Being part of the show also allowed Aaron to mentor the contestants just like how Jamie Oliver guided him years back. “I tried to come across like a good teacher. You always had a teacher in school that you could confide in. I didn’t want to be just a host and say the lines and then that’s it. I wanted to get involved and be part of it.”
Off-cam, Aaron is really chill, and “chill” isn’t an adjective commonly used to describe chefs, who are often perceived to be short-tempered. He will remind you of that cool, go-to friend of yours with whom you hang out for Friday night drinks at the pub.
He has an ear for music, and plays the guitar and saxophone during his downtime. “I tried to sing, but it gets worse after a couple of drinks,” he laughs. Artists like Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, and Coldplay are on top of his kitchen playlist, but he would occasionally let some random radio program take control of his background tunes.
A dedicated chef, the greatest reward for Aaron is when a plate of a dish he prepared comes back empty. “When you’re a chef and the waiters come back, you always look in the plate to see if it’s empty, and if it’s not, you ask ‘Why didn’t they eat that? What’s wrong?’” he spills. “So if someone eats [your dish], and the plate’s empty, that’s quite rewarding because you do put a lot of time and effort in it. You’re up early in the morning, and you’re on your feet sixteen hours a day, and you put a lot of passion into [the food] and if someone eats it and enjoys it, it’s worth it.”
While he spends most of his time in restaurants, Aaron, a proud father of three girls, enjoys cooking at home more. “Cooking in a restaurant is pressure. You know, you’re tired, and you’ve got to prepare a lot of food. When you’re at home, you can put music on, pour a glass of wine, you can get your kids involved, there’s no time limit. You can just chill out and relax. I think that’s the way I enjoy cooking the most.”
And as someone who’s totally laid-back, Aaron admits that his biggest pet peeve is when chefs shout in kitchens to get people moving. “I don’t like people who shout and put people down. That’s not what chefs should be,” he presses. In fact, he even has in a theory to prove why all the noise isn’t necessary, and it’s rather interesting. He patterned it – among other things – after the Disney Pixar film Monster’s, Inc.
“In Monster’s Inc., they scare children to get energy, right? And in the end they realized that if they made them laugh, they’d get more energy,” he explains. “I think, in the kitchen, if you shout at people, you don’t get nothing out of them, but if you’ll encourage them and you’re nice, you get more. It’s better to encourage someone.”
From living a rough past in the West London Sink Estate with no hope for a bright tomorrow, to bringing joy to people on their plates and small screens, Aaron sure is a chef with quite a story to tell, and he has something to say to aspiring chefs – an easy yet fail-safe life advice: “If you like food, and you enjoy cooking, just be yourself.”
***NOTE: A trimmed version of this article has been published on Juice.ph. Read it here.