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Rodney Hits Prime Time

The East Bay restaurant owner gets a taste of celebrity chef stardom.


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Photography by Matt EdgeFlashing a dinner plate–sized grin, chef Rodney Worth mugs for cameras and bumps fists with friends and fans at Blackhawk Plaza. Tonight is the night he’ll appear as a judge on Chef Wanted With Anne Burrell, a Food Network show in which chefs compete for a real job—in this case, the position of executive chef at The Pear Southern Bistro, Worth’s new restaurant in downtown Napa.

Wearing a chef’s smock and jeans, Worth, who owns six successful restaurants, has a lot to celebrate tonight, so he’s invited 1,000 friends and family to a dinner buffet and viewing party. Facing an enormous inflatable screen, Worth and his wife, Natalie, sit excitedly in the front row, surrounded by their young kids and Worth’s parents. “I can’t wait to see it,” exclaims the ever-affable Worth, before the show starts.

Worth has been waiting for this moment since June, when Burrell, the wild-eyed, platinum-haired host of Chef Wanted, arrived with a production team at his Napa restaurant to film. Worth, his wife, and Burrell are judges in the episode, which features four chefs who compete frantically to create several dishes: a duck entrée paired with Napa Valley wines, a brunch item, and a full dinner menu. At the end of each round, another chef runs the risk of being eliminated.  

Courtesy Food NetworkSpliced between emotional profiles of the competing chefs, the Worths see a lot of screen time, and each time they appear, the crowd at Worth’s party goes wild. The couple are naturals on camera: Natalie is cool and collected, and Rodney exudes his characteristic charisma and charm. He also brings the drama: Toward the end of the episode, Worth has a fiery, unscripted, and unrehearsed exchange with a contestant who has ruined pounds of top-grade Angus rib eye steaks.

Maybe Worth is so good on TV because he’s been waiting years for this chance. In 2009, Worth joined 200 other contestants in San Francisco for a Food Network casting call for The Next Food Network Star. After standing in line for hours, Worth did not get a screen test, but he believes the 10-minute meeting put him on the network’s radar. “Maybe I just wasn’t ready then,” Worth says now. One thing is for sure: When he got the call from the network earlier this year, he was ready.

The day after the party, Worth leans back in his chair at The Peasant and the Pear in Danville, where he serves rustic comfort food. On this sunny fall morning, he takes time to reflect on his television appearance and the party, where he thanked the many people who have helped him over the last decade since he started his culinary career in a small sandwich shop with just $58 in his pocket.

The boyish 41-year-old scrolls through photos from the filming on his phone. “I have 500 new Facebook likes,” he says with a smile. “I guess an appearance on national television will do that for you.”

In recent months, Worth has been in the weeds—to borrow a restaurant phrase—and working his tail off. First, it was four days of filming with more than 50 production people, who completely reconfigured his Napa restaurant, including installing tinted film on the windows and relocating the entire bar. Then, it was hiring and training the winning chef, Ashurina Younan, from Winters, near Sacramento. After that, there were several months of phone calls and follow-ups with New York–based Food Network and the L.A.–based production company. All the while, Worth continued to manage his restaurants in Alamo and Danville, while also helping to raise his three kids.

Worth’s new restaurant on the riverfront in Napa is his first in Wine Country, and is perhaps his most ambitious project yet. It’s in the space once occupied by big-time Food Network chef Tyler Florence and around the corner from the eponymous restaurant owned by Iron Chef’s Masaharu Morimoto, also of Food Network fame. When the high-profile space opened up, Worth expressed interest, along with FOX Network star and international chef Gordon Ramsay. Somehow, Worth got the spot.  

Now that he’s had his own brush with celebrity chef stardom, Worth is looking to what’s next.

“I’d love to do more television,” he says. “But there are other things that may be more important to me. I coach Little League. I’ve never missed one of my kids’ games. I don’t know if I would ever want to get that big.”


The “Wine Country Clash” episode is available for online streaming via Xfinity On Demand.

 

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