CHEF ROCCO WHALEN
2417 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
Cleveland may not be the culinary mecca of the Midwest, but there are a handful of great restaurants in the city that could compete respectably anywhere. NYC? Of course. Chicago? You bet. San Francisco? Without a doubt.
Chef Rocco Whalen's Fahrenheit, now in its seventh year of wowing guests, impressing visitors, and amazing the media, is one of those great restaurants many cities would die for.
Cleveland native Whalen has been at this cooking business ever since, at age 19, he graduated from Pennsylvania Culinary and headed west where he worked for five years in the kitchens of restaurants owned by Wolfgang Puck, often toiling side-by-side with Puck at Spago, Obachin, Granita, and Chinois.
In 2001, Whalen returned to Cleveland, landed a job as sous chef at Blue Point Grille, a seafood restaurant in downtown Cleveland. With recipe spins from Spago and variations on what he felt would work in a seafood restaurant in a city with a reputation for meat and potatoes, Rocco revised and refined the menu with items such as tuna sashimi, a whole catfish stuffed with ginger and served with coconut and citrus ponzu, and chicken spring rolls. After 18 months at Blue Point, after 18 months of remarkable success, it was time to move on.
A friend told him of a space for sale in Tremont, a trendy urban neighborhood five minutes from downtown Cleveland. Rocco bought the space, kept the purchase quiet, tossed a couple of "friends and family" tastings; but, for the most part, flew under the radar until he officially opened Fahrenheit, Oct. 2002. In less than a year, he doubled his projected top line dollars.
Friends and acquaintances were not surprised by Rocco's success. He had made an impact as a chef at Blue Point, had brought with him to that restaurant and to the opening of Fahrenheit, a quality product-innovative, unique, and a menu that was affordable. He had learned, also, during his years with Puck, the importance of managing an ambiance that guests, both suburbanites and neighbors, would immediately feel comfortable in; that was genuinely guest friendly.
The menu? It is, says Rocco, "contemporary American regional cuisine." It is that, to be sure, but with Asian insinuations that are Rocco originals. The menu is so imaginative, so different, that no other restaurant dares crib from it, not because they won't, but because they can't: it does not make any sense to try to duplicate preparations so unique that the effort, ultimately, would fall short. From day to day, his mind is crammed with recipes ideas, reason enough the menu changes every six weeks. Indeed some of the items change more often than that depending on the availability of seasonal ingredients. That, to Rocco's way of thinking, is the only way to cook: nothing frozen, everything prepared from scratch with most of the ingredients coming from local and regional farms.
In the many years Fahrenheit has been humming, Rocco has received buckets of local and national media attention. In addition, Gourmet magazine listed Fahrenheit in its "Guide to America's Best Restaurants." Trade pub, Restaurant Hospitality, named Rocco a "Rising Star." In the 2003 Esquire magazine, John Mariani, the magazine's food and travel writer, in reporting his annual list of Best New American Restaurants, named Rocco Whalen, "a chef to keep your eye on." How come, we asked Mariani. "It's all about effort and technique," he said. Indeed.