When I was told I would get the opportunity to interview Aaron McCargo Jr. while I was in Houston, I sat down and watched every video of his that I could find on The Food Network. The first thing I noticed was that it doesn’t matter how full you are while you watch The Food Network, the shows always make you hungry. The next thing I noticed was Aaron’s enthusiasm for everything. Whether he was talking about Buffalo Chicken Cheese Balls, his faith, or his family, he always did it with a lot of energy. The same was true in our interview. From the first hand shake, he was off and running.
McCargo’s great attitude and hard work ethic, both on display during our interview, were passed on to him from his father. McCargo credited his father for instilling in him the necessary tools to be successful in whatever he undertook in life, and McCargo has done that. From running kitchens in hospital and restaurants in Camden, New Jersey, to winning Season 4 of Food Network Star, getting his own show Big Daddy’s House, writing a cookbook, and introducing a line of spices, (all while raising four kids), McCargo has used the tools his father gave him to be successful.
As you might observe on his TV show, McCargo’s family is welcome in the kitchen. His children make cameos in the series and give their daddy help. When I asked how he was able to get his children to help, he responded, “It started with French fries and fish sticks. I had them put them on the sheet trays and count them. They were three years old. That led them to feel comfortable when they were 5 or 6 – cooking became first nature to them.” As his children have gotten older, those lessons have continued. He teaches his oldest teenage son the ways of the kitchen, just as his father passed down independent living to him.
As we talked about all things food related, I was surprised that there was no McCargo family favorite dish, one that gets the whole family excited. In McCargo’s house, every meal is worth getting excited about. (I suppose it helps if you have an award winning chef as a dad.) The whole family participates in making dinner; whenever someone is feeling lead to a food, they jump right in and get to cooking. Each child has a job to do, whether it is chopping onions, cleaning and separating other vegetables, or cutting meat.
Like many other families, cooking in my family isn’t a stress-free experience. So I asked the million dollar question, how can you keep meal preparation from being stressful? McCargo responded to my question with a smile and nodded his head as though he had heard this question a thousand times. “Shop one day and prepare the next; and the following day cook it. If you try to do it all in one day, it will overwhelm you. Whether I’m alone or with the kids, I just hammer it out. Put it in storage containers, and label it. We had tacos the other day and I make a lot of taco meat and then I freeze it and label it and put it in the proper storage bags. Label it so you know what it is.”
Preparing ahead of time sounded great to me, and I would absolutely love it if I was the kind of person who did that on a weekly basis, but unfortunately I’m not. So what’s a man to do when he hasn’t planned ahead and he has 30 minutes to get a meal on the table? His answer, “Soup and sandwiches. I buy the noodles in a pack. I cook up some vegetables and some meat. Some pre-cooked chicken and throw it in the broth. Tacos are great too. Like I said, I cook a lot of taco meat. Thaw out the meat from the freezer. Make taco salads, whatever.”
For more information on McCargo or to purchase his spices, go to http://www.aaronmccargo.com/. You can also purchase his cookbook Simply Done Well Done through his website or at most bookstores.
McCargo has also started a charity to increase graduation rates for young men. To find out more information about the charity, go to http://playtowininc.org/. Special thanks to ConAgra Foods and the Ketchum team for making this interview possible.