The Untold Truth Of Chef Boot Camp's Cliff Crooks

There's a lot to learn about new Food Network host Chef Cliff Crooks — beyond the fact that it's really satisfying to say his name five times fast. The New York-based chef (via LinkedIn) stars in the new Chef Boot Camp, which challenges chefs to improve the food at their struggling restaurants or risk losing their place in the kitchen (via Food Network). Crooks will observe chefs in action, tasting their dishes and critiquing their techniques, and then determine whether or not their performance at "boot camp" merits their status as chefs.

Chef Boot Camp won't be Crooks' only appearance on Food Network; he recently competed in Tournament of Champions, losing his place in the bracket by five points to Chef Tiffani Faison (via FoodSided), and has also judged episodes of Chopped Junior and Worst Cooks in America (via IMDb). Chef Boot Camp, however, will be Crooks' first role as a host. The show will premiere on April 8.

Cliff Crooks began his culinary career as a busboy

Cliff Crooks got his first restaurant job at 15 years old, when he began bussing tables, he told Haute Living. But his passion for cooking began even earlier in his life. "I grew up cooking with my nana — she's a fantastic cook — and that was the beginning of my child-like curiosity about food in general," he said in an interview with New York Moves.

Crooks gradually worked his way up in the kitchen, earning roles as a line cook, sous chef, and executive chef at prominent New York City restaurants including Salute!, Blue Water Grill, and Gramercy Tavern, according to a press release by Discovery. He's now the culinary director of BLT Restaurants, the restaurant group behind American steakhouses BLT Steak and BLT Prime, which have locations in New York City, Miami, Waikiki, Hong Kong, Seoul, and more. Crooks' career experiences, which have been "worth it, good or bad," as he told New York Moves, have given him the chops to train fellow cooks on Chef Boot Camp.

Cliff Crooks is the only contestant to have been kicked off of Top Chef

Across 18 seasons, only one contestant has been disqualified from Top Chef: Cliff Crooks. In the show's second season, Crooks and other contestants went drinking after a day of cooking, Today reports, and decided to shave their heads. Then, "Crooks dragged fellow chef Marcel Vigneron out of bed and pinned him to the floor while yelling for others to come shave the young man's head," the article says about the incident, which was recorded.

While Vigneron's hair survived unscathed, Crooks was removed from the show per Top Chef's legal guidelines, which warn against "harming or threatening to harm other contestants" (via Bravo). Producer Tom Colicchio wrote in a Bravo blog post that he was "stunned" by the footage and delivered the news of Crooks' disqualification himself. While the event was dramatic, Crooks left quietly. Years later, when New York Moves asked Crooks about his takeaways from the experience, he said, "You always have room to grow."

Cliff Crooks went on to be a successful force in the culinary world after Top Chef

Cliff Crooks' résumé would certainly suggest that he has "grown" since his time on Top Chef. His BLT Prime restaurants, known for serving complimentary popovers at the beginning of the meal, have appeared on several local publications' roundups of best steakhouses (via Eater). Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema called the service at BLT Prime in Washington, D.C., "terrific," the popovers "very good," and the menu's more gimmicky items, such as "clothesline bacon," served hanging on a miniature clothesline, "offbeat, if satisfying."

When he's not overseeing the culinary direction of his restaurants, Crooks often guest-stars on television or in videos for social media. In addition to his Food Network appearances over the years, Crooks has guest-judged episodes of Fox's Hell's Kitchen (via IMDb). He has also shared cooking tips on the internet by making a perfect steak with Vice and grilling shrimp with Jeff Mauro on YouTube.

Cliff Crooks has a global palate

Cliff Crooks lived in Taiwan for more than four years while his father worked on the island, he told Haute Living. That time "taught me at an early age to be open-minded about all kinds of food," Crooks said about the "fantastic experience." The chef's cooking does appear to have been influenced by his time in Taiwan; he told New York Moves that "Asian culture has the best cuisine," and items at his BLT restaurants include flavors used in many Asian countries' dishes, such as soy, tamarind, ginger, and turmeric.

Crooks' favorite "genre" of dishes to make involves seafood, he said in a Q&A with Food Network. (This also could have been influenced by his time in Taiwan, considering its location in the middle of the sea.) The first dish he learned to master, though, was a roast chicken. His favorite thing to eat is "anything in a sandwich," his favorite "guilty pleasure" is cookies, and his more recent area of interest is Moroccan cuisine, he told New York Moves.

Cliff Crooks is interested in the future of fast-casual dining

Cliff Crooks told New York Moves that he sees yet more fast-casual dining in the restaurant industry's future. "I see the line continuing to blur between fine dining and more casual service, creating more opportunity to taste things outside of one, formal format," he said. He believes that the word "fast" should no longer have a negative connotation in the dining world, that fast food does not have to be cheap or unhealthy. "In my mind, there shouldn't be a difference or sacrifice based on convenience," he explained.

Crooks' next restaurant project, he told New York Moves, involves brainstorming and menu-developing for "new fast-casual concepts." While there are no details on the project yet, diners may be able to expect qualities such as seasonality and global flavors, based on Crooks' interests as a chef (via Haute Living). As for what he wants his legacy to be? "Still working on that," he said to New York Moves.