Cleveland chef talks weight loss at Schwebel Lecture

Endya Watson

In his early 20s, Cleveland chef Rocco Whalen graduated culinary school, worked alongside Wolfgang Puck, opened his own restaurant and reached 400 lbs.

Whalen spoke candidly about how his lifelong struggle with obesity affected the success of his business at this year’s Schwebel Lecture, hosted by Kent State’s hospitality management program.

Whalen opened his lecture by speaking about how his mother influenced his love for cooking.

“My mother was the one who first brought me into the kitchen,” Whalen said. “It was there I got great recipes and a great foundation.”

In high school, he was the only male in his home economics class. Whalen said he had no shame in this and found passion within the class.

“My home ec class was 29 girls and Rocco; I loved every minute of it,” Whalen laughed. “It was there I really found my passion for certain recipes and culinary arts as a whole.”

Whalen said he had been obese for most of his life but challenged himself to make a change after reaching a life-threatening weight. In 2012, he was featured on the Food Network show “Fat Chef.”

Though Whalen spoke mostly about reaching weight goals, he said his advice could apply to anyone working to pursue a goal.

“You have to believe in what you’re doing,” Whalen said. “I take pride in being disciplined. I control my own destiny.”

Whalen now owns six restaurants named Fahrenheit in the Cleveland area and recently opened a seventh location in Charlotte, N.C.

Whalen closed his lecture with some key tips he said he believes anyone can apply to life.

“Take a shot, because trust me, you would rather miss one than not take one at all,” Whalen said. “Respect the abilities you have and the work it took for you to get to where you are. And lastly, deliver your dreams. Be the person you need to be and make them reality.”

Approximately 300 people attended the lecture. Freshman hospitality management major Sean Dougherty said he went because he was interested in Whalen’s story.

“I’m from Cleveland, so I’ve heard of Rocco and his restaurant before,” Dougherty said.  “I thought it would be an interesting thing to come check out.”

Junior fashion merchandising major Anna Lood said hearing Whalen’s story was inspiring.

“It was great hearing about his journey and how he took what was a really bad situation growing up and turned it around to become so successful,” Lood said.

Whalen was recognized at the end of the lecture by the Schwebel family for his decision not to accept compensation for the event but to donate the money to charity.

Sophomore hospitality management major Emily Curtis said this is what made the lecture most memorable.

“As a sorority woman, I really admire his philanthropy,” Curtis said. “He took all his funds from the show to donate to charity, and that shows great character.” 

Contact Endya Watson at [email protected].

Editor’s note: Due to a reporters error the number of people who attended the lecture was inaccurately reported as 100 when it was 300. This article has been changed to reflect the correct number of people who attended the lecture.