Model by Day, Chef by Night

Rōze Traore has two full-time, highly demanding jobs as a chef and model. On paper, the two contradict each other completely. We spoke with him to find out how he manages to maintain these competing worlds.

Feb 14 2014, 1:00pm

All photos courtesy of Rōze Traore

For eight hours every night, Rōze Traore is a line cook at the Mark—a NYC restaurant owned by world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten—and is surrounded by decadent French culinary staples like foie gras, black truffles, and Gruyère cheese. 

By 9 AM, he’s thrown his food-stained chef’s whites into the dirty linen hamper and suits up for his day job as a professional male model. During New York Fashion Week, which just ended, he was on schedule overload, jumping from casting calls to fittings and shows for designers like Bespoken, Telfar, and Control Sector. He recently found time to be featured in our story on the evolution of black masculinity through fashion. When he isn’t walking on the runway, he’s busy throwing private dinner parties for fashion’s elite.

It takes a very specific kind of personality to be able to successfully straddle these two contradictory worlds: the image-conscious, high-octane world of fashion and the gluttonous, late-night world of restaurant life, where chefs typically battle long, grueling hours in hot kitchens and burns from pots and pans are part of the dress code. To further complicate matters, this doesn’t leave much time for an exercise routine. As an alumnus of restaurants like CityZen, Urbana, and Bibiana in Washington, DC, he’s had his fair share of success in the kitchen, but in order to make it big in the modeling world, he must exude controlled confidence and dietary restraint while also sampling everything that he cooks before it’s sent out to customers. I talked to Rōze to try to find out how he balances these full-time, highly demanding jobs that—on paper—contradict each other completely.

VICE: How did you get into cooking?
Rōze Traore: I got into cooking because everyone in my family loved to cook but nobody knew the basics, like, “Why does this happen when you mix this ingredient with that?” So I decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, and attended for three years to get the whole culinary background started.

What kind of food do you prefer to cook?
I’m usually into French, Italian, and Asian cuisine. I mix all of them together and bring out more of a modern twist. I’m really addicted to fish like black bass with seasoned mushrooms tossed in yuzu juice.

Is that the kind of stuff you’re cooking at the Mark?
The Mark is focused on French and Asian cuisine. I recently started working there because I just moved to New York a month ago. It’s a side job to modeling, but it pays the bills. I usually don’t involve restaurants in my private stuff. I like to keep them separate.

What do you mean by private stuff?
I run a supper club. I go to different modeling shoots, and there’s always a client that’s interested in food. I throw dinner parties during fashion week. I’m also showing people that I can multitask; I’m not just a model and not just a chef.

What kind of waiters do you source for your supper club?
I usually have a male and female model that have a good understanding of waiting tables, and I’ll write “Rōze” on their stomachs or clothing while they are serving people. I don’t wear chef whites; I want to stand out. I usually wear things that my sponsors give me, like good clothes and nice sneakers. I don't want to be stuck with the whole uniform vibe to show that I'm a chef. It should be shown by my palate. The fashion shows that edgy look on me.

No ugly waiters allowed?
My waiters are always going to be models. The mission of a model is not about your looks or about what any of what society portrays. It's about confidence and being happy with yourself. I feel like that's the definition of a model. That confidence that we have within ourselves is typically portrayed as being conceited or cocky, but it's what makes a model beyond appearance.

How did you get into modeling?
Modeling was something that was always on the back burner for me. Random people would always approach me and say, “You look good, you should model.” A year ago, I focused on modeling and thought, I’m going to go to South Africa because I have a contract there and I’m just going to start my career.I lived there for six months and ended up throwing a private supper-club event for GQ South Africa.

So you were cooking while modeling over there? 
Yeah, I also did some stages at La Colombe and Nobu.

What do you think of the culinary scene in South Africa? 
The scene was amazing. For Americans, we want to know about the hottest chef and the trendiest dish. Over there, the chefs are more relaxed.

How do you simultaneously juggle these two full-time work professions?
I figure that the best way for me to focus on both of them is to cook at nighttime, from 11 PM to 7 AM, because that’s when I refresh myself with new recipes and concepts. Once I’m done with cooking, I start my mornings around 9 AM with casting calls, fittings, or shoots. I usually don’t get home until around 8 or 9 PM, and then I have to start all over again.

That sounds exhausting. When do you find the time to sleep?
I hardly sleep. I get around four hours of sleep unless it’s really slow in terms of jobs, and then I just lock myself in my room and watch movies.

Chefs have long, intense work hours that can make it difficult to find the time to exercise, and they're also required to taste what they are cooking. How do you maintain your physical appearance when you are in chef mode?
I feel like food is the devil for me, because I’m always trying to make an excuse to eat, but you have to have that… um... what’s the word…

Yes, you have to have control of yourself. When you go to a shoot and you look a little chubby, it doesn’t really work [laughs].

So you are really conscious about calories?
The funny thing is that I don't eat a lot, but let's say I have that chip or those three pieces of fries. It messes with my head to the point where I think, Oh shit, it's going to go somewhere I don't want this to go. You have to be cautious as a model with everything. It's frustrating at times, but it's worth it.

If it's that much stress in terms of being conscious of everything that you're putting into your body, why do you model?
With life, if something means that much to you, you have to learn how to sacrifice. For me, being a model is not just a side thing—it's something I've put a lot of effort into. You have to sacrifice, especially if you're managing two careers on your shoulders.

Thanks for talking to me, Rōze.