Chef Andre Rush became a well-known figure in the culinary world, a field full of outsized celebrities with big personalities, and it all started with a tweet.
The retired Master Sergeant worked in the White House during four different presidential administrations before going viral in 2018 when a reporter tweeted a photo of him — and his 24-inch biceps — preparing dinner for a Ramadan celebration at the White House. However, before joining the White House culinary staff, Rush was serving in the United States Army when he underwent shoulder and bicep surgery. Doctors told him he could never put on any more muscle mass, but Rush didn’t listen.
“Doctors said I wouldn't get any bigger and that was hard to hear,” Rush said. “I was a workout guy so I didn't take no for an answer. I just worked hard. I didn't think about it. I didn't look at the results. I felt the results, of course, but I never paid any attention. I just did the work.”
It didn’t matter to Rush how big or small he was, as long as he kept working hard, followed his dreams, and achieved his goals. And that’s exactly what Rush has been doing since he was a little kid.
Growing up on a farm in the projects in Mississippi, Rush sensed his life was different from the other kids around him, but he didn’t care. Rush just used those differences as fuel to drive where he wanted to go in life. As the son of a preacher, Rush was surrounded by givers in his family — his mother cooked not only for the whole entire family, but for the community and those who needed a hot meal as well. His brother was a merchant marine; one of his sisters was a special education teacher before becoming a counselor; he had another sister and brother who served in the military. Servitude was embedded in Rush and his family, which was why he enlisted in the Army.
“I wanted to do something to give back, and the military was what I did to give back,” Rush said. “I think I made the right decision on that part.”
Rush was open to making the most of his experience while in the Army so he began learning how to cook, a craft that wasn’t unfamiliar to him since he had always watched his mom while she cooked. Rush has always believed food represents life, family, love, and togetherness, all rolled up into one, and he feels it’s something we take for granted, including its power.
“I always say, food can start wars and it can end wars,” Rush said. “It sets your mood, it sets your tempo.”
Rush uses cooking to spread positivity and happiness, but he hasn’t always been met with the same level of kindness. Rush explained when he was first starting out in the culinary world, he seemed the most unlikely chef — he didn’t really know what the word “culinary” meant. All Rush knew was that he loved food, and he loved how food made him and others feel, but something was still missing.
“My superior wouldn't call me Chef,” Rush said. “I was so tired because I worked the hardest, I sweat the most, I did the most, and he wouldn’t do it. I was young and he didn't call me Chef and one day, I just grabbed him really quick, I picked him up, and I'm like, ‘Call me Chef, dammit.’ He never not called me Chef again.” Interestingly, the two have been great friends since that day.
Inspired by the confrontation with his superior, Rush went on to write an autobiography and titled it, “Call Me Chef, Dammit!” When he isn’t serving up delicious meals in the kitchen, however, Rush moonlights as a mental health advocate to end the stigma around mental health among service members and veterans.
Rush knows first-hand what it’s like to struggle with mental health while also trying to keep up a persona of being unbreakable. Because of the stigmas that surround mental health, Rush continued to silently battle his PTSD on his own. Eventually, Rush was ready to get help and started down the path of advocating for better mental health care for service members and their loved ones. According to America’s Warrior Partnership, roughly 22 veterans commit suicide each day, and Rush added that the number doesn’t account for spouses and kids of servicemembers. To honor those who are still silently struggling and those who lost their own internal battles, Rush completes 2,222 pushups every day.
“People say there's no way I can do 2,222 pushups and I'm like, ‘You've never tried,’” Rush said. “People will challenge me all the time, but they don't understand. Even with my challenge coins, it's not about the challenge. It's about trying. My challenge coin says, “You can do anything. Never give up. Keep going.” This is what my mother said to me when I was born, to the day she died, and I put my picture on there because I'm my greatest worth. I believe in myself. I look at myself every day in the mirror and say, “you're worth it.’”
Rush has accomplished so much already in his life and yet he’s hungry for more — his new show with fellow celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay will premier in February 2023 on Super Bowl LVII weekend. While we wait in anticipation, Rush continues to inspire and motivate others to see their worth and believe that anything is possible.
“I say to people, ‘Say it out loud. Don't say it in your head. Say it out loud,’” Rush said. “That’s reverse psychology. Just saying it out loud. You're worth it. You can do anything you want to do. Keep going. Don't give up. Just try.”
Photo credits: Courtesy of Chef Andre Rush’s Instagram