In 2019, during a so-called “sandwich war” between Popeyes and Chick-fil-a, many if not all American restaurants revamped their chicken sandwiches. It was a vivid display of what can happen when something new and exciting shakes up the US food scene.
On a smaller scale, Camden, New Jersey native and celebrity chef Aaron McCargo, Jr., via his sauces and seasonings, has been revamping the national and Philadelphia metro food scene—with his sold-out Southwest Blend able to add a potent auxiliary to any culinary showdown.
His signature condiments combine 20 spices and flavors to perfect any Taco Tuesday or food need. And whether for his sauce or his seasoning, his cookbook “Simply Done, Well Done” is a foodie must-have.
“I just kept making [the sauce], sharing it with family and a couple close friends, they dug it, and I’m like, ‘Alright, we got something here,’” McCorger told me in an exclusive interview.
“Now I’ve been doing it for the last six years.”
McCargo got his start cooking with the famous Hasbro toy Easy-Bake, later became something of a child prodigy at Cooper University Hospital in his hometown Camden, New Jersey while still in high school.
Upon graduation, he attended culinary school in the New Jersey area before venturing out to gain on-premise experience. In 2003, he opened a restaurant with a childhood friend, and after it closed he became chef at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
His time there was shortened due to his wife Kimberly's advice that he enter the next Food Network Star competition.
That advice resulted in him winning the show, cementing a six episode contract which turned into multiple seasons for his own show, Big Daddy’s House. It also resulted in partnerships with Family Dollar and QVC.
Maintaining a demanding chef schedule, he still manages family life, his Christian faith (as a member of Ron King’s Living Hope Christian Center), and his nonprofit Play to Win.
“When I thought about playing to win, I thought about my dad telling me ‘You gotta play to win in this world,’ and I didn’t get it,” he said.
“And then I realized that it’s not about sports. It's about staying in the game. You can’t give up on life, you can’t go the easy route, and you can’t jump ship when things aren’t going your way.”
Recounting that his own son had taken a negative path in life, McCargo described how, through the nonprofit, he was able to help a group of middle school boys with around a decade of mentoring.
“Our most challenging time is after we leave school, because you ain’t got nobody holding your hand and babysitting you,” he said.
“I want these young men to have every opportunity to know, 'I love you, and the Lord Jesus Christ loves you, but love yourself enough to let me help you with what you want to do.’”
• 2 Diced Avocados
• 1 tbsp THE SAUCE Southwest Blend
• 1 tbsp Chopped Jalapeno
• 2 tbsp Lemon or Lime Juice
DIRECTIONS: In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Chill and serve.
• 4 cups Diced Tomatoes
• 2 tbsp THE SAUCE ORIGINAL
• 2 tbsp Scallions
• 1 tbsp Diced Jalapeno
• Juice of ½ Lemon
• 2 tbsp Diced Red Onions
• 2 tbsp Cilantro
DIRECTIONS:In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Chill and serve. Note: Add feta cheese and sliced black olives for a little extra funky Mediterranean twist.
Spinach & Kale Dip
• 1 cup onion
• 1/2 cup oil
• 1/4 cup flour
• 3 cups frozen kale and spinach mix
• 2 tbsps of The Sauce
• 1 cup milk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1 cup gruyere cheese
• 1 cup mozzarella cheese
• 1/4 parmesan cheese
• 1/2 cup scallions for garnish
DIRECTIONS: Heat the pan with oil and flour to make roux Add onions. Once translucent about 3-4 min, add frozen kale and spinach mix. Add The Sauce, milk and heavy cream. Bring to a boil, add the gruyere and mozzarella cheese. Cook until desired thickness. Add parmesan cheese on top and brown with torch. Garnish with scallions before serving.
Harlan McCarthy is Miami metro-born and a St. Louis native. He is also an alumni of Cardinal Ritter College Prep and currently a rising senior at St. John's University (NYC).