We spoke to the man behind the biceps that the Internet can't get enough of.
“I love Tiny! One of my favorite mentors ever and one of the most talented chefs in the Army. Tell him he’s looking a little small.”
That was the reaction on Twitter to a photo snapped last Wednesday by CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett. Bennet captured two chefs tending an outdoor grill for the White House’s Iftar celebration, a breaking of the Ramadan fast. And the Internet went wild.
After an immediate outburst, Bennet explained her tweet: "For inquiring minds, yep, that's Chef Rush, and he was happy to tell me his arms are 24-inches around."
Tiny is his nickname, and by now you can gather that it's an ironic one. Andre Rush is a 285-pound tank of a human, who has to slit the sleeves of his chef coats to fit them around his now-famous 24-inch biceps, and who, since his appearance behind the President’s digs last, has been interviewed on TMZ, been written about in Colombia and Australia, and spawned a thousand Twitter jokes, (mostly about customers’ reluctance to send dishes back to the kitchen once they see the guy who made them).
“Chef Rush has become a little meme now,” says 45-year-old chef about himself. “It’s hilarious. I get a kick out of them.”
Before he was an Internet celebrity, the Mississippi native was Army Master Sergeant Rush, a 23-year military veteran, who served as a senior aide to West Point’s superintendent and trained as a chef while serving his country, mastering everything from pastry and chocolate sculpting to ice carving.
“I loved the science, I loved the mathematical equations, I loved the simplicity and the difficulty,” says Rush. “In cooking, you can do something that’s going to be done in five minutes or you can do something that’s going to take you five days.”
Known as the “strongest chef in the military,” Rush represented the army in culinary competitions, cooked for generals and foreign heads of state, and turned out feasts in challenging environments.
During a deployment in Iraq as part of a personal security detachment, a military VIP wanted to treat his staff to a special dinner. Rush called in a favor at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, getting a shipment of prime rib that he prepared with grilled watermelon drizzled with balsamic vinegar and lemon.
“I would make these crazy meals with nothing at all in a makeshift kitchen with all the other military security guys coming in to serve,” Rush remembers. “Be creative, improvise, go and do something out of the box. That’s what I always did.”
Rush retired from the Army 18 months ago, and for now, he’s consulting and freelancing, cooking for major events at the White House, serving as a guest instructor for military trainings, smoking meat for neighborhood barbecues, and getting back into the gym. Those 24-inch arms can bench 700 pounds, though Rush says he focuses on endurance training—say, four rounds of 25 reps at a scant 225 pounds for a series of exercises—followed by post workout meals like a whole salmon fillet.
For his next act, he's contemplating a civilian role that would tap his culinary skills while bringing awareness to veterans’ issues, allowing him to advocate for the military family he still holds dear. “I’ve had opportunities to work in a big restaurant or be a private chef, but that’s not rewarding for me,” says Rush. “I’m all about giving back.”