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by j.p. anderson | October 6, 2014 | Food & Drink
Fast friends and major media players Bill Rancic and Jon Harris take time out for a guys’ lunch at Rancic’s latest restaurant, new hot spot RPM Steak.
Bosom buddies: Jon Harris sang at Bill Rancic’s wedding to E! star Giuliana Rancic.
Since winning the first season of The Apprentice a decade ago, Bill Rancic has become a full-fledged star. And with a plum new gig as the announcer for The Meredith Vieira Show, his pal Jon Harris is following in his footsteps. As Rancic prepared for the opening of RPM Steak—his and wife Giuliana’s second collaboration with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises after smash hit RPM Italian—he and his groomsman Harris sat down over lunch at the new restaurant to talk TV, tomahawk steaks, and why Chicago will always be home.
You both have a lot on your plate right now. What is life like these days?
Bill Rancic: For Jon it’s a much more life-changing event—kind of what happened to me 10 years ago when I was first asked to go on The Apprentice. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Jon Harris: Thanks, brother.
BR: I just told him he better not go all Hollywood on us.
JH: Oh, please. With this face, I’ll never go Hollywood. It’s been a blast so far. Working with one of my dearest friends, Meredith, and having the opportunity to do some good things with people through the show has been fantastic. If it ended right now, I’d still be blessed.
BR: That’s a lie.
JH: That’s true. It’s a boldfaced lie. [Laughs]
How do you two know each other?
BR: Jon was working at Bally’s, and I had just won The Apprentice and moved to New York. Somehow he got my cell-phone number; he called me and said, “Can you shoot a video for us for our big corporate meeting?” Within 20 minutes, I have a video crew at my apartment in Midtown, and I’m like “Who is this guy?” And that was it—we just became buddies.
Bill, you and Giuliana have established yourself as formidable restaurateurs. How did you get started?
BR: About four years ago we thought about starting a restaurant, since Giuliana is from Italy and her family has all these great recipes. We started looking at locations—a little 40 to 50 seat restaurant—and I was telling my friend Greg Olsen, who used to be the tight end for the Bears, about the idea. He introduced me to RJ and Jerrod Melman, and that 40-seat restaurant became the 11,000-square-foot RPM Italian.
Jon, have you been a regular at RPM Italian?
JH: I always call RPM Italian my home away from home. And now it’s RPM Steak; it’s exciting. I love Mama DePandi’s bucatini—one of my favorite meals of all time.
BR: The steaks are great, and that’s how we came up with this idea. We got together and said, “If we can do to the steakhouse what we did with the Italian restaurant, then we’ve got something.”
Steak is a competitive market in Chicago. What makes RPM stand out?
BR: Certainly where we’re sourcing the meat, but we’re also going to have healthier options. We’re catering to women as well—amazing salads, fresh vegetables from farmers markets. We’re taking a fresh approach to it; it’s a bit more modern.
King crab leg gratinée with lime soy glaze is served.
Fresh lobster is one of the stars of the raw bar.
JH: I love the sauce on this dish. I’ll take five more.
BR: It’s light—you can have it and you’re not weighed down. The way it’s broiled is different than the traditional steaming of it.
JH: My friend Everett Bradley, who’s the bandleader of Meredith’s show, flew in to experience RPM Steak, and he was not disappointed.
BR: Well, hopefully we’ll be getting these steaks on The Meredith Vieira Show, Jon. Some cooking segments.
JH: We would love it. [Chef Doug Psaltis] would be great. You heard it here first.
Strube Ranch dry-aged tomahawk steak and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms are served.
Strube Ranch’s tomahawk steak is a favorite of both Rancic and Harris.
BR: I’ve had this [steak] a hundred times; it’s always a favorite. What do you think, Jon?
JH: It’s like butter. The seasoning is fantastic.
BR: This is a unique style of mushroom; the texture is amazing. There’s a bit of crunch, which is indicative about how fresh these are.
JH: To your point, they’re light. Not overbearing.
Jon, give us your pitch for Meredith’s show.
JH: “Feel real good” is our theme, and the goal is to really inspire and entertain. We have a lot of great human interest stories—celebrating ordinary people who’ve done extraordinary things—as well as celebrities and games.
What else is on the horizon for you?
BR: October’s a big month because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, and Giuliana’s a survivor, so we’ll be on the road a lot. Giuliana is relaunching her charity Fab-U-Wish with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in partnership with the Lauder family, and we’re really excited about that.
Looking toward the end of the year, what are your ultimate goals?
BR: One of the things we want to do is grow our family and have a brother or a sister for Duke. And hopefully people will love RPM Steak. We really want to share it with everyone.
JH: You’ve built it. I have no doubt that they’re gonna come. For me, my goal is to be as present as possible when I’m home—to spend significant time with my family. And I’d very much like to have a successful show under my belt with a great team, where we are entertaining people every day—and they keep coming back for more.
BR: And big ratings, baby, big ratings.
JH: From your mouth to God’s ears.
photography by anjali pinto