Person to Watch: Eddie Berner
From A Flock of Seagulls to the Rockin’ Road Grill
By Cynthia Marone

It’s hard to tell which came first for Eddie Berner – the food or the music. The former member of ’80s band A Flock of Seagulls has been either behind a stove or on a stage since he was a teen.

EddieBerner_2188“I fell in love with working in restaurants when I was a pizza cook in Bristol. For me, there is a lot of artistry in cooking,” says Berner, a Burlington Township native who picked up his first guitar at age 9. “At 13, you are not sure what you are going to do. Music and cooking, for me, shared a path.”

Berner has come a long way since serving up slices and learning his first chords. He toured the world as lead guitarist for Seagulls, and he helmed kitchens in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Palm Springs.

Now, he has merged his dual passions with his love of travel to create “Rockin’ Road Grill,” where Berner cooks, chats and jams with fellow musicians – and anybody else he finds interesting – for a reality show with the same name. The show is set on Berner’s tricked-out, 38-foot RV that’s been equipped with a professional kitchen and stellar sound system.

“Sometimes, I cook. Sometimes, I perform,” says Berner. “It’s how I get the best of both worlds.”

Berner has switched gears numerous times in his career, veering from stage to kitchen more times than he can count.

“I wanted to create something that combined my two passions in a way that would be entertaining for people – and for me,” says the 48-year-old. “My favorite part is that I’m doing what I love – playing great music, making great food and meeting great people on the road. The TV show gives me a chance to bring everybody out there along for the ride.”

Like the songs he performs, classic-rock chic is a good way to describe the souped-up RV. It’s a sight to behold, decked out in Berner’s signature colors of black, red and silver inside, and dolled up outside with flames, a musical staff that resembles a road and a guitar that takes the place of a G-clef. There are mirrors, couches, chandeliers and seats for 15. Step inside and you become an instant rock star.

“We ripped the bedroom out of the back to make a new seating area. We worked closely with a designer from South Jersey to redecorate the interior,” says John Killion Jr., the reality show’s executive producer. “We came up with the logo last year. We’re working with great people out of Cherry Hill.”

EddieBerner_2150The rock star life can be whatever a person wants it to be, says Berner. He can helm a cooking class. He can cater to a group’s foodie whims. He can drive everyone to an Eagles game and take their tailgate to new heights.

“We are an event,” says Berner simply.

The idea for the grill came to Berner about two years ago and took real shape in spring 2013 when the RV was purchased. He has been working fervently since then, developing and filming the show and traveling the area to get the word out about it.

“We are just doing what we want to put on TV, but there has been a tremendous response. We’re in talks with Scripps Networks, the folks that bring you the Food Network and the Travel Channel. We’ve got a lot of great stuff filmed, but we’re keeping most of it under wraps for our network debut,” says Berner. “We are doing a lot of events and spreading our wings. I feel like a kid in a candy store.”

From the time he was a student at Holy Cross High School in Delran, Berner found a way to work the concert and the culinary into his life. He would go to classes during the day, work in restaurants in the afternoon and perform into the wee hours at clubs. One of Berner’s earliest haunts was JC Dobbs in Philadelphia, where he honed his chops at open-mic nights when he was just a teen. At the same time, he was honing a different set of chops at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. He graduated in 1987, but he never put music aside.

“I learned one chord as a child and fell in love with it,” he says. “I’ve got a wide set of stuff I listen to, but I play anything with a lot of heart and soul in the melody.”

A mutual friend’s introduction connected Berner to A Flock of Seagulls’ front-man Mike Score, who was retooling the new-wave band. Score liked what he heard, and when Berner was asked to join the band in 1988, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. The 22-year-old, after all, was getting ready to live out one of his dreams.

“I was thinking about what it would be like to travel and play in an established band. In doing so, I met tons of musicians from other parts of the world,” he says.

Berner played the band’s MTV-bumped tune “I Ran (So Far Away)” more times than he could count at clubs and theaters. He played every state in the United States at least 10 times, he says, as well as Canada, Mexico and England. Berner lived this life for 10 years and, in between, would return to a professional kitchen to keep his knives and skills sharp. When he was ready to pack up his pick and move on, the then-Orlando, Fla., resident didn’t skip a beat.

“I took a position at this huge restaurant, Race Rock. It taught me to be a professional chef,” says Berner.

The Orlando gig led to the car racing-themed chain’s Las Vegas spot. Berner ran that until its closing in 2001. He had a slew of places in Vegas to ply his trade, but he chose the Chicago Brewing Company. He stayed there for six years.

“Every three months, they’d put on an event where my band would play,” he says. “There was never a point where the cooking and the music were separate. They were always connected to each other.”

He had lived throughout and traveled the world by this point, but about four years ago, Berner was ready to return to the place he knew best: home. In SJ, where he has permanently landed, he regrouped and spent time with his family. It gave him a chance to live out another dream.

“I always wanted to work with Asian food. I wanted to dig into it and the cooking techniques,” he says. “When I got home, within three months, I was at P.F. Chang’s.”

To this day, sushi and Far East delicacies are his favorites to create and cook. When it comes to the Rockin’ Road Grill, he is happy to put out a spread of whatever a person’s taste buds desire and go wherever the party is happening.

“I grill whatever is around. What I cook is customized, ranging from sushi to Thai to cheesesteaks to grilled chicken. It’s what they want,” he says. “The tour bus will travel anywhere in the U.S.A. and Canada. We are a bus, after all. But, hey, that could change some day. Maybe a private jet – The Rockin’ Air Grill.”

June 2014
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