How This Young Chef Dreamed Up Fried Chicken in a Blue Waffle Cone and Landed a Coveted Spot at Smorgasburg

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Think waffle cones are just for ice cream? Think again.

At the Blue Chicken, a new food stand that made its debut at New York's Smorgasburg open-air market this summer, bite-size portions of fried chicken are assembled in a blue waffle cone and topped with a drizzle as a twist on the classic marriage between chicken and waffles.

“It’s a great portable way to have chicken,” 21-year-old chef and founder Aaron Ratner told InsideEdition.com. “It's actually a salted blue corn waffle cone, and the Blue Chicken is actually a play on the University of Delaware mascot, the Fighting Blue Hen.”

Not only did Ratner, a recent graduate of the college, come up with the concept himself, he also built the small business in his last few months of school with no major previous experience aside from working at concession stand in his town over the summers as a teenager. 

In fact, he saved up every penny he earned flipping burgers and selling chicken tenders to put into his new venture.

“The last seven years, I probably saved about $10,000,” Ratner said. “All of the money that went into the Blue Chicken is my personal money. I didn’t take from my parents or anything like that.”

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Ratner said he’s been enamored by Smorgasburg for years, and applied last fall to open a stand serving fried chicken in blue waffle cones.

“Smorgasburg has about 100 food vendors at it and every year maybe a dozen new spots open up,” said Jonathan Butler, a co-founder of Smorgasburg. “We have hundreds of applicants every year, mostly from aspiring young chefs.”

Ratner never expected to hear back but was invited to present his creation in front of judges in January.

A week after that, the Blue Chicken's application was approved.

“We, of course, look for some interesting food ideas, but we also look at the entrepreneur — how motivated he or she is, how they thought about the marketing, how they thought about their product and what their dreams are,” Butler explained. “Aaron checked all those boxes for us.”

The Blue Chicken nearly wasn't ready for Smorgasburg’s first day of the season. In fact, Ratner was still in school, studying in a 10-month program at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California.

“I was living on the West Coast for the entire year and when I got back, I knew I only had weeks to get it ready and up and running,” he explained. “That was probably the most nerve-racking thing.”

They delayed their debut, and within two weeks of graduation, Ratner moved back to his parents’ home in Long Island, purchased and set up their supplies and prepared his staff for opening day.

“Every minute, every hour of his day was really consumed by this,” his mom, Denise Ratner, explained. “He was shopping, he was preparing, he was looking up things on the computer, he was speaking to people, and it was endless.”

Aaron added, “I didn’t sleep one night.”

In fact, the Blue Chicken’s timeline from a culinary school idea to an up-and-running business was so quick that Aaron’s partner, Devon Spear, drove up to New York City from his native San Marcos, Texas, just days before their debut.

“Chef Dev actually went to culinary school with me,” Aaron explained. “He moved to New York with no job, no apartment. He’s currently living in my basement.”

Spear said he had no idea what to expect ahead of the launch. In fact, opening day was the first time he has ever been to Smorgasburg — an event which organizers say invites 20,000-30,000 people to Brooklyn every weekend.

“I’ve actually never been to Smorgasburg, never seen anything about it,” Spear told InsideEdition.com in between preparing fried chicken sandwiches.

Asked if he was up to the challenge, Spear replied: “Honestly, I’d take on a little bit more heat.”

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Managing a kitchen comes naturally for Aaron. On the Blue Chicken’s opening day, the rookie chef seamlessly balanced preparing orders and taking commands, all while being watched by a dozen-or-so hawk-eyed customers waiting for their food.

But Aaron’s passion for food and cooking began in his own home.

“The first day I was in the kitchen was with my mom,” Aaron said. “I remember she was actually making matzo ball soup.”

He said the routine and craftsmanship that went into making their holiday meal intrigued him almost immediately, and he was 10 years old when he finally asked his mom to walk him through the steps.

“When we make it together, there’s a whole routine, and he used to see it making it and we just enjoyed making it together,” Denise said.

Aaron’s role in their home kitchen grew over the years, and he began taking on a bigger role preparing holiday meals for their extended family.

He joined the Great Neck Woods Fire Company when he was 17 years old, with the encouragement of his older brother Ben Ratner, who had already been a member.

“At their first meeting, he volunteered me to cook for the next company meeting, for 100 people,” Aaron recalled. “I was very hesitant to do it, but he helped me through the whole thing. And at the next meeting, we put out food for 100 people, and seeing the smiles on everybody’s faces made me know that that’s what I really wanted to do. I wanted to cook for people.”

His love for cooking blossomed, and after completing a bachelor’s degree in hospitality business management at the University of Delaware, he applied to an accelerated program at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, where he spent 10 months learning to become a chef.

“He’s ‘baby Aaron’ my entire life,” Ben told InsideEdition.com. “I don’t know when he became ‘Aaron, head chef,’ at a food stand here in Smorgasburg, so yeah, I’m a little surprised that he was able to grow up, but he did it.”

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Denise explained she had her doubts when she learned her son had passed on more traditional opportunities to apprentice under world-famous chefs at award-winning restaurants to open a food stand at a seasonal market.

“We did try [to talk him out of it] a little bit, but this is really where his passion is,” she said. “He wanted to open up on his own, cook his own food, do his own idea. We were worried.”

But their opening day was a smash, and the Blue Chicken sold out of its offerings by the time they had all packed up for the day.

“We are really excited,” Ratner said. “It’s going to be a long but fun summer. “

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