His first restaurant, Washington, D.C.’s Rogue 24, revealed R.J. Cooper as a true maverick chef. In this gastronomic madhouse, you’ll find audacious creations like a rabbit dish that pays homage to A Bugs’ Life, complete with baby carrots and hazelnut “soil.” Naturally, he was perfect for Made Man’s new series, Chefs of Anarchy, where culinary miscreants ride choppers across America in search of classic dishes they can radically remake. With the show kicking off next Thursday, the James Beard Award winner put down his blowtorch long enough to chat.
MADE MAN: We heard the pirate ship you run at Rogue 24 has some crazy rules.
RJ COOPER: No crazy rules. You have to be crazy to be here. What we have are no boundaries and a couple philosophies. One is to create like a god, command like a king and work like a slave.
MM: Give us examples of unorthodox ingredients we’ll see on the show.
RJ: Ox tongue, salmon heads, duck hot dogs, black garlic, purple potatoes.
I like to take the norm and bend it. Think about what Dali did to the way we viewed everyday life. Do you want a regular hot dog? Or do you want one that someone twisted the hell out of? What would give you more pleasure?
MM: What makes a dish boring and in desperate need of a disruption?
RJ: Any dish that has no life to it. Dishes with no soul, no passion.
MM: What kind of food should be illegal?
RJ: Shitty food. I’m even alright with vegans, even when they’re pains in my ass. As long as they execute the food with love. You can have a burger from In-N-Out and it’s consistently well executed. But burgers made with crappy buns and no love should be outlawed.
MM: What leaders inspire you?
RJ: Anyone that is passionate and rubs the norm of social living. Culinary-wise, Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria. Beyond that, Hank Williams III, Widespread Panic and the Misfits.
MM: What about politically?
RJ: Everyone knows I’m with the Green Party. If you come to my door spitting green, I’m going to party with you. Put green in quotes too, ’cause by green, I mean money.
MM: What makes you so radical?
RJ: I like to take the norm and bend it. Think about what Dali did to the way we viewed everyday life. Do you want a regular hot dog? Or do you want one that someone twisted the hell out of? What would give you more pleasure?
MM: Had you ever ridden a chopper before?
RJ: I own a Harley Davidson Road King called Pumpkin. It’s pumpkin orange. We ride every day it’s not raining.
MM: The show says to hide our women and children. Do you have a softer side?
RJ: Yep. I have two identical six-year-old twins. Ava and Bridgette. Two best things I ever created, and it only took seconds!
MM: You recently had open-heart surgery. Has anything changed? Do you have to anarchize a bowl of oatmeal every day?
RJ: No, but I probably should. You could say I have a whole new perspective on how far I can push myself, never give up. The disease I have is hereditary so there was nothing I could have done different. Partied more in my 20s and 30s maybe. Nah, I don’t really look back. Just fire up Pumpkin and hit the road.
MM: Give us a flavor combination that’s complete anarchy.
RJ: Oyster shells ground up. Cured and roasted blue potatoes. Poach those oysters with champagne. Smash the liquid from the oysters into the potatoes. Serve with an “air” of champagne, crème fraiche and seaweed.
MM: Do you do desserts? We shudder to think what you’d do to strawberry shortcake.
RJ: Yes. Actually, I made strawberry shortcake once. It had an olive oil cornmeal shortcake with a scoop of strawberries, a cream made with vanilla condensed milk and ice cream, a mint gel and dehydrated strawberry powder.
MM: Beyond the show and your restaurant, anything new brewing?
RJ: Yep. A new restaurant called Gypsy Soul. It’s going to be an interactive take on farm-to-table, with a lot of visuals, feelings and smells. None of that tired “hipster farmhouse” shit. It’s going to be fucking awesome.