filed under BBQ, Interviews, New York City, Washington D.C.

Meet the Chefs of Anarchy: RJ Cooper and Shannon Ambrosio

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If it’s not broke, most of us have learned not to fix it. But that’s not how James Beard Award winner RJ Cooper of Rogue24 and Shannon Ambrosio of the Come N Get It BBQ truck see classic foods.

In the first episode of the new web series Chefs of Anarchy, Cooper, Ambrosio, and Joy Wilson set out to recreate the iconic pork dumpling, served by the thousands at Dumpling Man in New York City. Their solution? Braise the pig’s head — tongue, cheek meat, and ears for added crunch — and pair with a perfectly immersion circulator-cooked egg yolk so it explodes at first bite. Upon seeing the pig’s head, Lucas Lin, owner of Dumpling Man, was skeptical. “I don’t think our customer can handle an ingredient looking back at them,” he remarked. But after poaching the pig’s head dumplings in pork broth and searing them in lard (despite Cooper’s open-heart surgery earlier this year), Lin exclaimed, “they’ve been making dumplings hundreds of years, but none taste like this!” A version of the anarchized creation premiered last Friday on Rogue24′s fall menu.

Cooper is careful about the term anarchy, however. “Anarchy means no rules, no boundaries, and that’s the key. We’re manipulating classics to modernist ways,” but there is still a bevy of cooking techniques employed with great discipline. And don’t call it “molecular gastronomy” either. “Everything is molecular in cooking. If you bake bread, that’s a molecular process. [Molecular gastronomy] is a term used by journalists, not the actual cooks. Actual cooks use the term modernist cuisine. We’re using foundations of classic cooking with modernist techniques and equipment.” Ambrosio agrees. “When we talk about science and cooking, Marie-Antoine Carême discovered caramel from burnt sugar. Science has been a part of it all along.”

Intensity is evident in both these gentlemen. Throughout the interview, Cooper was instructing his kitchen about champagne glasses and directing staff this way or that. These two may be having fun, but they’re serious about the cooking process and meticulous about the details. “Barbecue is not à la minute cooking; it’s a long process,” says Ambrosio. “I’m an American traditionalist who likes to spin the dishes around and come up with my own modern way of making it. The idea behind barbecue is what I love the most: It’s big hunks of meat cooked for a long period of time, with spices and marinades and injections. Barbecue is slow and low… you have to nurture that product, that product’s got to be taken care of, and it takes 16 hours to do. I really love the process, and anything that has to do with American traditional cooking.”

For the Chefs of Anarchy, motorcycle culture and food culture are naturally intertwined by one ideal: “Freedom!,” Cooper shouts excitedly. Ambrosio offers a longer explanation: “When you’re out, you’re going fast, you’re going hard, and when it’s finally time to play, you play as hard as you work in the kitchen. When you’re in the kitchen, you’re going 100 mph, and on the road, it’s the same idea.”

Ambrosio’s gourmet barbecue food truck is a perfect example of the intersection between food and motorcycles. He custom builds choppers, so it’s not surprising everything in the food truck is custom built as well. “It’s pimped!” says Cooper.

“There are some bells and whistles,” Ambrosio humbly admits. “I did put the sign on the roof on hydraulics, so it goes up and down like a low-rider hood.”

Remaking food classics is no small feat. “We take an aggressive approach, but it’s definitely not something we take lightly,” Ambrosio says in his thick Brooklyn accent, citing the example of the pastrami sandwich. “These dishes don’t need to be changed. They’re classics. They’re going to stay classics, even 50 years from now. We’ve just given it an alternative view. It makes the diner think about it differently.”

“For me,” says Cooper, “the idea is the purity of what’s being cooked. It doesn’t matter if it’s a burger at In-N-Out or going to Le Bernadin. The three-star Michelin star restaurant should have the same respect for the food product, whether it’s a hot dog, or calamari, or a piece of foie gras. That’s the essence of being a cook.”

So what’s next in the web series? “Smoke… and fire… and explosions,” Cooper jokes. “My bike dies. It’s a show about the culture of Manhattan and taking what’s classic and twisting them and bending the rules. It’s a different outlook on what food can and should be.”

Watch the first episode here and catch future episodes on MadeMan.com.

 

Kim Kohatsu judges the quality of her relationships on the ability to share food. If she can't split an appetizer with you, in her eyes, you are pretty much worthless. Kim's current food adventures revolve around ramen, sushi, Indian curries, Sichuan food, and fried chicken. Oh, and cheeseburgers. Kim loves a good cheeseburger.


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