Young and Hungry

Molecular Gastronomer R.J. Cooper Makes Me a Sandwich [VIDEO]

Say this about audacious Rogue 24 chef R.J. Cooper: the man can be a gracious host. I mean, you ask the James Beard Award-winning, liquid nitrogen-wielding cook to kindly cut it out with the foams, gels and other things that sound like hair products and instead "just make me a sandwich." And, sure enough, the guy makes you a fucking sandwich.

He prefers the term "builds," of course. "You always build a sandwich," Cooper tells me, "because people who make sandwiches should just make peanut butter and jelly."

At his Blagden Alley restaurant on Monday night, the Rogue Toque fashioned a makeshift panini press out of a small collection of shiny pots, pans, tin foil—and, at one point, even employed the arms of one of his underlings ("I don't have a brick," he explained)—which he used to construct me a pretty substantial sandwich. It consisted of corned beef, sauerkraut, pork belly, and gruyere, dressed with red wine aioli and creole mustard, all crushed between what appeared to be two thinly breaded loaves of butter. "It's all heart healthy," he jokes.

The name of the sandwich? "Shott in the Heart," he tells me. ("Derek came up with that one," he adds, referring to Rogue 24 bartender Derek Brown.)

An appropriate, if somewhat morbid, moniker, what with the Coop preparing to undergo open-heart surgery the following day.

Still, I was feeling pretty honored by the namesake. At least until fellow food scribe Amanda McClements mentioned that the restaurant has a cocktail named after her, too.

The occasion for this bold display of intricate sandwich-making—er, building: a Gilt City soiree toasting the launch of "Rogue Sessions," a series of guest chef dinners taking place at the restaurant over the next several months while Cooper recovers from his operation. The $185-per-person dinners kick off Tuesday night with Volt's Bryan Voltaggio in the guest slot.

For a guy facing life-threatening health issues, Cooper sure acted good-humored about the whole thing—surreal send-off celebration and all. "It's like when you're in Manhattan and a car flips over and everyone's watching," he tells me while his monstrous sandwich is cooking.

This grand corned beef build-out could be the start of something new for Cooper. The chef tells me he'd like to open his own sandwich shop—one with bread that doesn't rip up the roof of your mouth when you eat it.

Here's to hoping for a successful surgery and speedy recovery, chef, so that your sandwich-making dreams might become a reality.