Being a chef today seems to rely almost equally on art and science, which of those two disciplines compels you more in what you do?
RJ: There’s always a level of chemistry to it. Then there’s the part that’s subjective and weird. I’ve gone through crazy ups and downs in my careers. I kind of played around with so many different things. Maybe 7 years ago I sat down and had that hard, gut-check and said to myself, ‘what is it that I really want to be doing? What is the most important thing to me?’ It was running and building restaurants, cooking every day–it’s what the made difference for me in life. I look at what I do as my art. Years ago I went from that place of being a cook and turned it into being an artist. And went through all of those struggles of having to manage my craft and work into evolving and mastering the different techniques. I’m always growing, I’m always rethinking, and because I get to work with these great, young cooks–it makes me work so much harder to step up my game. Cooking kung fu, is what I like to call it. I’m always asking myself: is there a huge impact in the end in what I’m producing? Is my presentation simple? If not, streamline it.
What else inspires you in the kitchen?
RJ: I really love collaborating and I look forward to having the opportunity to work with more chefs.
Do you have any particular ingredients that you enjoy working with the most?
RJ: It really comes down to what’s happening seasonally. I’ve got a hard-on this week for citrus. I don’t know why. I just went to the market today and bought a whole bunch of citrus. Foie is my thing, Pork is my thing, protein is my thing. But I’m having a bit of fun with broccoli and cauliflower. We’re gonna be going hog wild with asparagus. I’m terribly excited about it. I fucking love vegetables, they are harder to cook than proteins, and at times are twice as expensive. You have to really know what you’re doing if you’re working with them.
Do you come across exotic foods that you had never worked with, or even heard of before?
RJ: Every now and then someone will pop in with something that I’ve never seen before. Our farmers are so aggressive and are always trying to outdo one another, bringing back really cool, traditional or Italian variation on some plant that I’ve never heard of. Whatever kind of weird things they can get their hands on. Someone brought me tobacco leaves last year to cook with. There was a trend of people trying to use pipe tobacco to make cocktails. It was disgusting. It was clearly nasty, and I’m a big cigar smoker myself. My meat guys are always trying to bring me something new and exciting, cause he knows that we’re the tasting ground. We are a creative house, people know that we are willing to try something different. And then I hear about [Chef Thomas] Keller getting all kinds of crazy stuff and it makes me jealous [laughs].