RJ Cooper is the executive chef of Henley, a modern American brasserie opening in the Midtown area of Nashville, Tennessee, Spring 2017. Chef Cooper maintains a modernist approach to dining, and draws technique and inspiration from his extensive experience in the industry.
A Detroit native, chef Cooper attended culinary school at Kendall College in Chicago before starting his career in Atlanta working under notable chefs such as Guenter Seeger at The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, and Gilbert Le Coze at Brasserie Le Coze. He then went to work for nationally recognized chef and restaurateur Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin in New York City before heading to Anchorage, Alaska, to return Crow’s Nest at The Hotel Captain Cook to its original four-star, five-diamond rating.
In 2004, chef Cooper took his career to Washington, D.C., where he gained notoriety working as chef de cuisine at Vidalia with chef and owner Jeffrey Buben for seven years. During this time chef Cooper received a StarChefs Rising Star award in 2006, and the coveted James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic in 2007. Four years later, he moved on to open his own venture, Rogue 24, a tasting menu-centric restaurant featuring creative yet technically driven dishes through a 24-course meal. The first of its kind in the D.C. area, Rogue 24 received a three-star review from The Washington Post and put chef Cooper in the national spotlight. On the heels of this success, chef Cooper opened another concept titled Gypsy Soul, which featured a progressive menu with mid-Atlantic and Southern influences in Fairfax, Virginia.
Chef Cooper has since worked in kitchens in Atlanta as well as Charlotte, North Carolina, expanding his repertoire of dishes inspired by Southern American cuisine. He has played a large role in the Southern Ground Music & Food Festival since its creation in 2011, working with chefs and purveyors from across the Southeast. His passion for fresh, local and quality fare is apparent in his cooking, which is grounded in French fundamentals and showcases high-quality ingredients. He prides himself on maintaining relationships with local farmers and looks forward to working with the many purveyors of Middle Tennessee.
When he’s not in the kitchen, chef Cooper enjoys spending time with his ten-year-old twin daughters, riding his motorcycle, exploring the music scene of Nashville and giving back to the community in any way that he can. A longtime advocate of ending childhood hunger, he founded the Share Our Strength Chefs on Bikes program and served as the Chair of Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation’s National Culinary Council.