Meet Chef Cooper
What’s your background?
Growing up I split time between Saint Louis and the east coast of Virginia. After graduating high school in Virginia I went to college at Virginia Tech. I worked in restaurants pretty much the entire time I was going to school and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Residential Property Management. After graduating I moved all the way across the country to San Francisco, CA, where I got my culinary degree at California Culinary Academy. After a couple of years out west I moved back to Saint Louis to be closer to my family and have been here for the past 5 years.
What was your first job in the kitchen and how did you end up there?
My first kitchen job was at a country club in Blacksburg, Virginia. I started as a cook at the country club’s pool stand for the summer and moved into the kitchen after summer was over. Eventually a contact at the club referred me to a Cajun restaurant in downtown Blacksburg called Boudreaux’s. This is where my culinary career really took off.
What restaurants and influential chefs have you worked with/under?
In San Francisco I worked under Chef Joseph Manzare at a southern Italian restaurant called Zuppa which featured an open kitchen concept using a wood fired oven and grill. Upon returning to Saint Louis, I worked for the Gerard Craft restaurant group, splitting time between Niche and Brasserie. Since then I have worked at
Araka in Clayton and opened Billy G’s in Kirkwood with Chef Michael Burneau before coming to Triumph.
Has cooking always been an interest of yours?
I can remember always enjoying cooking as a child and loved trying new things. I would always want to be in the kitchen with my Mom trying to help and learn (probably because I could out-eat the Rams O-Line when I was a kid). My grandmother used to always say I had a hollow leg because she didn’t know where all the food went! The older I get, the more my passion for food and cooking grows.
Where did your passion for cooking begin?
I would say my passion for cooking really took off in Virginia at Boudreaux’s. I really fell in love with the industry lifestyle and worked with some of my best friends creating specials and enjoying the success of a busy restaurant in a college town.
Who are your biggest influences/idols?
I would say, as a chef, I can really relate to Anthony Bourdain’s attitude towards the restaurant industry and his overall approach to life as a chef. Of course, like most chefs, I am always paying attention to industry leaders like Thomas Keller, Micheal Mina, Grant Achatz, and Ferran Adria as they continue to push the envelope and show the world what can be created when food, art, and passion are combined.
What’s your favorite dish to prepare for BaiKu/Triumph?
At the moment my favorite dishes are the Chicken Saltimbocca and the Shrimp and Grits. Both dishes take me back to my roots at some of my favorite places to work.
Do you see any new dishes on the horizon for these restaurants?
Always, my goal is to keep Triumph and Baiku’s menus as fresh and seasonal as they can possibly be. I have always loved spring and summer as a cook and a chef. Tomato season is my favorite time of year and there will definitely some heirloom tomatoes making an appearance. Wild Boar will also be making an appearance on our summer menu with quite a few other tweaks on Baiku and Triumph’s lunch and dinner menus.