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R.J. Cooper loves his orange Harley-Davidson. The Vidalia executive chef also loves giving back.
In 2003, Cooper cofounded Chefs on Bikes: For one day every June, motorcycle-riding chefs drive deep into Virginia, stopping at restaurants along the way. They raise money for Share Our Strength, a nonprofit dedicated to feeding hungry children; Cooper serves as national chair of the chefs council.
In its first year, a caravan of 24 bikers raised $15,000. This year, more than 70 bikers raised $40,000.
Why did you start Chefs on Bikes?
I have a group of chefs I’ve been riding with for years: Robert Wiedmaier, David Guas, Jean-Philippe Krukowicz, Cliff Wharton, and Jeff Tunks. I said, “Why don’t we do something for charity?” All the chefs in town, we enjoy doing these events and supporting the community. We have something to offer with our cooking talents.
You say you receive about ten charity requests a week at the restaurant but have time to participate in only about 30 events a year. How do you decide?
It’s hard to say no when it’s a charity. We try to do most of the local ones and always do the Share Our Strength and Taste of the Nation events. My favorite charities benefit children. Being the father of two-year-old twins, I would be heartbroken if they couldn’t eat every day.
What is your favorite part about taking part in charity events?
At all of the events, the camaraderie with the chefs is really good. I think that’s important—everyone puts away the egos and comes together as one for a cause.
Why do you participate in charity?
I was once sitting at a train station in New York, and I saw a mother and her two children sleeping on the ground. It’s humbling to be successful and be able to help people. It doesn’t matter how much money you make; it’s how you use that money.
>>Want more ways to do good? Check out our full charity package.