Marc Renson didn’t immediately recognize the man he’ll be cooking for over the next month and a half.
The chef-owner of Ambition Cafe on Jay Street noticed the stranger browsing through the restaurant Thursday morning. When he approached the man to see if he could help him with something, the fellow cordially shook his hand.
“He said, ‘Hi, I’m Bradley,’ ” Renson recalled Friday.
Bradley, as in Bradley Cooper, one of the co-stars in Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines.” Last month, Cooper hired Renson to cater breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks for him every day for the next seven weeks.
Several members of the film crew first sauntered into Ambition in June, and apparently Renson’s cooking left a good impression. Cooper’s assistant came back in mid-July and asked him to prepare three meals for the Hollywood star utilizing the Paleolithic diet.
Also know as the paleo or caveman diet, the nutritional plan consists of grass-fed meats, fish, fresh vegetables, roots and nuts, but excludes grains, dairy products, salt, and processed oils. Renson said he’s never cooked exclusively with such constraints, but was able to adapt easily to Cooper’s needs.
“I like to think of it as something new,” said the chef, who attended culinary school at Schenectady County Community College and has operated Ambition for the past decade.
Cooper, star of such films as “The A-Team, “Limitless” and two “The Hangover” movies, seems to have a knack for laying low in the city. He popped into the Schenectady Police Department’s swearing-in ceremony at City Hall and even did a ride-along with officers last month without noticeable fanfare.
But those days appear to be over. Pictures of Cooper dressed in a windbreaker and Schenectady Police sweatpants popped up on the internet after he was spotted near a film shoot at Ellis Hospital on Thursday.
Then on Friday, Cooper drew a crowd when he was spotted entering a trailer outside City Hall, where an all-day shoot was scheduled. City police pushed back a gaggle of eager fans and several paparazzi behind caution tape near the building’s entrance on Franklin Street, where a number of movie trailers were parked.
When Cooper emerged from one, several fans shouted his name. He turned briefly and waved to them, drawing a round of cheers before disappearing into the building.
Cooper was also joined by Rose Byrne, the actress playing his wife in the movie. Byrne, who was featured in the recent films “Bridesmaids” and “X-Men: First Class,” was announced as a replacement for Greta Gerwig after the actress ran into a scheduling conflict.
In the film, Cooper portrays Avery Cross, a Schenectady cop who rises through the ranks and is eventually elected as county district attorney. Cooper’s character doggedly tracks Luke Glanton, a stunt motorcycle rider-turned outlaw played by Ryan Gosling.
Amazingly, City Hall remained open during its regular business hours, even as the building bustled with the film crew. An area underneath the rotunda was set up as though a news conference was about to occur — apparently in preparation for an evening shoot featuring Cooper.
Some workers said the day was a lot slower than usual and surmised that many people simply figured the building was closed. Others said they saw no appreciable change at all.
The only office noticeably impacted by the film belonged to acting Mayor Gary McCarthy. The room was transformed into the Schenectady County District Attorney’s office, after film crews decided the real one would be logistically difficult for the movie shoot. Crews relocated everything McCarthy needed for the day’s business into a room across the hall.
But the mayor said the temporary digs didn’t bother him in the least. “We’ve been able to do it seamlessly,” he said.
If anything, the filming caused a degree of excitement among city workers. Dick Purga, the city’s acting director of development, was surprised to walk out of his office and find himself face to face with Cooper.
“There’s a very energized atmosphere here today,” he said afterward. “Everybody here is very excited.”