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Cooper in the alley that will be the location of his first restaurant

When R.J.Cooper split from Vidalia earlier this year, the chef had his sights set on opening a place called Pigtails, a sly reference to his twin daughters and his love of all things pork. But an investor changed his  mind.

“I had an investor that called me and said, ‘I would love for you to do ’24’ first,” Cooper told me this morning over the phone. “24,” of course, is a reference to the Beard Award-winning chef’s former tasting menu at Vidalia, which was a tour-de-force of technique, cooking philosophy, and sheer kitchen creativity.

Cooper couldn’t say no to found money, so he’s just signed a lease to open his first restaurant, Rogue 24, a planned 52-seat operation dedicated exclusively to his 24 course tasting menu.  The chef is aiming for a winter 2011 opening date for the Mount Vernon Square establishment, which will instantly become one of a select handful of D.C. restaurants to focus only on tasting menus, along with José Andrésminibar and Johnny MonisKomi.

But the concept is not the only unique aspect here. So is the space and the attitude behind Rogue 24.

Rogue 24 will be located in an alley — Blagden Alley to be specific — in a 2,600-square-foot space that used to be an auto body shop connected to a car dealership. Cooper wanted a space that was urban and arty and gritty and not too formal.

“You can come in wearing a tuxedo or you can come in wearing a pair of khaki shorts,” Cooper says. Regardless of which option, “you can enjoy it the same way.”

The open kitchen at Rogue 24 will be located in the center of the room, surrounded by tables and chairs. There will be no formal bar. The cocktails, like the food, will be prepared in the diners’ presence, sometimes right at the table. “We want everybody to…see and feel the experience,” Cooper says.

It’s one of his pet peeves about fine-dining: The diners never get to interact with the people who make the food and drinks. Rogue 24 will be a much more interactive experience, Cooper promises. It will even be a place for non-drinkers. One of the tasting menu options, the chef says, will include non-alcoholic drink pairings.

Rogue 24 is “not conventional, which is what I wanted to do first,” says Cooper. He’s not given up on Pigtails, either. He plans to open the casual restaurant in a nearby space, transforming this arty alley into what could become one of D.C.’s top food destinations.

Full draft press release is below:

Chef RJ Cooper will open his first independent project, Rogue 24, in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood of Washington, DC. Projecting a winter, 2011 opening, Rogue 24 will be located in Blagden Alley at 1234 9th St., NW.

Executive chef/ owner RJ Cooper, a seasoned veteran chef and James Beard Award winner, is thrilled to bring this landmark restaurant to the developing neighborhood of Mount Vernon Square in Northwest Washington, DC. The 2,600 square- foot restaurant will be tucked away in one of the vacant buildings in Blagden Alley, currently a trendy alley that houses experimental art exhibits.

Blagden Alley, located directly west of the Washington, DC Convention Center, is in engaging new epicenter of revitalization. The project leadership of Norman Jamal of Douglas Development has lead a wave of recent development, from multi-million dollar condominiums to established art galleries, as well as a burgeoning social scene of coffee houses, bars and restaurants. This recent rehabilitation makes the neighborhood an excellent locale for the first fine dining restaurant in Blagden Alley.

“The space is a perfect fit for the intimate, yet edgy experience of Rogue 24,” says Cooper of the Blagden Alley location. “I look forward to joining the current and future independent retailers, artists and residents alike in developing this section of Mount Vernon Square as a distinct destination neighborhood.”

Celebrating Cooper’s stylized urban fine-dining cuisine, Rogue 24 will exclusively offer an interactive 24-course tasting menu. Guests will be served a progression of small dishes that excite the senses, tantalize the palate, and awaken curiosity. The multi-course meal will offer a place at the table where guests can dig deep into a culinary team’s philosophy: exploring their suppliers, cooking techniques and sources of inspiration.

Rogue 24 will provide an effortless space for the diner to enjoy the imagination of Cooper’s menu. The avant-garde beverage program will house a beverage director that will serve as both sommelier and mixologist and will prepare all beverages at a tableside cart, providing innovative pairings that will stimulate the entire experience. 8 beverage (a combination of wine, cocktails and beer) pairings will be offered throughout the 24- course meal.

“It is my vision that Rogue 24 will provide an emotional experience. That is what creates memorable meals—more than the food, the wine, and the service, the overall culture of the restaurant must evoke emotions in its guests.”

Working alongside Cooper, Harper McClure will serve as chef de cuisine. McClure hails from Atlanta’s renowned Bacchanalia restaurant and previously worked with Cooper at Vidalia as his sous chef for nearly five years. The two chefs look forward to reuniting for this groundbreaking new project.

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Situated in the center of the 52-seat dining room, the state-of-the-art kitchen will showcase Cooper’s creativity and desire to interact with guests. This architectural design will allow every guest to have an individual chef’s table experience. Cooper has enlisted architects Brian Miller of edit and Lauren Winter of Winter Architecture, the famed duo behind Washington, DC’s most creative and functional spaces including The Gibson, U Street Music Hall and Dickson Wine Bar, to execute this vision.

Rogue 24 will be open for one dinner seating Tuesday-Thursday two dinner seatings Friday and Saturday evenings. The fixed menu price is $130, $140 for non-alcoholic beverage pairings and $170 for alcoholic beverage pairings.

About Chef RJ Cooper and The Kid Can Cook, LLC

Chef RJ Cooper’s Rogue 24 will be the first of several restaurants as part of his and wife Judy Cooper’s umbrella restaurant group, The Kid Can Cook, LLC. Rogue 24 will be followed by a variety of projects, including a more casual concept, Pigtails, to open in Washington, DC. Cooper is a seasoned veteran chef who has worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in the nation, and has served as an integral part of the development in Washington, DC’s fine-dining culture. Notable accolades include the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic in 2007, as well as recognition from starchefs.com, as the 2006 Rising Star Chef. Cooper also works with the national non-profit organization Share Our Strength®, as a longtime advocate in the fight against childhood hunger. Cooper is the Chair of Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation’s® National Culinary Council, is the founder of Share Our Strength’s Chefs on Bikes program and in 2008 was recognized with Share Our Strength’s Leadership Award for Chef of the Year. Chef Cooper also serves on the Advisory Board of the startup, DC-based non-profit organization Chefs as Parents that is working to transform DC-public school nutrition programs.