Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, R.J. Cooper fancied himself a rock star chef, playing in the kitchen with his mother and Sicilian grandmother. His first gig in a professional kitchen came in high school when Cooper took an apprenticeship at a local bakery. A graduate of The Culinary School at Kendall College, Illinois, Cooper has worked with Daniel Schaffhauser at The Ritz Carlton, Atlanta; Guenter Seeger at The Buckhead Ritz Carlton; Gilbert Le Coze at Brasserie Le Coze; and with Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin.
He continued his culinary odyssey at Crow’s Nest Restaurant in The Captain Cook Hotel, in Alaska where, determined to bring the restaurant back to its four star-four diamond quality, Cooper revamped the menu, boosting staff morale and impressing the locals. He went on to work across the country in the nations capital at New Heights and Toka Café before joining Vidalia in 2004 as chef de cuisine. After leaving Vidalia and his critically-acclaimed 24-course tasting menus, Cooper set to work on his own DC creation, Rogue 24, an urban fine dining restaurant where a succession of small plates stimulate the diner, excite the palate, and challenge the culinary status quo. In 2006, he was named a StarChefs.com Rising Star Chef and a year later he won the James Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic honor.