When Tim Byres visited Washington D.C. last summer in support of Share Our Strength, a non-profit seeking to end hunger and improve nutrition for American children, he bumped into R.J. Cooper, who was then the chef at Vidalia, a high-end concept devoted to Southern cooking. The two hit it off and have have since met multiple times both in D.C. and Dallas.
Byres was smitten with Cooper's cooking style, which was wildly different than his own back-to-basics efforts involving wood-fired stoves, smokers and scratch recipes. Cooper had gone the way of immersion circulators and liquid nitrogen, embracing molecular gastronomy and opening Rouge 24, a concept restaurant featuring expansive menus of 24 small courses, each paired with booze.
While Byres has enjoyed consistent success at Smoke, Cooper has had a rough time with his new concept. Rouge 24 opened this summer to muted praise. Over the next few months the pastry chef, and the sommelier/general manager jumped ship. And then Cooper was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart condition that required surgery and significant time away from his kitchen.
So when Cooper picked up the phone to call Byres in Dallas recently, it wasn't to ask about the best way to coax smoky flavor from a tough cut of brisket. It was to ask for his help in keeping Rogue 24 afloat. Byres was one of nine chefs Cooper selected, including big names like José Andrés and David Posey, to keep his restaurant running as he underwent and recovered from heart surgery. He needed Byres to take over the restaurant for five days.
Byres agreed and will take over Rouge 24 January 17 through 21, handling 12 of the 24 courses and leveraging the cured meats and smoked sausages he'll take with him. The staff at Rouge 24 will manage the remainder, based on menus Byres is designing and sending off to Washington.
Seats will be sold one week in advance for $185 per person, and Cooper will donate $10 per seat sold to Share Our Strength.