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Cooking with Rathbun’s

Kevin Rathbun, credit: Jenny Turknett

Kevin Rathbun, credit: Jenny Turknett

It’s 11:50 p.m. and I’m fading fast. As an early-riser, it’s quite late for me on a Thursday night. I must stay awake. The Rathbun’s cooking class list is released at midnight each October 1st and I don’t want to miss out this time. Competition is fierce for the few spots available in the six classes offered each year.

It sounds extreme for a cooking class, right? Yes, for a cooking class, but not for the cooking experience at Rathbun’s Restaurant. Their approach is genius. I recently attended my third class in three years and the theme was “Rathbun’s Classics.”

In this series entitled “Think Like A Chef,” class-goers put together a menu based on the freshest ingredients available for the theme of the class (Japanese, Southwestern, Farm-to-Table, etc.)

Genius part 1: Cooking enthusiasts cook in lockstep with the Rathbun’s staff in the Rathbun’s kitchen. This is the closest most “civilians” will come to experiencing work in a professional kitchen.

We draw numbers to indicate which course we will work on. Each group is responsible for one course and one appetizer. Teams are each led by a member of the Rathbun’s team, staff members who are eager to talk preparation methods and ingredient sourcing — surprisingly good teachers. After introductions and a pep talk, Kevin Rathbun always jokes, “The sooner the knife work is done, the sooner cocktail hour can begin.”

As we tour the kitchen, we are acutely aware of how small it is with the extra 16 (or more) of us jockeying for space. Pastry

Ahi tuna crudo, credit: Jenny Turknett

Ahi tuna crudo, credit: Jenny Turknett

chef and co-owner Kirk Parks laughs, “My mother asks if you’re in a one-butt kitchen or a two-butt kitchen. This is a half-a-butt kitchen.”

Kevin Rathbun checks on each group during the three-hour cooking block, instructing as he makes the rounds, “Have you tasted it? No? Then that’s a problem.” Once the knife-work is, in fact, finished, he sends in servers with trays of cocktails as the appetizers receive finishing touches.

Each group is responsible for passing their appetizers to the waiting crowd of guests. At the “Classics” class, we pass Thai rare beef, smoked salmon tostadas, Ahi tuna crudo, and Yaya’s eggplant fries.

Genius part 2: All class participants and the cooking staff invite one guest to join them for the meal.

credit: Jenny Turknett

credit: Jenny Turknett

Long tables are dressed for a family meal. During the four-course dinner, complete with wine pairings, groups leave the table as needed to plate and present their courses. We have the lobster taco, lamb scallopini, roast beef tenderloin, seared sea scallops, jalapeno creamed corn and more. We finish with Kirk Parks’s famous banana-peanut-butter cream pie.

There are no recipe cards. You leave with the memory of an experience. The experience of working in a professional kitchen alongside those who do it every day. The experience of dining with the staff. The experience of belonging to the small society of cooking class participants.

The genius is that we leave the class feeling that we got the better end of the $350 transaction. The genius is that Rathbun’s is building their brand. But more importantly, they are building loyalty.

*Note: While you may leave without recipes in hand, Rathbun’s has many recipes on their website.

Jenny-Turknett-Tagline–by Jenny Turknett, Food & More blog

– Jenny Turknett writes about Southern and Neighborhood Fare for the AJC Dining Team. She also publishes her own blog, Going Low Carb.

18 comments Add your comment

mrmambo

March 22nd, 2011
8:01 am

Wow—only $350 for a $60-100 meal for 2 that you get to prepare? What a deal!

I realize it’s probably cool to cook in a professional kitchen if you never have (I’ve worked in a couple of restaurants) with a very talented crew, but…damn…they should be paying you! As you pointed out, you’re now a brand ambassador, touting their restaurant to friends and in the paper.

Even at the extremes of low-profit (Cook’s recently did a radio show that said you might make 2.6% profit after ALL costs, including capital, in a good restaurant), they’ve paid for you and your guest at a $100 or so. So, they then get $100-150 of pure profit per student, so $1600-2400 profit for that dinner that you just cooked for yourself and their staff.

And you paid for it all. Nice gig if you can get it, Kevin! :-)

Lisa

March 22nd, 2011
9:04 am

Beware of Kevin Rathbun’s schedule when you book a class:

I bought a Rathbuns cooking class for a Christmas gift for my husband in 2009. The class was going to be taught in November of 2010 so my husband had to wait a while before he could get his gift, but he was very excited about the class and thought it was definitely worth the wait. One month before the class was taught I received a call from Rathbuns stating that the class was being rescheduled to the Sunday after T’giving due to a scheduling conflict. We moved our schedule to accommodate and then received a call 1 week prior to the class stating that it had been rescheduled again. We were going out of town and would not be able to make the class. The GM was not willing to put my husband in the same class for next year because it was so “popular and had already been fully booked.” He offered to put him on a wait list (how generous) for a class next year, or we could just use the amount that was spent on the class towards a meal or two at Rathbuns. I opted for the refund. I was so disappointed in how it was handled especially since this date was on the calendar for over a year. Sad because we LOVED Rathbuns, but felt so burned by this that we are not planning on going back.

Gordon

March 22nd, 2011
9:36 am

The Lisa above is my wife. I think she was more dissapointed than I at the eventual cancellation and refund of this cooking class because this was a gift she put a lot of thought and effort into making it happen. I was a big fan of Kevin and his cooking style and loved eating there and experincing great food, so when this opportunity came along, I thought my wife’s gift was amazing.

I waited in anticipation for 11 months to take my class in November and then have it was switched 3 times on short notice right before the class, once because Kevin was invited to an event to cook with Emeril Lagasse, or at least that was what we were told. I do realize we are not as important as Emeril Lagasse, however for all the participants in this November 2010 class, this event had been on their schedules for the past year.

Rathbuns did refund our payment, and we have not eaten there since because of the lack of professionalism, and unwillingness to make sure our experience with the restaurant was a positive one.

Recently I celebrated a birthday, and Lisa again purchased a cooking class for me,albeit with trepidation. This time it was with the Viking Cooking Classes in Buckhead. First they did not reschedule on us and it was far less expensive for both of us. Additionally, we were both able to participate, prepare,and cook all the courses unlike what Jenny reports in the Rathbun class where you draw to see which course you will be working on. We had a truly delightful and memorable experience, and will be back.

PJ

March 22nd, 2011
9:39 am

@mrmambo – I would love to hear where you are finding a full tasting menu, with cocktail & wine pairings, for $60-$100 per person, at a fine dining restaurant. My experience is that those are usually $125-150, not to mention gratuities. And yes, you don’t spend the day in the kitchen preparing the food for those, but for this – including professional staff to wait on you & do the all important clean up, it seems the pricing is right on for what you get.

I have taken the Greek & Southern Holiday classes at Rathbun’s and loved both. As a true amateur, I learned many awesome kitchen skills, especially knife skills from Chef George and biscuit-making skills from Chef Kirk, that I have applied at home to become a better cook. Especially useful for the holidays – learning I could roast the pie pumpkins whole instead of the difficult task of cutting them up before cooking. A big deal to me since I make pumpkin everything in November & December.

Getting to work directly with professional chefs in a true hands-on situation is the best way to learn. So many top-notch chefs only do cooking demos, which are great, but actually doing the cooking makes me confident I can do it in my own kitchen.

I, too, stayed up late the night before registration, awaiting the class list, texting my cooking buddy and making the call hoping I was among the first so I could get my first choice for 2011 (that filled up too quickly in prior years) – the Southwestern Class, I rejoiced the next morning when I got the call that I & my friend both got in.

I look forward to my Southwestern cooking adventure in November – know it will be worth the wait.

James

March 22nd, 2011
9:47 am

What a great concept.

mrmambo – so by your logic, students should get paid to attend culinary school? obviously there’s value to the customer here beyond the cost of the meal, else people wouldn’t need to stay up till midnight to try to get a spot! Kevin is not only a great chef, but a smart businessman.

JoeV

March 22nd, 2011
10:00 am

@Gordon

Had a very wonderful experience with the Viking School as well; a cake deco class for my wife. They were first class all the way. I am getting her another class this month. I don’t blame you for feeling burned by Rathbun’s.

Love to cook

March 22nd, 2011
10:09 am

I took one of his classes last fall and felt it was well worth the price. Yes it does cost $350. A 5 course meal with wine pairings for 2 could easily run $200, so $150 for the privilege of working in Kevin’s kitchen with his staff was totally worth it to me. It gave me a new appreciation for what they do on a daily basis, and the food we prepared was outstanding.

My class too was rescheduled from the original date and I was fortunate to still be able to make it. I understand the disappointment of someone who had waited so long and then could not attend when things got rescheduled.

I have taken classes at Viking, and at Cook’s Warehouse and while I’ve enjoyed all of them and will continue to take them they do not compare to the experience at Rathbun’s as they are completely different concepts and experiences.

Typical Redneck

March 22nd, 2011
10:19 am

Gordon, thanks. I will be looking ino that for my wife.

Jenny Turknett

March 22nd, 2011
10:25 am

Thanks Lisa and Gordon — always interesting to have a husband/wife perspective. This was my third class and none of mine were rescheduled nor were there any issues working with the restaurant. I’m glad you had a good experience at Viking. I haven’t been to their classes. Who else has great classes?

I can also see your point about not working on every course. But, I suppose by working as a team to produce a meal, you more closely simulate a true restaurant-kitchen experience. So, it probably depends on your priorities and what you hope to get from the class. That’s a good point to keep in mind when selecting where to take classes.

Love to cook – thanks for chiming in. I definitely want to hear from those that have actually taken the classes to see your thoughts. I spoke with a number of participants in the classes I took and everyone I spoke with had a very positive experience and planned to take another.

I also agree, Love to cook, that these are more than a class – they are an experience. And, with wine pairings, cocktails, service staff and guests in attendance I doubt the margin is as high as speculated.

One other note, my husband loves these classes, too. He likes to experience it without having to do the cooking portion of the class. I also think he likes that my Christmas present is always taken care of! ;)

Great discussion – thanks, everyone!

Native Atlantan

March 22nd, 2011
10:34 am

Here’s a recommendation for Rathbun — back off the dang salt….no better way to ruin a potentially perfectly good steak than with too much SALT. Unfortunately I’ve been very disappointed with Rathbun Steak after the first visit. Couldn’t even eat the steaks they were so over-salted. Floor manager didn’t seem to care…….

Tim

March 22nd, 2011
12:27 pm

I attended one of Rathbun’s classes last year and had a great time. I met some great people, cooked and ate some great food learned skills that I still use in the kitchen today… and also got to know Kevin and many of his staff. I would recommend this experience to anyone. The only draw-back is how hard the classes are to get into, however, if you get on the wait list and can be flexible you should be able to sneak in even if you miss the midnight sign-up.

Lisa

March 22nd, 2011
1:14 pm

I bought this for my husband and not only did he have a great time, but I did too!! Each student brings a guest and they get to attend a Happy Hour of sorts with all kinds of food and a special cocktail. And you can have as much as you want the full hour. Then you get the dinner and the wine flows the whole time. We both met some great people and had a blast. There is no way you could get this type of experince, food & drinks for $100.00 IMO. Sorry to hear that a few folks did not get to attend the class they had wanted to. The fact that they sell out so far in advance would be the only negative thing I could say.

PJ

March 22nd, 2011
1:23 pm

I’ve done a hands-on class at Salud! at Harry’s in Alpharetta that was very good. Unfortunately, I had a less than great experience at Viking. Haven’t done hands-on at Publix Aprons, but went to a fabulous chef demo there and would love to try that again. Until this month, I had never gotten in on time to register for a Simple Abundance class at Cook’s Warehouse – luck was finally on my side and I can’t wait until May.

So far, my experiences at Rathbuns taught me more than I had learned in any prior classes. At the first class I attended there, Kevin explained why the limited number of classes/spaces – Sundays are usually his off days and spent with his family, so working those days is like any one of us putting in extra time. Sure, you earn the extra money, but family time is priceless. The limited number of slots per class is explained by the size of the kitchen – very, very small. It is hard to imagine how they work in there all the time in that tiny space and still put out consistently great food. Still my favorite cooking classes and one of my favorite restaurants.

another fan

March 22nd, 2011
3:17 pm

I’ve been to one of these classes as a guest of one of the participants and they are fantastic. And a good value. As others have said, to get the equivalent in food and drink at a restaurant of this caliber would easily run in the mid-200s, if not more, for two people. Throw in all the extras and it’s a no brainer why these courses are in high demand. I know I can’t wait to attend another one.

[...] Visit link: Cooking with Rathbun’s – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

ATL-Paul

March 23rd, 2011
1:16 pm

Have taken many cooking classes – while on vacations. My wife will book a spa day or something for herself and a cooking class for me. Last one was in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We had a group of 10 and the chef leading the class quickly evaluated knife skills to assign work stations. At 1pm when it was supposed to end, we were just sitting to eat what we prepared – I had to run out to the street (in my chef’s coat) to meet my wife and let here know we would be another hour – different classes in different parts of the world gives a unique insight to the local and locally sourced food – a great way to spend a day for me.

Jsa7405

March 23rd, 2011
6:36 pm

I was given the gift of a class a few years ago for Christmas. Overall, it was a very fun experience. The concept was great, however, I would caution that anyone with restaurant experience might find the class somewhat basic and less worth the money. Someone with a love of cooking at home that is interested in experiencing a restaurant kitchen would really enjoy this class.

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March 26th, 2011
3:08 am

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