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
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.
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.
–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.