After spending countless hours in each of his four Atlanta restaurants (Rathbun’s, Krog Bar, Kevin Rathbun Steak, and KR SteakBar), chef Kevin Rathbun takes time to slow down and cherish special moments at home with friends and family. “My wife, Melissa, and I work together in our restaurants and they take a considerable amount of energy. I don’t want my headstone to say, ‘He Had the Most Restaurants,’” Rathbun chuckles wryly. “Life passes you by if you’re not paying attention. I want to enjoy what I have.”
So during their time off and away from their commercial kitchens, the couple chooses to keep things simple and focus on a relaxed version of cooking at home. “No doubt about it, our kitchen is the heart of our home,” he says. “The room is a cool blend of modern design, which I love, and a New Orleans vibe, which is her thing. My wife’s a great cook—she’s Sicilian, so she loves Italian and Creole food. I used to cook for her all the time, so now she cooks for me,” Rathbun explains. “When I cook, I make a mess. She tells me, ‘We don’t have all those dishwashers like you do at work!’ Since she’s so neat, she does most of the cooking. But when we have friends over, sometimes I’ll fancy it up and grill or fry something on my barbecue.” He says that, unlike his adventurous cooking style, his wife is the traditionalist in the family—preferring simplicity, “like spaghetti and meatballs, really simple, but really delicious.”
The James Beard-nominated chef savors playing host to fellow food lovers. “We have pretty good-sized gatherings at our house. I built the kitchen to do large-format stuff. We have up to 40 people sometimes, like when I did a party for the charity, Open Hand Atlanta, recently. We always have jazz musicians over. My mom was a maître d’ at a high-end restaurant and she would bring over all her server friends for dinner. Dad would have a jazz session all day with dozens of people and cook barbecue.” He and Melissa continue that tradition in their own kitchen—combining good friends, family, music, and, of course, great food.
But, he says, “Sundays are so sacred. We’ll cook an egg and grits for breakfast and it’s simple. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Tarragon Roasted Chicken with Buttered Leek-Parmesan Orzo
Chef Kevin Rathbun shares his version of home cooking with this simple, yet sumptuous, chicken recipe. “This is a dish I like to cook just for my wife, Melissa,” he says. “Roasted chicken is something everyone can do, but this recipe kicks up the flavors.”
Ingredients for Chicken
1 whole chicken (3.5 pounds)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons table grind black pepper
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
10 garlic cloves
2 whole lemons (with peels), roughly chopped
¼ cup tarragon, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Directions for Chicken
• Wash whole chicken thoroughly, drain off all excess water.
• In the cavity, add salt and pepper and roll around to coat cavity of chicken.
• In a mixing bowl, add onion, garlic, lemons and tarragon. Mix well while squeezing juice from lemons. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with mixture.
• Place chicken on a roasting rack on a half-sheet pan, rub with olive oil and season the outside with salt and pepper.
• Preheat convection oven to 425 F. Place chicken in oven for 25 minutes.
• Turn the temperature down to 350 F at this time and continue roasting for 35 minutes.
• Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes before serving.
Ingredients for Orzo
1 pound orzo pasta
¼ pound salted butter
2 cups leeks, small diced and rinsed
5 cups chicken broth
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup parsley, chopped
¾ cup Parmesan, grated
Directions for Orzo
• In a thick bottom pot, add butter and sweat (gently heat) leeks until tender for approximately 5 to 7 minutes, trying not to brown.
• Remove leeks from pot and reserve. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil back to the pot and add half of the orzo. Toast orzo until golden brown for approximately 5 minutes.
• After toasting, add remaining orzo, buttered leeks, salt and pepper.
• Add chicken broth. Simmer the pasta. Stir to avoid sticking until most of the visual liquid has evaporated.
• Cover with a lid. Turn off fire and let stand for 20 minutes.
• When serving, fluff the orzo and add parsley and Parmesan cheese.
KEVIN’S KITCHEN 101
A Sturdy Pot with a Lid
“When it comes to a lot of those kitchen gadgets—do you really need them? You need a pot with a lid. I’m a clean-lined guy. I don’t like a lot of stuff lying around.”
“I love these. Don’t spend too much money—just pick up a cheap one. Whether it’s for cucumbers, onions or carrots, you can use it to make a perfect julienne of vegetables, thick or thin.”
“I used to buy expensive knives, but people would ruin them, using them to open cans!” The “Iron Chef America” and “Chopped” winner says he buys inexpensive Update® knives, and when they become dull, he takes them to The Cook’s Warehouse to be sharpened.
Chalk It Off
“If you’re remodeling your kitchen, go out on your driveway and chalk an exact outline of it, like in the movie ‘The Founder.’ Move around like you’re going to cook and clean. It will teach you what’s functional in that space