Living in Dallas we run into bigger-than-life Kent Rathbun quite a bit. The chef owns plenty of restaurants in Texas and does so much for our community, especially the big March of Dimes gala, Signature Chefs which took place last week. The 2012 Signature Chefs Auction Dallas raised $610,000 for March of Dimes. Rathbun personally put together a package that excited the jaunty crowd and included a private jet which will whisk away a group for a VIP weekend at the Kentucky Derby. Rathbun raised over $60,000 with this addition.
This was Rathbun’s 15th year to host Signature Chefs, and it was an amazing evening. Event organizers thought it would be fun to fly in Kent’s brother, Kevin Rathbun for a little surprise visit and to help out in the kitchen. Kevin runs his own culinary empire in Atlanta, and also worked with his brother to defeat Bobby Flay on Top Chef America.
I was able to corral Kevin for a spirited conversation. It went something like this:
Hello Kevin, good to see you in Dallas at your big brother’s event.
Hi, yea I am out here at the Omni Hotel raising money for a good cause. I was called and told this was his 15th year to chair the event and they wanted to bring me out to surprise Kent. They wanted us to do a dish together that won us Iron Chef, so we did the Elk meatball with the cabbage carbanara.
The Iron chef episode was legendary. Which one of you hoisted the elk carcass?
That was my brother. He hoisted the carcass, but Bobby Flay dropped the thing.
You and Bobby Flay go back a bit. Didn’t he work with you at least once?
Bobby staged for me when I was the chef at Baby Routh in Dallas, then he went down to work with Stephan [Pyles] for a week at Routh Street as well. I had met him years ago through Stephan when Bobby was at a place called American Grill in New York. He was a good chef and a young guy. Maybe 21 years old.
So you are in Atlanta, and have, what, 45 restaurants like your brother?
Ha. No, I have 3 and I am working on number 4. I am not sure why. But you know, after being on my own for 10 years I am looking at owning my own real estate. I realize there’s got to be an exit strategy somewhere. It’s all about the real estate.
Tell us which restaurants you have now.
Rathbun’s is the original which is an American eclectic style restaurant. The second is Krog Bar which is Spanish tapas and Italian antipasti. Then there is Kevin Rathbun Steak which is a prime steak house, which does really good steaks and farm-to-table sides.
Right now I am looking to do Tex Mex. Like really cheap. I don’t care if the food writers say it’s not real Mexican food. I think people are looking for good food at a value right now.
What does Tex Mex mean in Atlanta?
You know, it’s the 1 through 17 plate. It’s an enchilada and chile Relleno with rice and beans. We will do it well, and do it cheap with fresh ingredients. And of course, pour a great margarita. Right now it is about bringing value to the people. So we have our place where the average check is $100, and this might be $25. Who knows, we might have breakfast for $4.99.
What is your quintessential Tex Mex restaurant?
When I was growing up in Kansas City it was Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen. It was this old and dilapidated building. It was the whole concept. There was plenty of parking, but you didn’t feel entirely safe. But the food was great and you got out of there with your wallet.
The one Tex Mex I remember in Dallas was called Cuquita’s on Henderson [now in Farmers Branch]. This was the place that the chefs and all my people would go to at one in the morning. That’s where we used to go and it was more than Tex Mex. It was teetering on authentic.
But that is what I am looking for. A place where we can pass on the value. You can hang out and drink a margarita and enjoy some chips and salsa.
I hear you actually have more going on than Tex Mex.
I do. It’s called KR Steak Bar and it is slotted to open in January. Most steak houses have these portions that range from 6 ounces to 48 ounces, and sometimes in these big prime steak houses they lead you into 22 ounces, big bone-in and you feel like you don’t have options. The KR Steak Bar will have 3 to 6 ounce portions. We will have to do some interesting cutting on some of these primals to make it all look pretty.
So perhaps a flight of beef?
Sure, why not. If you come in and you want 12 ounces of beef you may get 4 ounces of filet and 4 ounces of rib eye and 4 ounces of strip. That might not be a bad idea. But it is also going to be Italian, so we would have Italian side dishes.
I am married to an Italian woman, and I have had Italian everywhere, so we want to do some really good pasta, antipasti, and our own charcuterie.
Do you think charcuterie is overdone now?
I think it is overdone. Now that it has come full circle I think people will get tired of it after a while. Too much of a good thing.
What is a really good restaurant in Dallas besides your brothers?
You know, I come here four or five times a year to see Kent and the family, but we don’t eat out a lot at other places. I know the last time I was here we went to Shinsei, but that is in the family. Tracy [Rathbun] was telling me today about Tei An [in One Arts Plaza]. That I would love to try. I know when I left Dallas 17 or 18 years ago Teiichi [Sakurai] was just opening his first restaurant. I think it was just across the freeway from where Kent’s restaurant [Abacus]is now located. Over on Henderson, in that area [Tei Tei Robata Bar]. He’s come a long way.
The last time we hung out we were doing shots of Jagermeister, for whatever reason. What shots should we do tonight?
I like bourbon. I like scotch, but I think I will shoot bourbon before I shoot scotch. Old school Jameson. There is nothing wrong with Jameson, it is a good whiskey.
Ok, cigar. What are we smoking?
I am a big Maduro guy. I am a big Ashton VSG guy; I have been smoking a lot of those. I have been smoking these Nestor Miranda’s from Nicaragua, which I forgot at my brother’s house so I will be smokeless tonight unless there is a cigar bar downtown.