Monday, January 7, 2013

Why Kent Rathbun Rules the Restaurant World

While I have no formal culinary training when it comes to writing about food - I do know what I like. For me, a great dining experience is more than just what's on your plate.  It starts when you walk in the door: Were you greeted warmly? How quickly were you seated? Did your waiter have a great attitude? Were they helpful with suggestions and explanations about what was on the menu? Did you love your meal? Were the bathrooms clean? And most importantly - did you leave the establishment thinking that your evening was worth every cent you just paid?

Kent Rathbun is such a restaurantrepreneur (Restaurant + Entrepreneur. I just made that word up) who knows how to make his guests feel special.  I recently attended a media dinner at Abacus and had the privilege of sitting at Rathbun's table. He wanted to show off some of the new additions to his Fall/Winter menu and introduce Daniel Burr as his new Chef du Cuisine.  He also regaled us with tales of swimming with sharks and other adventures from his recent safari.

GayList Daily wrote after our experience, "...there are a select few restaurants that we have in our Little Black Book of Destination Dining. And Abacus is always there. For more than a decade, Chef Kent Rathbun has been sending out plate after plate of innovative cuisine, consistently delivering flavor and perfection in every bite." I couldn't agree more.

Rathbun has come up through the ranks in some of America's best kitchens: Mr. B’s in New Orleans, American Restaurant and Milano in Kansas City, The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas and the Landmark Restaurant in the Dallas Melrose Hotel.  In 1997, he struck out on his own and opened Abacus. Other concepts have followed, including Jasper's, Rathbun's Blue Plate Kitchen and KB Woodfire Grill.  Rathbun's chest puffs out a bit when talking about Abacus. It will always be his first love and he is immensely proud that the concept is still going strong after 15 years.

(top) Pressed Sushi: Snow Crab and Avocado, Russian Roll with Crab, Salmon, Avocado and Hamachi  |  Eggs Bene-Duck, house made Duck Ham, Quail Egg, Buttermilk Buscuit, Citrus Hollandaise and Maple Syrup  (bottom) Warm Sonoma Mushroom Salad, Grilled Raddichio, Watercress, Quail Eggs, and Balsamic Vinaigrette | Seared Georges Bank Scallops, Pumpkin Seed Oil, Roasted Acorn Squash Polenta, Red Grape Mostarda

He has cooked at the James Beard House in New York on several occasions and was nominated as the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southwest in 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2004. He has repeatedly appeared on a number of TV shows, including the Food Network’s "Chef du Jour", the CBS Early Show, the Rosie O’Donnell Show and NBC’s Today Show. In 2008, Rathbun competed on Food Network’s hit series “Iron Chef America” and defeated grill master Bobby Flay in a frenetic culinary battle. Rathbun was honored to be one of the featured chefs for the Bush 2001 Inaugural Ball and has participated in the Pre-SuperBowl Event, “Taste of the NFL” for the past seven years.

While Abacus and Rathbun's other concepts are all worthy of praise, it's really Rathbun I am most impressed with.  You can be the best chef in the world and if you don't have any business sense or aren't smart enough to hire the right people, your restaurant will go down in flames fast.  Rathbun has a great combination of creative culinary genius and savvy business acumen.  Passionate about charitable organizations, Rathbun is actively involved in the American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Zoo to Do, the North Texas Food Bank and the American Heart Association.

Rathbun is a fantastic ambassador for the city of Dallas and other restauranteurs should be taking notes. Like I said, it's a whole lot more than just what's on your plate...

To learn more about the Rathbun empire, visit