Auburn University’s new Rane Center is cooking up an exclusive, food-focused getaway called the Epicurean Experience, bringing in guest chefs and sommeliers, and capping the weekend with a special nine-course dinner at the center’s 1856 Restaurant.
Set for January 20-22, the monthly event shines another spotlight on the Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, which opened to much fanfare in 2022. Located on the Auburn campus, it is both a teaching center and an ongoing operation that includes The Laurel Hotel and Spa, restaurants, a food court and other food and beverage businesses.
Organizers bill the Epicurean Experience as a luxurious immersion into food, wine, and mixology. This is the second event in the series.
Tickets ($575 per person, which includes tax and gratuity) cover all meals, pairings, cooking demonstrations, and tastings. A two-day hotel stay at the Laurel is required but not included in the event ticket. Register for the Epicurean Experience when booking the room; the ticket charge will be added to the bill.
January’s guest chefs, Ford Fry and Bob Ryan, will lead cooking demonstrations on Saturday morning, created the tasting menu for that night’s dinner, and will oversee its preparation.
Fry was trained in fine-dining restaurants and is a former corporate chef. Today he heads Rocket Farm Restaurants, which includes Jct. Kitchen and more than a half-dozen other restaurants in the Atlanta area, along with concepts in Nashville, Charlotte, and Houston.
Ryan’s career has rocketed from his early days in fast food to key roles in kitchens led by two of the nation’s premier chefs, Linton Hopkins (Holeman and Finch Public House, Restaurant Eugene) and Thomas Keller (Per Se, French Laundry).
He also was sous chef at Atera, a two Michelin-star restaurant in New York City, and later led its research and development program. Ryan joined Atlanta-based Rocket Farms Restaurants in 2022.
Thomas Price, the Rane Center’s master sommelier, leads a flight of guest wine experts for the weekend. Price and Nick Hetzel, also a certified master sommelier, join the chefs for a Friday-evening reception that starts the weekend.
Hetzel; Jeff Stewart, general manager and winemaker at Hartford Family Winery in California; and Michelle Schmitt, region manager of Jackson Family Wines in California, will participate in Saturday’s cooking demo.
At the tasting-menu dinner Saturday night, all four wine experts will coordinate and discuss the wines accompanying the nine courses. Sunday brunch wraps up the event.
Open since August, the 140,000 square foot Rane Center is a massive expansion of Auburn’s hospitality management program. Undergraduates and graduate students staff the hotel and restaurants.
Educational labs provide training in a wide variety of culinary specialties, including pastry-making, catering, winemaking, running wine programs, distilling, brewing, and even food styling and photographing. Students also tend a large garden growing organic produce for the restaurant.
Both classroom and hands-on training are headed by Price and the center’s resident chef, Tyler Lyne. All students minor in business administration to ensure graduates have all the skills they will need to be successful entrepreneurs.
Future Epicurean Experiences are currently set for February 10-12, March 10-12, and April 21-23.