Inside Chef Dan and Robin Atkin's Home Kitchen
As diners fell in love with Wolfgang Puck's California Cuisine at Granita in Malibu, chefs Dan and Robin Atkin of Oak Park were falling in love with each other.
"Robin moved back to California after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York," says Dan, who was a sous chef under Puck's direction at the time. "Eventually, I left Granita and Robin moved up the ranks and became chef de cuisine until the restaurant closed."
The couple married in 2003 and planned their first pregnancy around Granita's closing two years later. Sharing the same career helped the Atkins understand each other as chefs and as a couple.
"We were both used to schedules that included working from 1 o'clock in the afternoon until midnight," says Robin. "We'd come home and take late-night walks together and just burn off the adrenaline, stress and steam of the day."
Now with two sons–Tyler, 9, and Bodie, who's turning 6 this spring–and a remarkably friendly parrot who follows the kids around like a dog, the Atkins live in a comfortable neighborhood across from a park. The almost bucolic setting belies what they have created, however. Dan is the executive chef for all the Amgen facilities in the country, and Robin has a home private chef business and catering company–all the while raising two boys. Time and everything else moves quickly around the Atkin household.
But if you're expecting these chefs to create unique and fresh meals every day and night for their kids and each other, you're mistaken–at least partially.
"You would think that the kids are these fabulous eaters of great cuisine," says Robin. "It's the opposite. They're more tentative than even the clients' kids for whom I cook. They like the foods kids like and that's not always the freshest best stuff."
Robin is the cook in the house, she says.
"It's not two crazy chefs in the kitchen experimenting. We have our roles in the home, and I'm around here more than Dan is, so those are the roles that we assume," Robin says.
Dan is Robin's official taste-tester when she's cooking for clients and makes "big, oversize waffles" on weekend mornings.
People often remark that they must have a refrigerator full of luxurious food.
"Not so much," she says. "In the end, we're a husband and wife with two kids and we have Ritz crackers and Goldfish in our cupboard. These are foods we grew up on and our kids are growing up on them, too."
She spends three days a week in grocery stores pulling two or three carts full of ingredients for each client. In addition to a rigid shopping and cooking schedule, Robin manages school drop-offs and after-school activities as well as preparing meals for her family.
"Since all of the business is out of my home, it's easier to do the scheduling and I can separate between work and home life, even though part of what I do is here in my own kitchen."
Robin, who also teaches at the Westlake Culinary Institute in Westlake Village, says braised dishes are among her favorites, calling the cooking technique "nurturing the food." (Braising generally requires heavy seasoning, dredging of meat in flour and searing it on high heat and then using braising liquid to properly roast and finish the product at a low heat for a long time.)
"Fall and winter are my favorite time of year to do [braising], and it's just the best way I can express my love for people and for the food," she says, adding "I think there's such a sacred and patient technique in braising. You have to hope for the best, and it's a long process."
The day is long for the working couple. For Robin, there are a number of errands to run from farmers' markets to grocery stores to e-mails to cooking dishes.
"I divide the food per family in each cart and I carry multiple credit cards for each shop I do. There's a lot of organization and scheduling as well as invoicing and the rest of it." Sometimes, depending on how many families she has in one day, she can be in the kitchen cooking for 12 hours.
The Atkins learned a lot from Wolfgang Puck and they credit the famed chef for bringing them together. But it is his focus on fresh, farm-to-table California cuisine that became their passion.
"We're all about seasonality and organic and sustainable food and menus that reflect our area and the place where we live," says Robin, adding "and comfort food."