Dennis Brown, sporting the blue “visitor” apron of Les Marmitons, tries his hand at making risotto.

Hank van Driel instantly showed distaste for the way this bit of chopped onion had been handled.

“I’ll show you how to dice an onion,” he said, producing his kitchen knife and going to work. “You cut it like this.”

Van Driel, who lives in Sandy Springs, is a retired chef. He worked for years in research and development for Nestle, he said, and he knows his way around a kitchen. As he demonstrated proper onion-dicing technique, several of the other men in the kitchen that night gathered around to watch as he produced a mound of finely sliced onion ready to join some diced garlic in a little hot oil in a deep-sided pan.

Soon, Dennis Brown and some of the others would be using those onions as they tried their hands at making risotto, just one piece of the four-course Caribbean meal being created this evening by members of the Sandy Springs chapter of Les Marmitons, a men’s cooking club. Others would poach eggs. Or julienne carrots or sear scallops or cook up a big pot of stewed chicken.

It was guys’ night out in the kitchen.

Les Marmitons, the club says, is French for “kitchen boys” or “chefs’ helpers.” Most members of the Sandy Springs club are far from boys. They’re retired, and come from all sorts of backgrounds. There’s a pilot, a former government official, a lawyer.

Brown said he worked much of his career in the real estate business in metro Atlanta. He says he and his wife learned to cook together when they were first married. Now she’s the creative cook, he said, and he sticks with a few familiar recipes. But he’s used to thinking creatively. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he said, he spent 10 years in Poland selling STP products. His big seller was an additive that could loosen up a diesel engine on a cold, cold morning.

He was a relative rookie as a Les Marmitons cook. It was only his fourth meeting and he still wore the blue apron of a visitor, rather than the white jacket and toque, the high cap associated with chefs, worn by members. He would be initiated into the club that night.

Now he was tackling risotto, a delicately flavored rice dish. It was a first for him.

Les Marmitons gathers monthly (except for the summer and Christmas holidays) in the teaching kitchen at the International Culinary School. The cooking club started in Canada and spread south. The Sandy Springs club was founded in 2001 by Bob Engstrom, who had joined another Atlanta club, but tired of the commute. At each meeting, the club invites a guest chef and club members prepare dinner based on the guest’s recipes. Once the food is cooked, they dine on their creations and discuss them. There’s also an emphasis on matching wine to the food.

“It’s definitely a good group of people,” Brown said, “and there’s always something you’re doing that’s challenging.”

Like making risotto?

He laughed out loud. “Like making risotto.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.