ATLANTA -- They called it a 10-star cooking class. The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead Hotel brought five two-star chefs and a master pastry chef from France to join its similarly esteemed resident chef, Guenter Seeger, for a two-day food festival early this month, and not only did they feed people, they taught them.

The Saturday-afternoon setup was all you could want from a cooking class. At long tables, places were set with seven wine glasses, as well as pencils, pads and printed recipes. As each chef appeared, a fully equipped table was rolled out for him to work on, then at the end of his demonstration quickly rolled offstage to be replaced by the next chef's table. Along the aisles were six video receivers to show the students close-ups of the work.

What followed was a well-orchestrated whirlwind. Within a mere two hours six chefs demonstrated six recipes from three regions of France and one of Germany, while about 40 students -- who paid $30 each for the event -- lunched on samples of every one, along with five wines and two eaux de vie. It took an army of waiters, cooking assistants, a cameraman and a translator, and afterward the students left a lot more woozy if hardly more wise.

Seeger, a curly-haired, bushy-mustached matinee idol of a chef, whipped up celery root ravioli with black truffles in 15 minutes. The Guinness Book of World Records should be interested. "Very simple," he said. A fast kneading of a dough -- the making of which escaped all but the quickest eye -- and a rapid rolling, with a little saute'eing on the side: I didn't feel the lesson left me ready to try it, even if I found myself with a few spare celery roots and truffles.

Gerard Besson, whose Parisian restaurant bears his name, showed even less in an even shorter time. Speaking in French, he tossed off sauce veloute' in 30 seconds. Neither he nor his printed recipe bothered with quantities. He shaped and patted the air with his hands as the translator (the hotel's executive chef) gave up with, "I don't know how to translate this." He followed later with, "I hope you understood all that. I don't." And when Besson asked whether anybody had any questions, the audience just laughed. But they loved his cream of oysters with chives.

Emile Jung of Le Crocodile restaurant in Strasbourg had a simpler task -- lobster salad with pimiento-seasoned mayonnaise. But he became so absorbed in stirring the mayonnaise, cutting the lobster, and arranging them on a plate that he just announced, "It's a lot of work," and stopped talking altogether.

So Pierre Orsi of Orsi restaurant in Lyon was a treat. Having worked in American restaurants for several years, he was comfortable in English. "My French is not too good," he joked, and joshingly confided that he chose the recipe "because it is not easy for the housewife." But he was finished with his monkfish and red mullet with basil in seven minutes flat. Furthermore, he actually cooked the fish on stage, and demonstrated his sauce-making technique. It was the first recipe that could be duplicated by a student watching the demonstration.

Jean Vettard of Vettard restaurant in Lyon carried the momentum, for he too spoke English and prepared his recipe onstage. It was marinated raw salmon, similar to gravlax, easy to prepare and handy, since it can be kept for three weeks. He also shared cooking tips: Don't cut the vegetables and herbs too fine because "the juice comes too quickly." And he was practical: Use fresh herbs, "if possible," and toss marinade ingredients with your hands. A talker and a wit, he captured the attention of the audience with a lesson it could use.

Then came dessert. Gabriel Pallaisson, who has a pastry shop under his name in Saint Fons, near Lyon, gave nobody a glimmer of hope for following his recipe. This big, brawny, red-bearded pastry powerhouse presented his cake recipe, "Egg yolks, sugar, almond powder, flour, you mix all that together," then "cook at 450 degrees, more or less." But when it came to putting his cake together -- the smoothing of the filling and frosting, the pouring of the glaze, the lifting of the finished cake with a spatula -- it was intriguing to see the hands of a master at home with his medium.

That's entertainment. Education? Marginally. But for people interested in the art of cooking, it was a look and a taste of the stars. TABLETALK Nabisco figures steak just doesn't cut it these days as a menu star. By 1990, the company claims, chicken will surpass beef as the number-one meat. Thus Nabisco has broken tradition and introduced A-1 Poultry Sauce as an alternative to its steak sauce.

The message is getting across: Not only is our population getting older, it is getting wiser. Thus Denny's, which touts itself as America's largest family restaurant chain, is offering senior citizen discounts with a difference. They are part of a new Senior Citizen's Menu with fewer fried foods and an emphasis on dishes that are low in fat, cholesterol and sodium (as well as smaller portions).

Every trend, it seems, has a counter-trend. Thus I have been hearing reports of "desserts only" menus, served with or without a meal.

JEAN VETTARD'S MARINATED RAW SALMON (Makes 16 appetizer servings)

2 pounds salmon fillet with skin

1 large onion

3 stalks celery

2 carrots

1 teaspoon sugar

4 bay leaves

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

4 juniper berries

1/4 teaspoon coriander seed

1/4 teaspoon mustard seed

1 tablespoon basil

1 tablespoon tarragon

1 tablespoon dill

1 tablespoon marjoram

4 tablespoons salt

Oil for rubbing fillets

Arrange salmon, skin side down, in a pan 2 inches deep. Coarsely chop the vegetables and herbs, combine with other seasonings and spread on salmon. Cover and refrigerate about 15 hours. Remove salmon from the marinade and wash in cold water. Let dry, if possible, under a fan for 3 to 4 hours. Rub fillets with good quality oil to help preserve their moistness, and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. Serve as an hors d'oeuvre, slicing very thinly across the grain with a sharp knife nearly parallel to the table. Accompany, if desired, with a sauce of sour cream with vinegar or lime juice and herbs to taste, and pumpernickel or toast.

1987, Washington Post Writers Group