I took my kids to lunch downtown a couple of weeks ago, and they were amazed at how many restaurant options there were.

“I remember when we used to go to Live After Five when we were little and there wasn’t ever any place open for dinner after the concerts,” said my daughter, Allison, now 14.

Things have changed a lot downtown in those past six years, almost all for the better.

One of the most striking examples of that positive change and growth is the recent announcement that Viking Culinary Group is opening an outdoor cooking school on the pool deck of the Hilton Capitol Center downtown.

How cool is that?

Not only is it a fun, novel business concept, but it will be a boost both for the hotel, specifically, and for downtown in general.

The Viking Cooking School Outdoors will be the first of its kind in the Viking Culinary Group’s franchise of 17 cooking schools around the country, and will focus primarily but not exclusively on outdoor cooking methods like smoking, grilling and barbecuing.

That’s something we know a bit about here in south Louisiana, with our year-round balmy weather and our penchant for tailgating and other types of outdoor entertaining.

But the school will not target just locals. It will also be going after the tourists and visitors - and will help to give them a reason to come here. Indeed, the school’s target market includes “an upscale audience with a strong interest in food, wine, travel and entertainment.”

Class sizes will range from 16 to 30 people, and classes will have themes such as Girls’ Night Out, Romantic Date Night and Tailgate Cooking Competition.

That Baton Rouge would be considered an ideal market to test the outdoor cooking school concept speaks volumes about the resources and level of culinary sophistication in this market.

Viking Culinary Group executives said they believe Baton Rouge is the right city for their venture, not only because of its growing and vibrant economy but because of its rich, culinary traditions.

Let’s do all we can to support Viking’s new school, which is under construction and set to open in September.

If successful, it’s the kind of endeavor that will attract more foodies and more quality restaurants and cooking schools to an area that has a head start in that arena.