YORK, Maine — When Maureen Kourtz of Melrose was looking for a fun getaway with her daughter and two daughters-in-law, she suggested taking a cooking class at the Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School.
“I’ve always loved coming up to York, and while I was familiar with the store and the school, I had never really thought about taking a cooking class here,” said Kourtz, 65, a clerk in an antiques store. “We all love to cook, so I asked them about it and they said, Great!’’
And so on a recent Sunday afternoon, the four women, all from Greater Boston, made the hour-plus drive north to take a 90-minute “Palm Sunday Brunch” cooking class with in-house chef Heather Milliman.
Milliman — who, several students in the near-capacity class agreed, would give Rachael Ray a run for her charisma — demonstrated how to make shaved asparagus with Parmesan vinaigrette, braised baby artichokes with lemon oregano aioli, roasted salmon with spring herb sauce, and gooey pecan rolls with orange icing (a special recipe from Milliman’s dad, which evoked a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” during the tasting).
Milliman, a Cape Cod native, used made-up words like “sploosh,” admitted to having a “blonde moment” when she forgot to include an ingredient, encouraged attendees to “put on your imagination hats” and talked about channeling her inner Julia Child.
“She really made it fun,” said Kourtz. “She was very personable and gave us some really good cooking tips that I am sure I will be using.”
For $45 (classes range from $45 to $80), students learned how to make the delectable offerings in a 32-seat theater and state-of-the-art kitchen. The space was flanked by two large-screen televisions suspended from the ceiling so everyone could see every dice and chop up close. What’s more, they were able to eat the demonstration dishes. Each student was given a recipe booklet featuring the menu items and offered a 10 percent discount on items sold in the cooking school store. Friendly staff kept everyone hydrated — and wine by the glass was available for purchase.
The Stonewall Kitchen product line was started 21 years ago by good friends and fellow foodies Jonathan King and Jim Stott, Massachusetts natives who began by making jams. The product line has grown to include sauces, seasonings, relishes, mustards, oils and vinegars, soups, and an array of other specialty food items sold in stores, catalogs, and online. There are nine Stonewall Kitchen stores along the East Coast — including the flagship in York, in the same complex as the cooking school and with a popular cafe.
Since opening in 2008, the school has been a resounding success, with one or two classes offered daily and many selling out well in advance. In addition to experienced in-house instructors, the school hosts celebrity chefs and cookbook authors, who teach classes and have signings. For example, Martha’s Vineyard chef and cookbook author Cathy Walthers taught a class recently and stayed afterward to meet folks and sign copies of her book “Raising the Salad Bar.”
The classes are as varied as the instructors. Themes range from ethnic cooking, including Lebanese, Mexican, and Asian offerings, to hors d’oeuvres, to cake decorating. Titles have included Taco Time, Playing With Dough, A Southern Picnic to Share, and Mac N’ Cheese Times Three.
“The classes are as much about gaining some new skills or confidence as they are about being entertained while served a delicious meal,” said King, Stonewall Kitchen’s president and creative director. “We invite chefs from all over the country to demonstrate their particular culinary talents alongside our in-house talented staff. This creates a wide variety of course options to satisfy anyone’s taste buds.”
He said that the cooking school is ideally located at the company’s headquarters (“the heartbeat of who we are”). “In addition, Maine is a huge destination for tourists from across the globe,” King said. “Our headquarters has hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, many of them on a trip to finally visit our facility, which encompasses our York company store, cafe, cooking school, and manufacturing viewing gallery.”
For those who want to stay overnight, there are many lodging options in York and the surrounding seaside towns. My husband and I stayed at The Stage Neck Inn in York and found it utterly charming.
Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School, 2 Stonewall Lane, 877-899-8363, www.stonewallkitch