The first thing you need to know about cooking classes on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and at the Delaware beaches is that you can leave your Old Bay seasoning at home. In search of classes to spice up my cooking repertoire this winter, I’ve found plenty of offerings that are anything but bland — even sans the little yellow can.
Last month, I took a Sunday class at Two if by Sea, a cafe on Tilghman Island, about 60 miles past the Bay Bridge. Chef Henry Miller offers monthly classes, and the December theme was cocktail party appetizers. Miller, who spent seven years at Williams-Sonoma before he bought the restaurant, walked around and uncorked bottles of wine — it was BYOB for those who like adult beverages with their cooking instruction.
There were a dozen students in the class, many of them members of a local book club (although they were hard-pressed to tell me the last book they’d read). The woman next to me, who wore dangly earrings, said that Miller had once had participants help prep the ingredients rather than simply observe. “But we like watching demonstrations better,” she confided. “We like to talk and drink.” The conversation flowed from island gossip (someone’s kid got into trouble for packing a crab and crab-eating tools in his school lunch) to mousse — and it took me a minute to realize that it was the hair variety, not the chocolate kind.
Miller knocked out eight appetizers — including Brandied Apricot Brie, Three Mushroom Ratatouille and Lobster Avocado Cocktail. None of the recipes were complicated enough to be intimidating, and many were prepared in a food processor — perfect for those of us without fancy high-end appliances, and perfect for this working fishing town. Watching Miller zip through recipes with everything pre-chopped and pre-measured into plastic foam cups, I was reminded of an essential cooking lesson — the importance of mise en place, or having your ingredients ready to go before you start cooking.
When Miller finished, everyone applauded, and we dug into his creations for a little feast. I asked Miller whether he teaches a crab cake class, and he hesitated. “Everyone here has their own crab cake and coleslaw recipes,” he said, implying that it might be a hard sell for the locals.
I did find one Eastern Shore chef who’s considering a crab cake class. Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Executive Chef Tony Breeze said that visitors to the area want to learn how to make really good crab cakes and that he has often demonstrated his recipe to individual guests upon request. He uses a base of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, freshly chopped parsley, a touch of panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and fresh Choptank River crab from J.M. Clayton Seafood.
And Old Bay? “I’m not a huge fan of it,” he said. “But we do put a little Old Bay in there. On the Eastern Shore, it’s kind of expected.”
Whether you’re looking for a demonstration or a competition, there’s no shortage of cooking-related events on the Eastern Shore and at the Delaware beaches this winter. Below are a few of our favorites.