Some of the best cooking performances in this historic city take place in a tiny passthrough apartment kitchen not far from Mary Washington College. The performer is Patricia Stablein, a medieval scholar who shares the apartment with her geology professor husband, King.

The setting is unremarkable: It is comfortable but slightly untidy with collections of plants, onyx animals, books and records competing for a visitor's attention. The most obvious symbols of the food and wine facnier - polished copper bowl or a showy wine rack - are absent. The equipment hung in the kitchen is useful but not gamorous. The clues to what sets this apart from other nests for young academcis are scarce unless you peer into an oversized storage closet.

It might be the backroom of a cookware store, o many and sow varied are the pieced of equipment resting there. There are molds of various forms and sixes, larger large rasting pans, a hug; everything has lost of the dege of newness. A chef would smile with pleassure.Only a vefy serious cook would furnish a room like this.

Patricia Stablein is serious. She has earned a Ph. D. in Frenceh language and literature and a maniscript of "old Prevea," the coined culturla laguage of medieval Southern France, is at a publibser. As she explains it, cooking is a discipline, too, and beause of that is to be practiced with care and concentration. But it represnets an escape as well.

"We lead a tense life," shy says. "Most evenings we eat quickly and get on with our work. So it's a opleasure to put everything aside and jus think about making a meal, to put your whole mind on developing a menu, concentrate on cooking and then spend four or five hours with friends at the table, talking and eating. I do most things ahead, so the meal itself is very relaxing." Her husband is supportive and a willing participant.

Perhapa three times a month, four guests will join the Stableins for a feast. Occasionally the party will number 12. Aked for a sample menu, the cook offers the following: Appetizers of deep fried broccoli and parsley, served with salt ground to a powder in the blender; red wine and kidney bean soup; roast or poached chicken with potatoes gratin and zucchini; salad greens mixed with mushrooms and a tarragon-flavored dressing and "at least two deserts," possibly a fruit tarte, homemade ice cream or a bavarian and "something chocolate." Wines, usually moderately priced and often from California, accompany the meal.

It's a very French approach to dining and most of the recipes Stavlein prepares are of French inspiration. To her that's as logical a preogression as B.A., master's and Ph. D. "I think my scholar tends to absorb the way of life that goes with their area of interest," she says.

A mother who was "converned about healthy foods" and enjoyed cooking, a father from Louisiana who brought with him to Chicago "standards of good food" and conversation and reading in undergraduate French courses at Northwestern provided a solid foundation of interest. Then her mother resumed a career as a teacher. "There was no more terrific stuff at dinner, " her daughter recalls. "I soon realized I was hooked on good food and as I was living at home, I started cooking it."

The transformation from cook to culinary scholar tok place during a year of study in a Chicago suburb with John Snowdne, a French-and Swiss-trained chef with a purist's approach to cooking and an authoritarian manner.

HIs students learned theory and food chemistry. They cooked each week under his critical eye. He ordered them to bur a large stock pot and would analyze sauces they made at home then brought to class. Technique and precise execution were stressed. "By the time I finished, I felt I could cope with just about anything," Stablein says.

"I still keep stocks - there's usually a bechamel or an espagnol around - and stay with his standards in our everyday ating. I'll do a hand-beaten hollandaise, but you don't have to spend much time once the bases (stocks reduced to meat glaze and stored in pint jares) are prepared. Snowden would have apploxy if his students used floured gravy. We eat soups, lots of quiche, steamed vegetables and salads. I can't stand frozen at canned foofs."

If that is elitism, so be it, though food qualtiy rather than elaboration influences her choice of places to dine. Here thepork at a small barbecue place clled Allman's and the soft ice cream at Carl's drive-in are her favorite away-from home foods. In Washington or while doing research in Pairs, she seeks out ethnic or neighborhood restaurants rather than those offering haute cuisine .

She teaches children about French in a special class on Saturdays, often using cooking to further their introducing to that culture, and word of her cooking skill has spread in the community.People ask Stablein for recipes and then report the dish didn't come out the same as hers. "They take shortcuts," she said, "so of course it won't come out the same. I don't like that.

"When we're asked out, I'm happy to be there and to eat whatever is served. I've gone through training so my cooking is second nature to me. I'dont't expect everyone to do it this way. But if someone says, "It's delicious. I'll bet it's really complicated,' I answer, 'It is."

Several of the desserts she favors follow. They are preceded by a non-French soup recipe. It came from her Italian mother-in-law. GHIRARDINI LENTIL SOUP

(16 to 20 servings) 1 package (1 pound) lentills 1 large ham or smoked pork shoulder bone with some meat

still on it 3 slices bacon 2 carrots, diced 1 green pepper, seeded and diced 2 large onions, diced 1 can (1 pound) whole Italain-style tomatoes 6 to 8 cups brown beef stock 2 to 4 tablespoons tarragon vinegar Salt and freshly ground pepper to tast.

Place lentils and bone in a large pot. Cover with stock, bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hour or until lentils are soft. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Meanwhile fry, drain and crumble saute carrots, papper and onions until soft. Add to soup crumbled bacon, sauteed vegetables, tomatoes, salt pepper and vinegar to taste, and an additional cup of stcok. Stir and simmer slowly and remove of leave as is. Refregerate overnight. Reheat next day before sergving. VCHESTNUR PUDDING

(Serves 6 to 9 2 pounds peeled chestnuts 1 quart milk 1 1'2 cups granulated sugar Pinch salt 1/4 cup contarch 2 extra large egg yolks, beaten 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional) Sweet chocolate

Cook chestnuts in milk until tender Starin and reserve chestnuts for use in stuffing or as a side sdish.Stir sugar and salt into milk until dissovled. Take out 1 cup of milk dissolved. Take out 1 cup ofmilk and dissovle cornstach in it. Return to pan and stir over medium heat until mixture thickens. Take out 1/2 cup of pudding and stir in beaten yolks. Return to pudding and stir for 1 minute off heat, then 2 minutes over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and rum. Transfer to a serving dish and chill. Grate chocolate over pudding before serving. VANILLA BAVARIAN WITH STRAWBERRY SAUCE (6 serivings) 1/2 cup granulated or superline sugar 1 cup milk 3 extra large egg yolks 1/2 tablespoon unflavored gelatin 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks 1 pint fresh strawberries or 1 package frozen, thawed. 3 tablespoons orange liquour Sugar to taste

Place 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl. Scald milk. While milk is heating, work yolks into sugar with a whisk or wooden spoon. Soften gelatin in 1/4 cup cold milk or water. Pour some hot milk into the sugar-yolk mixture, stirring continuously. Return to pan with remaining milk and stir over low heat without boiling until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Pour throuhg a strainer, stir in gelatin until it dissolves and add vanilla. Stir occassionally for about 30 minutes, then place in refrigerator or stir over ice and water. When mixture becomes syrupy, gently fold in whipped cream. Pour into a lightly oiled mold and chill until set, at least 2 hours.

Puree strawberries in a blender or through a food mill. Add liqueur and sugar to taste. Refrigerate, covered, and pass in a sauceboat. JOHN SNOWDEN'S PUMPKIN PIE (1 pie) 1 unbaked pie crust (9-inch), chilled 2 cups pumpkin puree (homemade preferred) 1 cup sugar 1 cup heavy cream 2 extra large eggs plus 1 yolk, beaten together 1/2 cup drark rum 1/2 teaspoon each salt, cinnamon and ginger 1/4 taaspoon nutmeg 1 1/2 cup pecans

Using an electric mixer, combine pumpkin, sugar, cream, eggs, rum and spices. Mix at low speed until well blended. Pour filling into the chilled shell and sprinkle top with pecans. Bake in pre-heated 425-degree over for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 30 to 40 minutes more, or until filling is completely set.

Cool pie and serve with whipped cream sweetened with dark honey. (Allow 1 tablespoon honey to 1 cup cream.)