YORK, Maine - At some point during the fourth course, attention spans begin to run out at the Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School. But that's to be expected: Many of the 30 students are on their third and fourth glasses of wine and becoming chatty.
Chef Duncan Boyd, demonstrating a lemon-flavored goat cheesecake, perseveres. He separates egg whites from their yolks, and discovers that at least one person is watching closely. "Wait," says a woman in the second row. "The recipe says whole eggs." Boyd, who owns Victory restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H., stops, looks up, then glances back down at his bowl of yolks and shells. "OK, you busted me," he tells her. "I didn't read my own recipe." And then he begins to pick the shells free.
Stonewall Kitchen, known for its good-tasting and stylish preserves and sauces, opened a cooking school next to its flagship store in May. Local chefs come for an afternoon or evening and students get to watch them prepare a menu with subjects like "classic summer supper" or "dinner on the deck." The cost is $30 for a lunch class, $65 for a dinner class and includes a serving of each dish; wine is $7 a glass.
Many of those in the room for Boyd's class appear to be regulars at his restaurant, located a few miles down the interstate. Managing a kitchen mistake before an audience is part of the job, he says afterward. He wants his demonstrations to show a real cook, not a polished Food Network product.
On this weeknight, his menu begins with a soup of whole, shucked steamer clams, the light broth flavored only with celery, thyme, crispy lardons of salt pork, and a little cream. The chef keeps up a constant patter of advice and explanations as he browns cubes of salt pork, drains them on paper towels, then adds celery.
Peel the stalks of celery, he instructs students, or throw away everything but the heart of the vegetable. "In a soup like this, where the clams are so nice and tender, you don't want to feel like you are eating a toothpick."
Perched on tall chairs at three rows of long tables, the members of the audience, mostly women, watch and take notes. Behind them, stacks of Le Creuset cookware and jars of Stonewall products are on display, all for sale.
After the soup, as Boyd sears a lamb loin in a hot skillet, students call out questions. "I tend to move it a little like you do," interjects Ingrid Zawacki, 56, "and my husband will say, 'No, you're not supposed to do that. You're supposed to just leave it,' " she says.
"You're right; he's wrong," Boyd replies. Lifting up the meat after it first sears allows hot fat to run back underneath, helping caramelize it further, he explains. "Always move the protein in the pan."
The menu pairs lamb with a tomato tart that Boyd makes effortlessly. Olives, whole roasted garlic, and roasted tomato halves (peeled and seeded) are set in individual ramekins, topped with a circle of puff pastry, and baked. After, they'll be upended. To keep the pastry crisp, says the chef, wait until just before serving to turn them onto plates.
Boyd also prepares a saute of zucchini and fava beans. Shelling favas is one of his favorite things, he tells the group, because he gets to daydream. "I like to think of where I am shelling beans - in Tuscany in a monastery on a wooden table twice as thick as this beautiful marble countertop."
Before shelling, he blanches the beans in their pods, to make it easier to remove them, and quarters the zucchini lengthwise to slice away the seeds before cooking.
Eight workers assist the chef; they're all in T-shirts that read "cooking class" in block letters. Every cook could use these assistants. Some clean counters, prep food, and plate finished dishes, others come around with bottles of chardonnay and chenin blanc.
Although the seats aren't on an incline, the view is clear even from the back row, thanks in large part to flat-panel monitors and a camera trained on Boyd's hands as he cooks. The kitchen gleams with shiny appliances and polished surfaces.
Cooking school manager Patty Roche says the company aimed for a place with a sociable feel. She hears that students are beginning to think of the school as an alternative to dinner out.
"It's almost like a chef's table," she says.
Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School, 2 Stonewall Lane, York, Maine, 207-363-1088, stonewallkitchen.com.