Do your thoughts turn to preparing béarnaise sauce or butchering meat when you’re daydreaming about a weekend getaway? If not, maybe it’s time to think again. This is a mere sampling of the skills you can acquire by taking a culinary class at a classic Maine inn.
A smattering the state’s B&Bs and smaller inns offer instruction on cooking and food-related topics for guests, and sometimes nonguests, too. Not surprisingly, classes are often at inns with a restaurant and may be packaged with lodging and meals. Several Maine establishments have made the cut for lists of the nation’s top culinary B&Bs.
If your appetite is whetted, the timing is right. In Camden, Maine’s other foodie destination (after Portland), a handful of B&Bs offer or expand cooking classes in the off-season. Sure, this helps boost business, but it’s also when innkeepers and chefs have more time to share their love of cooking with guests. Besides, what better time than late fall or winter to nestle “inn” for a romantic weekend?
We’ve spotlighted a half dozen inns – all but one open year-round or through December – that entice guests with convenient classes and workshops. Most but not all involve the cooking arts.
The restaurant at this long-acclaimed, very high-end dining, lodging and spa destination is in two renovated barns. Cooking class participants (four maximum) take on the role of apprentices to Chef Derek Bissonnette and staff as they prepare the evening’s four-course prix fixe meal. Tasks range from breaking down fish or poultry to making “mother sauces” to crafting cold appetizers and desserts. Open to non-lodging guests, the two-hour classes are $215 per person ($315 if you stay for dinner, a bit of a savings). Classes are sometimes part of special packages (check the web site). The inn also offers instruction on beverage (not only wine!) pairings. There’s no charge, except for the drinks. Breakfast is continental at White Barn, which has guest rooms in the historic main inn and an annex as well as cottages.
White Barn Inn, 37 Beach Ave., Kennebunk, www.whitebarninn.com, 207-967-2321
With cooking classes taught by innkeeper/chef Mario De Pietro, daughter Lara contributing a talk on nutrition (she has a degree in the subject), and much of the food coming from the inn’s garden and son Kyle’s nearby farm, cooking sessions here are a family affair. Classes were introduced a few years after Mario and his wife, Roni, bought the historic country B&B and restaurant in the early 2000s. There are two choices for a two-night package that includes three culinary sessions and all meals: “Sauces and Beyond” and “Butchering 101.” The price for two (double occupancy) is $975 on weekends, $900 weekdays (less if only one of the two takes the class; there’s a singles rate, too). The inn, which will close January through mid-April in 2016, also offers private 2.5-hour cooking classes with Mario, a native of Switzerland and former corporate chef; private nutrition sessions with Lara; a six-week cooking course for locals; occasional specialty classes; and a mushroom foraging package.
Squire Tarbox Inn, 1181 Main Road, Wiscasset, www.squiretarboxinn.com, 207-882-7693
Mary Jo Brink savored questions about cooking classes while tending an outdoor pizza oven in Tuscany, Italy, on a “Foodie Adventure” with her husband, chef Michael Salmon. They own Camden’s upscale Hartstone Inn, a B&B with a fine dining restaurant. Hartstone started offering cooking classes more than 10 years ago. Next came spring and fall European “Foodie” trips, structured around cooking sessions with Salmon. Back at the inn, themed two-hour cooking classes are held on select Saturdays and Sundays from November through June, taking a spring break when the innkeepers are in Europe. Classes aren’t just for inn guests, but there are two-night cooking class packages, from $357 to $575 (double occupancy). They include breakfasts, a candlelit dinner for two, and one class slot (a second is $45). Hartstone also has private four-hour “Chef for the Day” sessions year-round. New on its cooking school menu: “In the Chef’s Kitchen,” themed four-course dinners (limit 8 people) prepared and enjoyed with the chef at the innkeepers’ home.
Hartstone Inn, 41 Elm St., Camden, www.hartstoneinn.com, 207-236-4259
Just uphill from Camden Harbor and the downtown business district, this well-appointed B&B (no restaurant) occupies an 1846 Victorian-style structure and, next door, an 1806 colonial (shuttered in winter). From November through June, the inn holds occasional guests-only cooking classes. The innkeepers customize sessions, perhaps in conjunction with a private dinner (four person minimum for the meal). Or cooking instruction may be part of special event for inn guests, like a Valentine’s Day dinner or a seafood night (check the web site). “We love to cook, and we love our guests,” noted Jim Ostrowski, who operates the inn with his wife, Cyndi. He’s the house chef, known for his breakfasts. The inn is featured in the 2009 book “Gourmet Getaways: 50 Top Spots to Cook and Learn.”
Inns at Blackberry Common, 82 Elm St., Camden, www.innsatblackberrycommon.com, 207-236-6060
With a relaxed artsy vibe, a writer innkeeper, and an arts photographer in residence, this farmhouse B&B near hilly Waldoboro’s quiet village is an ideal base for an art-inspired getaway. Le Vatout, closed for the off-season until late spring, offers oil painting, pastel, watercolor, weaving and woodworking workshops in partnership with local artists. Sessions are held at the instructor’s studio or workshop, or a scenic locale. Most of the inn’s art packages are three or four nights and cost $1,200-$1,300 for two (double occupancy) or $600-$650 for one; they include picnic lunches and breakfasts. There are also nature tour, mushroom foraging and cooking packages (at a local caterer). Friends, take note: two of the four guest rooms have a pair of single beds.
Le Vatout Bed and Breakfast, 218 Kalers Cr St., Waldoboro, www.levatout.com, 207-832-5150
“Shoulder season” workshops at Noble House Inn in Bridgton are the brainchild of Cindi Hooper, who bought the year-round B&B in December 2012. A scrapbooking retreat, with lodging and meals, was held on Halloween weekend at the longtime western Maine B&B, which touts “casual luxury.” Fishing is the focus come spring: a casting and lure-tying workshop in being planned for April. Guests won’t get out on the water (Highland Lake is across the street) but are to practice casting on the spacious lawn. Noble House also hosts occasional Thursday concerts (donation).
Noble House Inn, 81 Highland Road, Bridgton, www.noblehousebb.com, 207-647-3733