All around the Bay, unique food-centric experiences invite you to get hands-on with the area’s bounty. Our picks will have you pairing wine and oysters in Virginia’s Northern Neck, catching crabs on the Magothy River, tasting your way through historic Baltimore, or getting hands-on at two very different types of cooking classes. Go for the day, or make a weekend out of it.
Learn to Cook in Solomon’s Island
Sleepy Solomons Island, Maryland, isn’t where you’d expect to find a state-of-the-art cooking school, but that’s exactly what chef-owner Gwyn Novak created with No Thyme to Cook. The purpose-built studio spans three stories and fronts the Patuxent River, with two open demo kitchens done in cottage-chic style that feels as much home as classroom. That’s intentional; Novack’s great-grandfather founded the legendary Bowen’s Inn here in 1918, and she built her studio in the footprint of her grandmother’s house, making her the 4th generation to run a family business on this spot.
I signed up to learn about stuffed ham, a uniquely Maryland dish, which is a specialty of neighboring St. Mary’s County. Her guest instructor Darren Dahlstrom has been making it for decades with his family. It was a demonstration class, but we were invited to get hands-on by chopping kale and stuffing and wrapping the ham while noshing on potato soup and piping-hot stuffed ham eggrolls served as a snack. The small, onsite bar offered beer, wine, and soft drinks. Some attendees stuck to iced tea while others were happily drinking wine by the 11 a.m. kickoff.
The whole vibe is very communal, and Novak makes you feel like family, walking you through the tasks at hand while offering her take on all things culinary—be it who makes the best kitchen knives or tips on using infused olive oils. A classically trained chef with 25 years of cooking experience, she’s a font of knowledge, but presents everything in a relaxed, unpretentious way. That’s probably why almost half of the attendees are repeat students, drawn back by her easy approach to teaching. (The fact that there’s someone there to clear and wash all of the dirty dishes helps too.)
In the hands-on classes, participants work from multiple, two-person stations set up with everything needed to make the dish, so there’s no jostling for counter space. Gwyn and her team of chefs offer 10 to 12 public and private classes per week, covering everything from handmade pastas to cocktail mixology to couples classes that make for an ideal date night. If you don’t want to cook, sign up for an evening cruise on Half Shell, the 1928 oyster buy boat captained by her husband Donald. There’s a full bar onboard, and they offer special cruises in partnership with local vendors such as Tobacco Barn Distillery. And most weekend afternoons, they offer a drop-in open house, welcoming guests to sip wine on the deck and soak up
the river views without lifting a finger.
Make a weekend out of it: Situated just next door, Blue Heron Bed and Breakfast offers a modern take on the B&B experience, with four en suite rooms boasting water views in a contemporary Colonial. There’s a private pier with water and electricity for guests coming by boat.