A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School

A Taste of the Mountains cooking school is a combination house party and cooking classes. Chef Steven Raichlen teaches classical techniques using local ingredients for a hands-on cooking and dining experience.

| May/June 1988

  • 111-093-01
    Steven Raichlen believes in innovation. "Cooking is not brain surgery," he says. "Recipes are guides, not gospel."

  • 111-093-01

Good food, hands-on schooling and country air—A Taste of the Mountains cooking school makes for a fine vacation.

A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School

For the first time in two hours, Steven Raichlen stands stock still. All over the sprawling kitchen of this country inn, small knots of amateur cooks seem to have things under momentary control. The crusts for the savory tarts are blind-baking; the artichokes are stuffed and ready for reheating; the brioche dough is rising. Raichlen sighs. A cooking teacher and food writer, he has been dashing from one group to another all morning, assisting here, averting disaster there, occasionally shouting over the hubbub when one team reaches a critical stage in a recipe: "Can you all stop what you're doing and gather round? I want to show you how to shuck an oyster without losing a thumb."

Now, seeing that his students are all at a stopping place, Raichlen strides over to a huge worktable, reaches into a wooden bowl of vegetables and pulls out an onion. "Everybody know how to chop one of these?" Ten pairs of eyes regard him tolerantly. Everyone in the room has been cooking for years, some for decades. "Here, let me show you," he says, and in less time than it takes to wash a food processor bowl, he reduces the onion to a pile of small, neat cubes. "Do that again," demands a computer programmer from New Jersey, and Raichlen does. Then he rummages in the bowl again. "Know how to chop a carrot?" Another pile. "A leek?" Still another. "A quick way to peel and seed a tomato?" An elementary teacher from New Hampshire shakes his head. "I've been cooking for 20 years," he says, "and I'll be using these techniques for the rest of my life."

A Taste of the Mountains cooking school is pan vacation, part feast and part education. At various times each spring, summer and fall, 20 people who are passionate about food and cooking join Raichlen for a weekend or a week at the Bernerhof Inn, a rambling, 100-year-old country inn nestled in the Mt. Washington Valley, amidst the White Mountains of New Hampshire. When the school is in session, the Bernerhof closes its doors and reserves its comfortable premises—10 sunny bedrooms, two dining rooms, an oak-paneled lounge with fireplace, a baby grand piano and a gray-striped kitten that chases wine corks—for an assortment of office workers, housewives, sales people, teachers, pilots and others. Some fantasize about getting out of those jobs and into a career in food; for them, the school is a first step, a careful toe in the water. But most are here not to change professions but to eat vast quantities of first-rate food, to add to their repertoire of cooking skills and to enjoy the handsome New Hampshire countryside.

For weekend sessions, guests arrive Friday evening in time for dinner, prepared and served by Raichlen and the Bernerhof staff. ("Enjoy it," Raichlen grins. "It's the last time you get to eat without working for it.") Classes get underway on Saturday, with half the students preparing a five-course lunch, the other half responsible for a five-course dinner. On their half day out of the kitchen, guests explore the surrounding countryside: hundreds of miles of hiking trails (one leads from the inn to the top of Mt. Washington); clear streams for fishing, canoeing and tubing; ski slopes; scenic roads through the mountains; and outlet and craft stores in North Conway, 10 miles away (including a fine shop featuring the works of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen). Less energetic vacationers laze around the inn—reading, talking, or singing around the piano.

Sunday morning Raichlen stages a solo demonstration, although, in this very hands-on school, students end up rolling dough and spreading icing while they "observe." After Sunday's five-course lunch, the weekend concludes with class pictures and graduation certificates. Five-day courses follow a similar schedule but last longer.

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