A recent gastronomic road trip along Delaware’s Atlantic coast offered an opportunity to visit three culinary education “institutions.” While all three were thoroughly professional, knowledgeable, and engrossing, each was also absolutely different from the others.
Chef Paul Cullen definitely has the credentials as a 21st century Renaissance man. The former guitarist with Bad Company now leads culinary trips to Italy, provides private chef services for home dining, and conducts cooking classes in “Paul’s Kitchen,” a 296-square foot demonstration kitchen/trattoria/classroom, tucked away on Cedar Grove Road in Lewes.
His cooking classes emphasize hands-on, and his Italian heritage sets his culinary focus. He offers five to seven classes each month, including pasta making, and even offers pasta making classes geared for kids.
“Our classes are smaller, boutique, more like a cooking school,” explained Cullen. “You really learn what you are making…We want Paul’s Kitchen to be a festive, fun place to hang out.”
Every Sunday, the kitchen turns into a popup market, featuring unique and authentic Italian foods. Locals and visitors alike shop for Chef Cullen’s own chicken parmesan sausage, pastas and specialty products.
Along with Paul’s Kitchen, Chef Cullen will host a trip to Italy in September. He also annually prepares and orchestrates more than 200 in-home dinners throughout the Mid Atlantic, primarily for surprise dinners, birthdays, anniversaries and wine clubs. Many of those dinners include cooking demonstrations; and, with a level 2 certification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, Chef Cullen is well versed in Italian wines. He can even play the guitar to accompany dinner.
A plant of many uses
Outside of Milton, Lavender Fields at Warrington Manor — Delaware’s premier lavender farm — invites people to learn about the fragrant plant, often called the “Swiss Army knife of the herb world” because of its many uses. Owned by Sharon Harris and Marie Mayor, the farm grows some 8,000 Hidcote lavender plants, and offers a range of classes and workshops.
“We want to be ambassadors for agritourism in Southern Delaware,” explained Mayor. Every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., from mid-May until the end of October, the farm hosts an introduction to lavender with information about the history of the farm, its amenities, and, of course, how to grow lavender and its uses. Talks generally last 30 minutes to an hour and are held in the Sassafras Grove. Reservations are not required.
A tour of discovery
If you want to be a professional chef — or a talented amateur — the Saturday cooking class at Rehoboth’s Big Fish Grill is the ideal place to start learning the craft. Conducted by Chef Norman Sugrue, the class is a behind-the-scenes tour of discovery that explores every facet of a modern, quality-focused restaurant.
Using a blend of hands-on and an overhead display screen for demonstrations, Chef Sugrue helps two dozen “students” understand his world, literally getting their hands messy as they participate in creating and eating various dishes. A winery representative ensures that no one stays thirsty.
The tour ranges from the kitchen and cooling areas to the commissary to the front of the house, where Chef Sugrue explains how the restaurant is arranged for efficiency. All the while, he has a Berkshire pork roast slow-cooking outside on a Big Green Egg grill. The sweet, smoky flavored meat is a succulent finale to a great meal and excellent learning experience.
Chicken Cacciatore: Mama Nancy’s
Courtesy of Chef Paul Cullen. Visit BadCompany2GoodCompany.com to download his book plus 25 recipes.
6 boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
28 ounces San Marzano crushed tomatoes
3 ounces tomato paste
3 ounces chicken stock
1 green pepper, diced
1 sweet onion, diced
6 baby bella mushrooms, diced into 1/4 bites
10 Kalamata olives, pitted whole
1 clove chopped garlic
Fresh Italian parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Chunk of Parmesano Reggiano cheese
1 pound Rigatoni (Belvedere Mezzi Rigatoni Rocks)
First, put the water on for pasta; then, in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces then add to hot pan. Brown on all sides (15 minutes), then add peppers, onions, mushrooms and garlic. Sauté for 10 minutes then add paste, stir it up and pour in crushed tomatoes. Mix it up real good and let simmer for a few minutes then add olives. If you need to thin it out use a little chicken stock.
Add pasta to water with a generous amount of salt and cook to al dente. Add fresh parsley to sauce before taking pasta directly from pot to pan. Let it ALL get sexy for 10 minutes and serve with a hit of parsley and copious amounts of freshly grated cheese di Parma.
For more information:
Southern Delaware Tourism: visitsoutherndelaware.com
Chef Paul Cullen: paulcullen.rocks
Lavender Fields at Warrington Manor: lavenderfieldsde.com
Big Fish Grill: bigfishgrill.com
Reed Hellman is a professional writer living in Alberton, Md. Visit his website at reedhellmanwordsmith.com.