Gourmet cooking class takes students on a monthly 'trip' Humor, tastings attract students SOUTHWEST -- Mount Airy * Woodbine * Taylorsville * Winfield

March 12, 1993|By Kathy Sutphin | Kathy Sutphin,Contributing Writer

Faith Durgin's love of people, gourmet recipes and entertaining blossoms each month when she holds cooking classes in her Berrett home.

From appetizer to dessert, Mrs. Durgin teaches students how to prepare a full-course meal centered around a monthly theme. The step-by-step lessons end with generous tastings of the finished products in her festively decorated dining room.

"I feel like I travel each month," said Eldersburg resident Patty Smith, who has been attending the "Faith in Cooking" classes for three years. "The first time I came it was my birthday. I had so much fun. It's my day to myself each month [and] my family enjoys the recipes."

The February class was Peggy Posey's third lesson. "I just enjoy it," said the Eldersburg resident. "I've always wanted to take cooking classes -- and she's funny."

Surrounded by posters of tropical vacation spots, participants in Mrs. Durgin's February classes took a quick trip to warmer climes via an array of Caribbean recipes. To set the tone for the class, a tape of steel drum music softly played as members of the class chatted, took notes and watched their teacher.

With assistants Tina McGinn and Lisa Durgin busily chopping, grating, blending and washing in the background, Mrs. Durgin prepared spicy tamarind dip, chicken with dark rum and pineapple, curried rice with raisins, and coconut and orange Christophene cake.

Cooking instructions are peppered with samples of Mrs. Durgin's sense of humor.

"You have to remember, he's dead -- you can't hurt him," said the cooking teacher as she removed the shell from a shrimp destined for a salad Caribbean.

The lessons feature a cornucopia of cooking hints that includes where to buy a certain brand of mustard and how to cut up a chicken to get 10 pieces.

"If you buy a good knife, you'll pass it down to your great grandchild," advised Mrs. Durgin with a laugh as she noted that she loves to buy and use gadgets for her kitchen.

"Everything she picks up, even a potato, she tells you lots of things about it," said Mrs. Smith.

During the class, there is an exchange of information and chit-chat between the teacher, the assistants and the students.

This is one of the best classes," announced one regular attendee to Mrs. Durgin, midway through the lessons.

"We say that every month," said another student. The lessons, which cost $30 a person, begin at 10:30 a.m. and end somewhere between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. In addition to the demonstrations and tastings, each student receives typed, detailed instructions for preparing the day's fare.

A sign-up sheet for the next month's lessons is passed around, and the group, which Mrs. Durgin calls "my girls," occasionally takes field trips. One is planned for April to the "Share-Our-Strength" charity food event in Baltimore.

While some recipes for the cooking lessons are adapted from cookbooks, magazines and classes that Mrs. Durgin has taken, some, such as the tropical Caribbean splash punch that was served at the February classes, are original.

An occasional guest cook adds variety to the lessons and a friend, Ginny Whittington, helps create decorations for each month's theme.

Mrs. Durgin graduated in 1988 from L'Academie de Cuisine, where she learned many skills from school owner and teacher Francois Dionot.

She continues to take classes and assist at the Bethesda school, but she said her training has allowed her to "take a hobby and mold it into a business" that "pays for my hobby."

"I like to go and learn all the new cuisine," she said. "You never stop learning."

She said she has recently taken classes on Pan Asian, Mediterranean and Southwestern cooking.

In addition to teaching her "Faith in Cooking" classes, Mrs. Durgin has served as a freelance food coordinator for Maryland Public Television cooking shows. She said her first cooking show was in 1989 with Pierre Franey, the original "60-minute Gourmet."

"I love Pierre. He's a wonderful man," she said. She also has worked with chefs Giuliano Bugialli, Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Mario Lo Menzo.

As a food coordinator, Mrs. Durgin said, she purchased fresh produce and certain food items necessary for the program's recipes -- at least in triplicate.

"Sometimes I would go to three different grocery stores to pick out the best of each," she said. "Everything had to be very beautiful."

A member of the South Carroll Gourmet Club for the past 12 years, Mrs. Durgin also works as an outside travel agent with Gateway Travel in Ellicott City.

"It ties in wonderfully with food," she said.

She and her husband, Barry, have lived in the Sykesville area for 24 years. They have two sons, Troy, 17, and Mark, 15.

Mrs. Durgin said her family supports her culinary endeavors and her husband designed their kitchen with the idea that she would one day teach.

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