Tidewater Traveler November 2006

A U-Turn to Culinary Delight


George Sellers

     A U-turn took the evening in a new direction – a direction that became so enjoyable that seeds for this month’s article were planted.
      To celebrate the birthday of a friend we picked her up in Denton and proceeded west on Maryland Route 404 thinking about a nice restaurant on Kent Island or in Annapolis. As we rode, the conversation turned to a local political meeting that had been held the night before in Caroline County. It was agreed that the politicians present generally seemed ill-prepared for their ‘job interview’ with the voting public, but the hors d’ oeuvres at the meeting had been a big hit. The goodies, we learned, had been prepared by the students from the new Chesapeake Culinary Center, and as we rode, the person who had attended the political forum was raving about the crab dip.
      The conversation soon moved to, “Have you eaten at the new culinary school in Denton?” Within a few minutes, after confirming that they are open to the public on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, I found a safe place to turn around and we headed back to Denton.
      Set on a hill (an Eastern Shore hill), within view of the Choptank River and the Caroline County Courthouse and Library, is a large Nineteenth Century house known as Emerson House. The old house at the foot of Denton’s Market Street features a wrap-around porch that offers beautiful sunsets over Crouse Park and the upper reaches of the Choptank River.
      We could have chosen one of the beautifully set tables on the porch, but the prospect of cool, fall, evening air led us to settle in one of the inside rooms, probably the living room or dining room of the house’s late eighteen hundreds owners. The walls and window frames appeared clean and freshly painted. Each of the tall windows was treated with a simple, but elegant hanging tapestry. Six nicely appointed tables awaited the arrival of dinner guests, with china, crystal and flatware precisely placed. A small bouquet of fresh flowers accented each table.
      On the walls were several ornately-framed, large, color prints depicting buildings and street scenes in historic Denton. One of the pictures featured an abandoned, two-story, brick, schoolhouse, typical in Eastern Shore towns during the early twentieth century. The building depicted is about to take a U-turn of its own; for it is said to be the future home of the Chesapeake Culinary Center.
      We were pleasantly greeted, seated, and made to feel welcome, drink orders were taken and we were presented with menus. Our waiter for the evening was a young man who is an intern at the school and it was his turn to practice his service skills at our table for the evening. As we ordered he took copious notes, obviously wanting to ‘get it right.’ And he did.
      I was impressed by the variety of cuisine offered on the dinner menu, and the prices seemed quite reasonable as well.
      My choice for the evening was sautéed shrimp and scallops served in a creamy, white sauce with a variety of vegetables and seasonings. Boasting ample chunks of scallop and generous-sized shrimp, I was fascinated with trying to identify and savor the diversity of flavors and textures of this culinary symphony. I have dined at many fine restaurants around the world, but without doubt, this was as good as any meal I have eaten.
      Was the service perfect? No, but it was as good as, if not better than, service I have experienced in a number of high-dollar, mid-shore restaurants. Best of all, the attitude was right. It was clear that the leadership of the organization insists upon developing a service-oriented manner among the Center’s interns.
      Chesapeake Culinary Center is the passion of Beth Brewster. Beth modestly refers to herself as “Project Director,” but one needs to be with her only a few minutes to realize that she would be more properly called the “Heart & Soul” of the operation.
      Beth brings to the role a career in food and beverage direction and management, at one point serving as National Operations Business Consultant for the Fuddruckers restaurant chain, responsible for setting up new restaurants and making them operational.
      The Center works in close cooperation with the Town of Denton, the Caroline Technical Center’s Culinary Arts program, and the Caroline Human Services Council. The present location in the Emerson House is shared with a lunch-time restaurant, “The Lily Pad.” When “The Lily Pad” relocates, the Culinary Center will take over the full use of the present building; and then in about three years will move to the old Caroline High School at the corner of Sixth and Franklin Streets.
      In addition to training local youth and adults to be high-caliber service providers, the Center will offer “commercial kitchen incubators,” the concept of renting commercial kitchen space to local, small businesses where they can develop their own food-related enterprise. The Center maintains a commitment to purchasing as much as possible from local farmers. Catering engagements provide additional experience for the interns.
      The Chesapeake Culinary Center is open to the public for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.; and breakfast/brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Alcohol is not served, but patrons are welcome to bring along their favorite wine to accent their meal.
      Sometimes you just don’t have to travel very far to experience the best. Sometimes you stop and look around home; and wonder what it is like for other folks to travel here. Whether you live here, or Denton is your tourism destination, consider a U-turn to culinary delight at the Chesapeake Culinary Center.
      May all of your travels be happy and safe!

George Sellers and his wife Priscilla are Certified Travel Counselors and Accredited Cruise Counselors who own Travel Selections by Priscilla and George, Inc. and the popular travel web site www.sellerstravel.com