Cooking in Good Company at the Inns of Aurora
Story and photos by Sally Kral
What a fun evening my husband Nick and I had at the Inns of Aurora last week! We were there attending their Soups & Salads cooking class, the first in a series of couples cooking classes being held at Rowland House each month through April.
When we arrived at Rowland House for the class at 6 p.m. (though you may check in as early as 3 p.m.), Innkeeper Dale Whittaker greeted us and took us on a quick tour of the beautiful lakefront property before showing us to our room. We then joined the rest of the group in the foyer, where we met Meryl Eriksen, Director of Food & Beverage, Rupert Robbins, our chef and instructor for the evening (he is also Executive Chef and General Manager of Skillet & Embers Catering Co.), as well as the other couples attending and a special guest for the class, Courtney Stees, manager of the F. Oliver’s store in Skaneateles.
After enjoying some wine and getting to know one another, we all made our way to the Rowland House’s beautiful and impressive kitchen, where Chef Rupert showed us the four stations set up with all the ingredients and instructions we would need to make each of the four soups he selected. Donning our new Inns of Aurora aprons—gifts for us to keep—Nick and I took on the Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice station, while the other couples divided among the New England Clam Chowder station, the Pot Roast Beef Vegetable station and the Tuscan Ribolita with Crusty Peasant Bread station. Chef Rupert was kind enough to do all the knife prepping work ahead of time—“We wouldn’t have served you wine otherwise!” he joked—and had already cooked all the meats needed for each soup, so most of our labor involved simply measuring and combining the ingredients in a pot, while he looked on and offered guidance. The easy-going style of the class allowed us all to enjoy conversation and continue sipping our wine as we measured and stirred. Chef Rupert gave us plenty of helpful cooking tips along the way, including what type of thickening agents to use when making soups and when and how to use them in the process.
When the soups were ready, we were encouraged to take a bowl of each into the dining room—a really magnificent and gorgeous space—to enjoy the fruits of our labor and continue chatting. The soups were absolutely delicious (Clam Chowder and Chicken & Wild Rice pictured right) and it was encouraging to see first-hand how simple it can be to make hearty, flavorful soup from scratch.
While we dined on our soups, Courtney chatted with us about the many delicious and handcrafted F. Oliver’s infused olive oils and vinegars, inviting us to try each that she had brought with her. We happily tasted many of the oils and vinegars while Courtney answered our questions and helped us come up with interesting vinaigrette flavors to try. She also provided us each with a sample-sized bottle to take home an oil or vinegar of our choice. Nick picked the Sunday Morning Maple Balsamic Vinegar—deliciously sweet and tart—and I went for the Tuscan Garden Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which has wonderful aromatics of rosemary, oregano, sage and garlic—can’t wait to try this drizzled over roasted potatoes!
Chef Rupert then served numerous salads for us to enjoy family-style, which included three variations on the classic Caesar salad—the first topped with toasted almond slices and crumbled gorgonzola; the next with char-grilled shrimp and brown sugar peppercorn bacon; and the other with sliced sirloin and tomatoes—as well as a chopped Cobb salad and a spinach salad with cheddar cheese, apples, bacon, toasted walnuts and maple vinaigrette.
Needless to say, we were all very satisfied—I was frankly stuffed!—by the end of the meal. Chef Rupert brought out thick and decadent hot chocolate for dessert as we continued to discuss the meal and ask him additional questions about cooking skills and techniques.
After deciding it was a bit too windy and chilly by the lake, Nick and I settled in one of the Rowland House’s many comfy seating areas to enjoy more wine over a game of chess (Nick won, of course) and then a game of cards (I won, of course) by the fireplace before retiring to our room—complete with a king-sized bed, gorgeous view of the lake, and sleek bathroom with heated tile floors—for the night.
During our drive back to Ithaca the next morning, we couldn’t stop talking about what a fun evening we had and what friendly and interesting people we met and enjoyed the experience with. We’re looking forward to recreating all the soups and salads we enjoyed, thanks to the packet of recipes we got to take home. We also received leftovers so we could enjoy our homemade soups all weekend long!
To learn more about the Inns of Aurora cooking classes, click here.
Sally Kral is the print and digital managing editor of Edible Finger Lakes as well as a freelance writer focused on national wine, beer and spirits trends.