Robin Way peers over my shoulder as I hover over a frying pan filled with risotto cakes.
“The secret to good risotto cakes,” she starts to tell me, and then pauses and raises her voice for the room to hear. “The secret to good risotto cakes is patience. If you try to turn them over too early, they’ll fall apart.”
Across the room, a man in an apron looks up from the long stainless steel worktable, where he is mixing melted chocolate with heavy cream. A couple who’ve just finished scoring the skin on a goose breast pause as they slice avocado and tear Bibb lettuce.
I stare at the risotto cakes, hockey-puck-sized patties of moist rice snapping in a pool of hot oil, wondering when I might dare to lift one slightly to see if the underside is brown enough to gently turn over.
The kitchen staff, all paying guests, listens attentively. Tonight’s theme is game, and Robin is leading us through the preparation of duck confit with risotto cakes, sweet potato crepes with roasted duck filling, goose breast, and seared venison. The chocolate “moose” dessert, she points out, is a play on words.
Way, along with her husband, Mark, is owner of Rumbleway Farm in Conowingo. Most months of the year, the Ways are busy being farmers. They raise chickens, turkeys, beef cattle, and goats (for sale at local markets and in the farm’s onsite shop) on their Cecil County spread.
They also sell jams, jellies, and applesauce that Robin makes from local fruit, sauerkraut she cures from her own cabbage, and raw-milk cheese from a small Pennsylvania company she recently acquired with a business partner.
But after Thanksgiving—when the Ways have finally finished processing some 400 turkeys—Robin trades her proverbial John Deere cap for a toque. The industrial kitchen in the farm’s outbuilding becomes alternately a chef’s kitchen and a classroom.
Some nights, Robin stages a “Dinner on the Farm,” with menus that may feature anything from pork tenderloin to seafood chowder.
And about twice a month, from December to April, she invites local chefs to conduct cooking classes on subjects ranging from Chinese food to cooking with kids.
Sometimes, the guest instructors are friends with special skills or backgrounds: Greg Galla, who teaches culinary arts at the nearby vocational high school, helped with the kids’ class, while Maria Pippidis, a county extension director in Delaware, taught a class on Greek cuisine.
And sometimes, they’re pros: John Shields, for example, recently led a seafood class, in which he revealed some secrets of the crab cakes at his Baltimore restaurant, Gertrude’s (it’s all in the handling, apparently).
But at other times, like tonight, Robin herself steps in to instruct. For this class, she has collected advice from friends who hunt and is tapping into her own experience working with often gamey grass- and pasture-raised meat.
She’s got an eager audience, too—most here are hunters. One woman says her family eats venison every night from the freezer that she, her husband, and their three sons stock each year. This class is a birthday present to herself.
The salad-making couple have a few geese stored at a friend’s house on the Eastern Shore. They’re looking forward to trying Robin’s technique for braised goose, in which seared breasts are simmered in stock made with shallots, mushrooms, and cognac.
“Goose can be a lot tougher than duck,” Robin tells us. The timing of the meal depends in large part on providing adequate time for the goose to braise in its rich broth. A lot can go wrong, but Robin and her assistant, Sandy, a neighbor who frequently pitches in at the farm, keep things under control.