About one weekend each month, Griffey opens her kitchen to a small group of students who spend Saturday preparing a feast that they and other guests will be served that evening.
My fellow students – Diane and Fred Beall of Myrtle Beach – and I reported to the kitchen at 10 a.m., where Griffey soon had us in aprons.
We learned how to roast red peppers directly on the burner of the gas range. “It’s the one time it’s OK to burn your food,” the chef told us. Then she showed us how to peel them in a paper bag so we didn’t make a mess. They were the beginnings of a delicious roasted red pepper soup.
We made a standing Caesar salad. This was one of the coolest things we made, where the romaine leaves actually stand in a thick crouton. We began with French bread slices about 2 ½ inches thick and cut a hole in the center with an apple corer. Then we browned these large croutons in olive oil, flavored with garlic. After the big crouton had cooled, we placed it on a dab of dressing and stood 3-4 romaine lettuce leaves in it. (I’ve been making the Caesar dressing at home with great success, but I’ve still got a ways to go to make my salad stand. It was so much easier in Chef Griffey’s kitchen.)
We shelled lobster tails to be used later for lobster thermidor. We made a Hpnotiq sorbet – and tasted the Hpnotiq, a tasty vodka liqueur I’d never heard of. We made the filling for a lemon tart and the raspberry sauce to top it.
And that was all before we took a lunch break.
For our afternoon session, we were joined by Jeffrey Grubb, the sous chef at Abingdon. We rolled dough for cinnamon rolls and pie crusts. We cut a beef tenderloin into about 18 steaks, and the chefs taught us how to cut off the silverskin, that tough connective tissue that can make your tender steak tough. We made a chicken liver pate. We put together the beef wellington, a steak, spread with pate, folded in puff pastry, complete with moon and star cutouts on each one.
The foods that students prepare during the cooking school vary, as Griffey tries to tailor each one to those who are attending. For example, we made cinnamon rolls, which we enjoyed at breakfast the next morning, at the request of Diane Beall. Classes are limited to six.
Not only do you learn a lot about cooking, but you also have the pleasure of staying at Abingdon Manor, a lovely Greek revival mansion that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s on Church Street, a modest street with well-kept homes that share space with this magnificent 10,000-square-foot bed and breakfast.
Patty and Michael Griffey left careers in Miami, Fla., to search for the perfect home to open a bed and breakfast. They bought Abingdon Manor in 1995 and set about renovating and redecorating.
The home was built in the early 1900s by James H. Manning, a farmer and state senator. The house stayed in the Manning family until 1970, when it was sold and became a bridal shop for 20 years. In 1992, a couple bought the home, began restoring it and opened it as a bed and breakfast, The Manning House, in 1994.
From the front entrance into the main hall, you have your choice of the ladies’ parlor on your left and the gentlemen’s parlor on your right. Both are comfortable areas to relax and enjoy your surroundings or to visit with other guests.
The seven guest rooms are spacious, beautifully decorated and most have working fireplaces.
Abingdon has received its share of awards. The inn and the restaurant have received the Four Diamond award from AAA, the American Automobile Association, for years. It’s one of eight South Carolina bed and breakfasts named to the Select Registry, Distinguished Inns of North America. It also received a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence award in spring 2013.
Abingdon Manor is fewer than 5 miles off of Interstate 95 and is halfway between New York and Palm Beach, Fla.
Chef Griffey spent years entertaining at home and taking cooking courses before she sold her accounting firm to buy the inn. She has published a cookbook, “Inn the Kitchen at Abingdon Manor,” which is out of print, but many of her recipes are on her website. She also films a cable television show, “Inn the Kitchen,” that you can watch on her website.
While she takes the lead in the kitchen, Michael Griffey is the gracious host who welcomes guests and makes the visitors feel welcome and comfortable.
Cooking classes are offered in a two-night package, a one-night package, or a class and dinner package.
Whether you enjoy cooking or just want to enjoy the luxury of staying in a fine inn and eating delicious meals, you should definitely plan a trip to Abingdon Manor.
Some other cooking classes in South Carolina:
* Charleston Cooks!, with locations in Charleston, Greenville and Columbia, offers many cooking classes. Some are demonstration classes, where you watch the instructor and get a tasting of the foods prepared, and others are participation classes where you help cook the meal and then eat it.
* Let’s Cook Culinary Studio in Columbia offers classes, private cooking lessons and classes for children.
* Fleur de Lys in Columbia offers many classes throughout the week.