Solomons, MD – When The decided to write an upbeat holiday cooking story featuring a new local business, “No Thyme to Cook,” we found we may have bitten off more than we can chew.

Thinking we were about to talk about holiday catering, we asked owner Gwyn Novak what is she making for families for the holidays.

“We do cater and offer personal chef services, but we also teach cooking classes and host private events,” Novak said. “People can join us and learn how to cook their favorite holiday dishes to impress their guests.”

She said going out to dinner is great, but sometimes you want to do something different. “You get to learn a new skill and by the time you finish the class you’ve met new friends,” she said. “You get to eat good food too. You get to eat everything you make.”

Upon entering, there were adults of all ages enjoying spirits, ham and each other in a large luxury kitchen filled with state of the art audio video equipment and multiple mini-stations that are moved around, increased or decreased based on the event and class size.

Novak said about 45 minutes before classes start, the back patio facing the water is opened up to enjoy.

“(Those taking classes) can go out on the back deck have a cider, glass of wine or a beer and sit to watch Solomons float by,” she said.

With all one might imagine a true maritime backdrop to be, the back deck overlooks picturesque waters, close and far landscapes and many varieties of boats.

There is a second larger kitchen on the second floor directly above the first that is set up the same way but without a bar area and has a smaller deck.

She said they invite guest chefs to teach the classes—just as they invited local Darren Dahlstrom to cook the Southern Maryland stuffed ham.

“Have you tasted the Southern Maryland Stuffed ham?” Novak asked. “Here, you have to try it.”

She said if you want to know what wines go best with certain meals, they have wine pairing classes and tastings. She said the location also supports local businesses such as wineries, growers, and cooks.

When asked about the frequency and size of her events, she said they keep growing as more people catch onto what they have to offer.

“We have classes like ‘Couples in the kitchen’ which is a class for couples to learn how to prepare a meal together, enjoy some drinks and then the dinner they cook,” she said. “We do a fresh pasta class, farm to table series, dinner and a movie, Sunday brunch and kids camps.”

She said they invited a food historian who taught Tidewater Thanksgiving history and will be back to teach another Tidewater food history class covering Christmas dinner.

“We are having a run of classes leading up to Thanksgiving,” she said. “Thanksgiving is that one meal that everyone has to make, but it is terrified to make.”

She said they will go over tips such as how to make the perfect turkey and ham as well as what wines pair best with the Thanksgiving feast.

“We even host kids’ birthday parties,” she said. “They are ‘Chopped-style’ cooking competitions.”

She said that “Chopped” is a culinary show on the Food Network where chefs face off to prove who has the most skill. However, the ingredients are not all always the most conventional.

Not only did we get a taste of an authentic Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham while visiting but we stumbled upon a trending regional pastime that has lasting family business ties and roots that run deep into the shores of Solomons Island.

Although she opened No Thyme to Cook in Solomons Island six months ago, the property has been in her family since her great-grandfather Mortimer Bowen bought it for $2,500 in 1918.

She and her family celebrated 100 years of ownership of the waterfront property where—for 88 years of business—the family owned and operated Bowen’s Inn. The historic hotel, restaurant, bar and marina played host to celebrities and presidents such as Robert Mitchum,  Arthur Godfrey, John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman. However, the Bowen family and Solomons Island took a devastating hit when the inn caught fire in 2006 resulting in a total loss.

She enlisted a local architect, Thomas Reinecker, to capture the feel and likeness of her grandmother’s home that burned along with Bowen’s Inn. She, and her husband, Donald, are the fourth generation to own the property.

“We sold the lot next to us where Bowen’s Inn stood to The Lighthouse [Restaurant and Dock Bar] next door,” she said.

Novak is a member of the  IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) as well as the United States Personal Chef Association and worked as a personal chef in the area operating as No Thyme to Cook since 1999.

“When the economy tanked in ’08, oddly enough, the first thing people eliminated was their chef. I don’t understand why,” she said in jest and laughed a bit.

Novak said she took a sabbatical and reinvented her business structure after a friend asked her, “So, you are teaching cooking classes?” She said she told her friend, “That is not what I am doing at all but why am I not?”

The cooking classes soon made up for the loss of business, she fell in love with teaching and she has been doing it doing for the last six years.

She graduated from Baltimore International Culinary College and has worked at many bed and breakfasts, country inns and country clubs along the East Coast — she has been cooking and writing about it for more than 25 years now.

Although she and her team of nine can teach you how to make some fancy dishes and what wines go with what, she says “It is very casual and it is fun.”

And, don’t think we forgot about that Southern Maryland Ham recipe:

Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham

•    20-25 lb. corned ham

•    3-4 heads of cabbage, thinly sliced
•    3 lb. onions, yellow, diced
•    1 packed grocery bag of fresh kale, chopped
•    3 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
•    3 ½ Tbsp. black pepper
•    2 Tbsp. celery seed
•    1 Tbsp. mustard seed
•    2 Tbsp. cayenne pepper
•    2 pkg. cheesecloth

Get a large pot of water boiling.

Meanwhile, combine all of the cabbage, onion and kale in a large piece of cheesecloth.

Blanche it for 10 minutes in the boiling water. Remove and squeeze out as much of the excess water as you can.

Spread the mixture out onto the counter. Mix in the seasonings, blending well.

Cut slits in the ham. Stuff the entire mixture into the ham, turning over and packing it in.

Wrap the entire ham well in 2 sheets of cheesecloth, tying tight to secure. Place in a pot of boiling water and simmer approximately 5 ½ hours or until the internal temperature of the ham reaches 165-170 degrees F.

Remove from the water and cool down as quickly as possible – ideally in an ice bath in a cooler. Refrigerate and slice to serve.

Recipe Courtesy of Darren Dahlstrom

For more information about No Thyme to Cook, visit their web site or like them on Facebook.