You should go to the Farm Cooking School for the food. But you might want to stay for the fantasy.
What Ian Knauer has created outside the little town of Stockton, on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border about 70 miles from the Port Authority, is wish fulfillment for cooks looking to hone farm-to-table skills in the most convivial kitchen imaginable, with every class a BYOB party.
Knauer, who spent nine years at Gourmet as a food editor, didn't scramble to find another magazine job when the venerable publication suddenly shut down in 2009. Instead, he decided to build his own brand. He registered his domain name, wrote a cookbook centered on the seasons at his grandparents' Pennsylvania farm and sold a cooking show to PBS. After moving to the aptly named New Hope, he connected with a farmer who just happened to have a 1700s stone farmhouse sitting empty and offered to let him use it as a schoolhouse surrounded by pastures of grazing cows and sheep. Knauer renovated the parlor floor into a working/teaching kitchen, built a kitchen garden with Burpee's help and lured a fellow Gourmet refugee south to help him teach.
Now, with Shelley Wiseman as his right-hand knife, he offers an ambitious schedule of classes that not only educate Dan Barber wannabes but serve as testing sessions for future cookbooks. What he's selling is so seductive you almost wish you had a farmhouse and could buy a franchise.
The school opened last summer at Tullamore Farms, a working 210-acre spread along the Delaware River with red barns and silos, a henhouse and free-range chickens, plus a Manhattan-studio-size kitchen garden Knauer planted with everything from arugula to zucchini. On the day last fall when I New Jersey Transited down, the theme was "bistro(t) Fridays sausagefest," and the lesson plan looked impossibly ambitious for a one-evening Cordon Bleu: Toulouse sausages; red wine and porcini sausages; wine-braised sausages with roasted root vegetables; tricolore salad; oven-roasted garlic polenta; saffron clam risotto, and Italian lemon tart with fennel. Students included a mother and son, a gaggle of "girls" on a night out, other friends who had come together and a sad-eyed woman who said little until the sharing began and the laughter took over. She, it turned out, was a recent widow who found the cooking and conviviality restorative. Within minutes of walking through the screen door, they were all uncorking wine bottles and clustered around two tables, one supervised by Knauer and the other by Wiseman.
As always with good dinner planning, the dessert was dispatched first, along with a diversionary lesson in composting and chicken-scrapping. Give those birds piecrust trimmings and lemon rinds (and, later, mussel shells, for the calcium), but not meat scraps.
"Otherwise they will come for you in your sleep," Knauer warned.