this – a weekend at a Victorian B&B or perhaps a Craftsman-style inn
with a trained chef at your disposal. I don’t know about you, but
that is my dream weekend. Wrap in the ocean and a quaint, small town
to go with it and you have – oh! – you have Cape May. So, when I heard
Cape May has two, count them, two (that I know of) B&Bs with gourmet
chefs doubling as innkeepers, I say to myself, oh what a
Inn at the
Park on Washington Street and
the Sea on Beach Avenue offer their guests a chance to live The
Life of Riley.
Three times a year innkeepers Jay and Mary Ann Gorrick offer their
weekend guests a wine dinner. Served on a Saturday night, during the
“shoulder seasons” the guests are treated to a five-course affair
which includes hors d’oeuvres, appetizer,
entrée, salad and dessert, each course accompanying a wine or
champagne selected by Chef Jay, who received his training at the
Culinary Art Institute (C.I.A.), following his departure at I.B.M.
Mary Ann took courses at the C.I.A. as well, but only lays claim to
being the sous-chef.
"The main thing you need to know is that Jay has two rules," says
Mary Ann as she rolls out the dough and pours the filling into the
tart pans and slides them into the piping hot oven, "Stay out of his
way and do what he tells you to do. I try to, but I’m very nervous
and like to move things along."
Food is part of the experience at Rhythm of the Sea everyday if the
guests so desire. Chef Wolfgang (Wolf) Wendt and his able first
mate, Robyn Wendt, offer dinner, as well breakfast, at this circa
1913 Craftsman-style inn. Wolfgang trained to be a chef back in
Berlin, Germany. He immigrated to Canada and shortly thereafter came to America to work
as a chef for the Sheraton Hotel chain. But he comes from
a long line of entrepreneurs so it wasn’t long before he opened his
own café, eventually relocating to Winter Park, Colorado where he
and his partner opened a ski lodge and where he met and married New
I recently decided to investigate what goes on behind the scenes at
Inn at the Park and Rhythm of the Sea with absolutely no ulterior
motives regarding imbibing and partaking whatsoever.
On a warm October evening, I arrive one hour before the appointed
time at Inn at the Park. Hors d’oeuvres are to be served by fellow
innkeepers Linda and Bob Steenrod of the
also located on Washington Street, at precisely 6
and consist of Smoked Blue Fish Paté served on endive spears topped
with salmon caviar; Greg’s (the Gorrick’s son-in-law) Seven Layer
Fiesta Dip served with tortilla chips and a French Onion Tart made
with pâté brisée pastry and
Bermuda onions. All served with a Charbaut & Fils, Cuvee de Reserve. Translation? A
champagne. All righty now – that’s what I’m talking about. Not that
I came here for the champagne and wine. I’m all about the story.
Chef Jay is already in his white coat and shorts – this is Cape May
after all, it simply doesn’t do to be too formal. He is pouring over
his cookbook, his mind already two courses ahead. Meanwhile his sous-chef,
Mary Ann, is busy rolling out the pâté brisée pastry for the onion
tart. Jay begins to slice the wide variety of mushrooms – among them
Portobello, crimini and shiitake – to be used as the filling for the
puff pastry, served with a Calvados-laced cream sauce. A California
Alma Rosa, Pinot Noir, 2005, will be the accompanying wine for this
While Mary Ann pours in the filling for the tart, he shows me how
to deglaze the pan to make the base for the cream sauce. The smells
in the kitchen are already heavenly – the beef tenderloin has been
prepared ahead of time and is sitting waiting to be carved. It will
be served with a Béarnaise sauce over garlic mashed potatoes with
corn and broiled asparagus, all served with a Chateau Lagrange,
Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, 1989 from Jay's private collection. The asparagus bunches sit stoically on
the stove soaking in olive until it’s their turn.
Just as the Steenrods arrive to begin serving the hors d’oeuvres,
Mary Ann looks in the oven and realizes she has made a mistake. The
pie shells were to have been baked
ahead of time.
“What should I do?” she asks anyone who will venture an answer.
Jay looks askance over his reading glasses, but does not comment
right away since he is looking for the shallots which need to be
added to the cream sauce.
“There’s only thing to do,” I say, not quite able to resist the
temptation of putting my two cents in, “Dump the filling back into
bowl and bake the pie crusts. See what happens.”
Jay is still looking for his errant shallots, but turns and nods
his head in agreement. “You have to,” he says, “otherwise the crust
will be doughy.”
The guests have arrived and Bob opens the champagne bottle. A loud
popping sound breaks the quiet of the kitchen. All eyes are on Bob.
He gets a particularly stern look over the rim of the glasses from
“I’m sorry,” says Bob, immediately. This is the third wine dinner
the Steenrods have served. Bob looks over at me. “I’m not supposed
to pop the cork like that, it ruins something in the champagne.”
Linda looks up, “Jay’s daughter told us there are two things you
need to know about Jay when you’re working in the kitchen with him –
stay out of his way and do exactly what he tells you to do.”
Bob takes the champagne bottle into the parlor and begins filling
each guest’s glass. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Linda puts the
finishing touches on the pâté – and gently, as instructed by Jay,
sprinkles bright red salmon caviar eggs onto the blue fish. Then off
she goes with her platter.
There is about an hour to wait until the first formal sit-down
course begins and I am encouraged to try the hors d’oeuvres. Yes,
twist my arm. I was out the swinging door, through the dining room
and into the parlor before you could say Jiminy Cricket. I try to be
civilized and not stand over the platters like a hovering hyena, and
I think I manage it pretty well. As I walk back into the kitchen,
Mary Ann is taking the onion tart out of the oven. This is the
moment of reckoning. I stand nearby while she cuts into the tart and
slips a slice onto a pie cutter. Underneath the crust is firm and
golden. Voila! But how does it taste?
So, naturally, I had to try a piece – as Mary Ann pointed out – you
simply cannot serve without first testing. Test away. And I hear
myself start to sigh with approval as the taste of the first morsel
hits my palette. I gave it my seal of approval and off it goes to
the lucky 12 dinner guests.
Everyone in the front parlor is having a great time, but those of
us in the kitchen watch as Jay finishes the cream sauce and begins
to plate the appetizer. The puff pastry is cut and looks like a mini
bread bowl. Each is filled with the mushroom mixture. The cap of the
pastry is replaced and the Calvados-laced cream sauce is ladled over
the finished product. A sprig of dill and the guests are asked to be
The rest of the evening goes like clockwork and while the front
room enjoys their appetizer with a glass of pinot noir, the back
room sits down to enjoy our first course as well.
Good food and good wine always help to make an evening a
great social success, an added component is familiarity with your
dining companions. Most of the 12 guests in the front room are
repeat participants and there is a natural camaraderie making the
innkeepers task that much easier. I left Inn at the Park a happy
camper and from the sounds of it, I trust the guests felt the same
My next culinary foray was breakfast with Chef Wolf and Robyn. The
cranberry muffins are already in the oven and ready to go when I
arrive at this spacious oceanfront B&B with mission oak furnishings
from L.& J.G. Stickley. Robyn is preparing a Banana Split (a fresh
fruit dish) with expert precision when it comes to cutting a
pineapple just so. Wolf bakes his own brioche the night before and
begins to cut thick slices of it for his famous “Hole in One” dish.
He is, first and foremost, a pastry chef, but is equally comfortable
in all aspects of the kitchen. The Hole in One, by the way, has a
hole in the middle of the brioche slice which Wolf fills with an egg
after he places it on the stove. He then covers it with havarti
cheese and slides the whole thing into the broiler. Served with a
tomato slice and a cranberry muffin, a bit of mushroom truffle oil
is sprinkled on
each plate. And the leftover bread hole from the
brioche? It is toasted with a bit of marmalade on top. And I can
tell you from personal experience; it is like nothing you have ever
tasted. The difference in the taste of a homemade brioche, the
lightness in texture of the muffin, the wholesome taste of good
old-fashioned home cooking, the ocean view and I’m thinking – what a
great way to start the day.
Often, especially on Sundays, Wolf bakes a special brioche with a
cinnamon swirl through it for French Toast. It is accompanied with a
bit of custard in the
center and surrounded by a beautiful
assortment of fruit. But where Rhythm by the Sea distinguishes
itself from other B&B is their willingness to also cook dinner for
their guests. Robyn says she and her assistant innkeeper Julie often
send out sample menus to old and prospective customers with the
following message at the top: Our resident chef/innkeeper
Wolfgang, brings you modern food with casual charm. When you make
your room reservations with us consider reservations to join us for
a relaxed dinner to celebrate your special day or just to get away
from the restaurant crowds.
The 4-course menu selection reads like a five star restaurant.
The entrée selection ranges from Lamb Shank Osso Bucco style to
Wolfgang’s German specialties – dishes like Wienerzshnitzel and
Sauerbraten. Desserts? Oh yeah! Crème Royale, Molten Chocolate Cake,
Peach Cobbler. Dinner is served at 6:30 and includes a beautiful
view of the ocean.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry and since I’ve already
got a free meal from the Inn at the Park and Rhythm of the Sea, I
think I’m going to have to do my own cooking tonight. But, while I’m
peeling those potatoes, I’ll be thinking about those gracious
innkeepers who go the extra mile to make their guests feel right at