Rhubarb Kitchen: Cooking School, British Style, in Darien

Melissa Roberts

As if on cue, the day I attended class at the Rhubarb Kitchen, a cooking school with an emphasis on all things British, the sun disappeared and the weather turned appropriately overcast and drizzly. A perfect backdrop for learning about the delights of the very English ritual of Afternoon Tea.

But first, a little about the women who run this show. Rebecca Binks (aka “Becs”) grew up in Kent and learned the highlights of English food from her grandmother, mom, and eight aunts. A former banker and world traveler who has lived in France and Spain, Becs landed in New York City where she met Lisa McMullan. Lisa, an Irishwoman, grew up surrounded by lush farmland and her culinary path is inspired by a true farm to table experience. Lisa practiced as an optometrist, but her love of food always lingered in the background.

Across “the Pond”, Becs and Lisa’s path converged while living in New York, where conversations over tea turned to plans to spread the joys of British cookery. This dream became a reality when both moved, partly by coincidence and mostly by design, to Darien, CT. There, in Becs’ large airy kitchen, they created The Rhubarb Kitchen, a demo and teaching space devoted to British food. 

Gathered around a gigantic center island, Becs poured glasses of cava and had each of us make an introduction and what brought us here (there were plenty of Anglophiles in the group). Then Lisa got down to business beginning with Vanilla Puffs, a crumbly butter cookie sandwiched between a layer of vanilla buttercream, while both ladies explained the British tea’s history.  Lisa and Becs led us through each recipe deftly and methodically, at a perfect pace, handing over the recipes at different points to have us continue or finish a dish. There was plenty of work to go around, but the atmosphere was fun and relaxed. Following the cookies, our other recipes included scones, a quick strawberry jam (whose results will make you wonder why anyone would ever bother buying another jar of Smucker’s ever again), an assortment of tea sandwiches, and the piece de resistance, a perfectly iced “sponge” cake which we were invited to decorate with berries in a Union Jack design.

After all the cooking was done, we were led into Becs’ dining room where a perfectly set table was waiting for us to leisurely enjoy the fruits of our labor, along with pots of brewed English tea. And if tea isn’t your cuppa, but you’re sorely missing London post Olympics, Becs and Lisa’s teaching schedule also includes classes devoted to traditional British (fish and chips, savory tarts, custard and the like), an Autumn Three Course menu featuring asparagus soup, cottage pie, and Bourneville chocolate mousse, and British desserts. Rhubarb Kitchen is also available for private classes, team building, corporate events, birthday parties and bridal or baby showers.

Contact Rhubarb Kitchen on their website or call Becs @ 917-817-8937