FALMOUTH, Maine — What do you do when your house exceeds your needs? If you are Falmouth neurosurgeon Marc Christensen, you invite the Food Network and a top Portland chef over to experiment.
On a lush 3.5 acres, the mansion Mirabelle quietly is transforming into a gourmet getaway for well-heeled urbanites. Celebrity chef Bobby Flay hasn’t checked in yet, but he is waiting off stage.
“Bobby loves Maine,” said Stacy St. Onge, Flay’s field producer and a partner in Maine’s newest experiential travel concept: Mirabelle House Culinary Vacations.
One may be tempted to write off this weekend workshop as a Canyon Ranch for the pampered, but Food Network conditioning has made people want more than a how-to for throwing a flashy cocktail party. This is more like chef’s camp, aprons included, for kitchen enthusiasts eager to sharpen their skills.
“It’s a full immersion into the Portland foodie and culinary scene,” said marketing director Amanda Howland, formerly of O’Maine Studios and Media Kitchen in Portland.
Forget soup to nuts. Here guests witness everything come to life, from blueberry mustard to mango lime sorbet made tableside with liquid nitrogen. That’s what Shannon Bard, chef at Portland’s Zapoteca and the culinary advisor here, whipped up last week during a test run.
The chef, who has competed on “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Kitchen Inferno,” was right at home in the alfresco kitchen while a handful of bloggers and journalists munched away.
“People come into the restaurant and want to meet you,” she said while grilling lobster for a tasty sandwich paired with gazpacho. “Here you get a personal experience.”
Because intimate food experiences are so sought after, home chefs want to get their hands dirty while rubbing elbows with a professional. In October, a workshop on how to butcher a pig is planned, and a course on Asian street food is in the works. Top chefs from Washington, D.C., New York, Boston and Maine will cook alongside guests over four-day weekends.
At a sprawling 12,000 square feet, the estate originally was built as a retreat for the head of Shaw’s supermarket. Now it’s getting a new life.
“It was beyond my needs when I saw it,” Christensen, who has lived here nearly two years, said. “I always had a vision that it would be a great place for corporate retreats or weddings.”
By tapping St. Onge, who splits her time between Portland and New York City, he has contacts in the food world.
“It will take time to build,” Christensen said. “But once people from Boston and New York — urbanites looking to escape the concrete jungle — arrive, they will find high-end relaxing in a place where you can totally get away.”
Get away and indulge in top-tier trappings just outside the state’s fast-growing food city. The target audience is “people who love the foodie culture of Portland and Maine,” Howland said.
“We will give them the full foodie experience with amazing classes but also show them Portland and the restaurants, bartenders, stores and people that make up the fabric of the Portland foodie scene.”
Daylong and evening classes are expected to attract local participants from Maine and New England. Though bookings have not yet begun, the concept is designed for “people who have a solid foundation in cooking already and want to go to the next level and have a one on one experience with the chefs,” Howland said, adding that kids classes will be added if there is a demand.
For the overnights, a huge gourmet kitchen gives way to an outdoor grill and swimming pool. Seven bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, await overnight guests. A shuttle from Portland conveys people direct from the Jetport. A trip to a farmers market, lobstering for the day and blueberry picking can be arranged. Prices run up to $2,000 without airfare for the three-night package.
In the winter, guests can work off the indulgent spread on cross-country ski trails out back.
With a workout room, basketball court and batting cage and the option of a private yoga class on the lawn, who needs Bora Bora? Should you want to practice braising at 3 a.m., the house’s three kitchens are at your disposal.
Between cooking classes, where chefs such as Bard walk you through the steps to a gourmet feast — last week that included caul-fat-wrapped halibut with oven-roasted Maine potatoes and mushrooms and a Maine bouillabaisse — guests unwind in the rural yet luxurious Maine setting.
Although it feels very Robin Leach, “it’s about food,” St. Onge said. “We want to promote Maine, the ocean, the dairy and the produce.”
Local businesses such as Portland’s Vena’s Fizz House are invited in to whip up a few drinks, as they did last week with blueberry infused boozy cocktails. The concept is manifold: “To promote local businesses in the area and Maine,” Howland said, and introduce people to the culinary breadth of the state.
“There are tons of places you can go for one-day classes,” Howland said. “But there are not many where you can experience an extended weekend.”
Culinary vacations begin in mid-September.