PORTLAND – Who knew that cooking could be so much fun?

Jon Ashton, executive chef for the weekly food magazine Relish, demonstrated Thursday night.

Ashton brought his culinary skills and his sense of humor to the Portland Exposition Building, where he conducted an onstage cooking show for several hundred fans.

Ashton entertained the audience while he prepared several dishes, often breaking into a dance to the pop music that blared from time to time, while inviting people on stage to sample his crispy vegetable lettuce wrap and potato cheese soup.

He good-naturedly skewered some people while poking fun at himself. In an interview before the show, Ashton emphasized how important humor and fun are to cooking.

“Food is a conduit to making people happy,” he said.

Ashton said he loves Portland, especially J’s Oyster on the waterfront, which he visited Thursday.

He said he really liked the restaurant’s lobster roll, because “it’s not too dressed up.”

“Portland has developed a reputation as a foodie town,” Ashton said. “More and more chefs want to come here.”

The Expo had a party-like atmosphere as music from the band Earth, Wind & Fire blared in the background.

“We are going to make food fun tonight,” said Brian Morris, a Relish chef, who produced the show.

Before the show, several vendors set up booths where guests could get a massage or learn about Pole Parties from Stacy Burns.

“The ladies are excited about my business,” said Burns, who owns Pole Parties by Stacy, which offers in-home pole dancing parties for women. “I do find I get a better reaction after they’ve had a glass of wine.”

John Jordan, president of Calendar Islands Maine Lobster, promoted his company’s products, including a lobster pizza. Calender Islands of Portland is owned by 38 fishermen.

Morris said Relish magazine does 20 live cooking shows a year.

The magazine appears as an insert in hundreds of newspapers across the nation, with readership of 15 million.

“The good thing for us about Portland is that it is such a foodie town. People are passionate about their food here,” Morris said.

The event — the first of three Dash of Diva programs to be held this year — was sponsored by The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram.

A portion of the proceeds from the show will benefit Hardy Girls Healthy Women, a Waterville-based organization that tries to empower girls with knowledge, critical thinking and the ability to drive social changes.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]