Let's Eat

Zooming into your kitchen - online cooking classes during lockdown


Home cooking has never been bigger. Facebook friends are constantly sharing homemade creations and my phone is pinging away with recipe queries. As so many rediscover their kitchens and think about upskilling, it’s ironic that cookery teachers have been forced to close their kitchens. Which is why these teachers have turned to technology. 
Pre-pandemic, Robinne Collie ran uFoodie, a cookery teaching business and Cook for Good, a not-for-profit operation combining corporate team-building with the preparation of meals for homeless or vulnerable people. 
“My team-building business fell apart with the pandemic,” she says. Initially, she kept busy running a soup kitchen, delivering food to 40 families. She wanted to return to her original business, so as lockdown progressed, she dipped her toe in the water of virtual lessons, via Zoom. First teaching scone-making to her neighbours on VE Day, then a shawarma lesson for friends. 
“A lot of people were doing it live on Facebook or Instagram, but just talking straight to camera didn’t appeal to me. I preferred to do it interactively,” she says.
Things didn’t always go smoothly. “In one session, the smoke alarm went off and during another, my internet went down.”
She gradually fine-tuned her tech. “Using an iPad didn’t work for me. I prefer a bigger screen. I tried having a co-host to mute and unmute everyone, but I preferred being in control, so set up a remote mouse next to my chopping board. I added a second, close-up camera to show techniques like onion chopping. There’s a skill in being able to deliver Zoom sessions well. It’s not enough to be a teacher — you need to master the tech too.” 
An unexpected benefit has been bringing people together. The neighbours convened to compare scones — from a safe social distance — and international connections have been made. “I’ve taught family groups over different continents. They cook, then eat their meal together and chat. I tailor the menus for those classes and allow them time to socialise.” 
Tracey Fine has also found her classes have fostered community spirit. “I have husbands and wives cooking together, and as a group we all talk about and compare the gadgets we use for different tasks, like juicing lemons or which spice brands we prefer.”
Fine is a food writer, whom some may know as one half of the Jewish Princesses  recipe-writing duo. She had recently completed a nutrition course at Leith’s School of Food and Wine. “I was all ready to start teaching healthy recipes. Overnight, I had no one to share all my knowledge with.” 
She decided to go online to show how to make the healthy nutritious meals she was enjoying during lockdown. Her lessons are also via Zoom and take place on Mondays at 6pm. 
“I send out the recipes and ingredients when they book and we all cook together. The camaraderie is great. I’ve had pupils of all ages, from 70s down to 20s — male and female. The idea is that anyone can do it. The class fee is £7 — I don’t want to put anyone off.” 
Denise Phillips has used a different platform to get to her audience, taking to Facebook Live twice a week to share her recipes. Since the start of lockdown, she has cooked a recipe for children each Tuesday at 11am and for adults on a Friday at 10am. The Facebook demonstrations are free but she has often secured a sponsor whose ingredients she is showcasing. 
She believes the key is to keep things short and sweet. “I’ve got it down to a fine art — no more than 25 minutes,” she says. She uses a portable hob on her kitchen top so she can face the camera. Her planning is military — all ingredients prepped before she starts and, where necessary, the next stage of a dish prepared earlier — Blue Peter style — ready to whip out and keep the pace moving. 
As well as the live demonstrations, she has regular corporate clients who book her to lead cooking demonstrations or Ready Steady Cook-style sessions, on Microsoft Teams or Zoom. “I’ve led a social cooking event on Fridays at 4pm for a company to allow their staff to socialise and wind down. We do a quick recipe — maybe tomato tartlets or trio of vegan steaks with garnishes — and then they chat.”  
Before lockdown, Hanna Geller took cookery classes and held supper clubs in her Maida Vale home. When she was forced to down utensils, she took to Zoom to host Bake and Donate sessions, during which she taught how to make a cake or savoury bake. “It was about sharing and helping others — a way of bringing the community together. And it gave people a sense they could do something to help others. What we baked together was shareable and the idea was to encourage people to think locally about charitable acts. Even something as simple as giving a square or two of chocolate brownie to the postman.”
She found herself teaching 50 or so people each week from all over the world. “There were people from the USA, India , Israel and the UK — even someone getting up at 5am to bake with us from Australia.”
Choosing the right recipes was key: “I needed to show bakes you could do quickly and simply.”  
Geller and the others all think they will continue to use online lessons going forward. “I miss having 12 people in my kitchen and I’d rather not have to use Zoom ever again, but it’s the perfect platform for sharing. Food is a vehicle for connection.” 
Robinne Collie: 
Tracey Fine: Or on Facebook: GrumpyGut
Denise Phillips: 07803 895341 or on Facebook Denise Phillips
Hanna Geller:

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