Why online cooking classes are such a gas: the present and the party to give
“Good afternoon everyone, I trust you are all well. I am looking forward to meeting you all tomorrow for our virtual cooking lesson. Thank you to Domini and Clare for your support, this is sure to be a lot of fun!”Chef Richard Lovemore, in an email briefing to attendees of an intimate cook-in
And, my goodness, fun it certainly was!
Two months into lockdown, version one, we were all beginning to feel a bit stir crazy. Travel restrictions meant we hadn’t had essential doses of friends far and wide… to say nothing of those just down the road within walking distance.
Tried and Supplied founder, Domini Hogg, had came up with this fabulous salve. Richard Lovemore, a handsome, young South African chef would bring us all together for a cookery session over Zoom.
Developing the concept of the online cookery class
There were logistical difficulties to overcome. Some people (incredible to remember) were still Zoom virgins, insecure with the technology. Others still struggled to find some of the carefully selected common or garden ingredients in their bare-shelved supermarkets.
From Richard’s point of view there was the challenge of identifying dishes that would be both useful, and also relatively easy to make bearing in mind that he couldn’t be physically present to quickly put right a dish careering off the rails. A quick-to-separate Hollandaise, for example, was off the menu. The one and a half hour time limit made dishes such as slow-cooked lamb unfeasible. And because of the virtual nature of the class pre-prepping a dish wasn’t an option either. This was also a ‘first-time’ for Richard in terms of giving a virtual class, and in his own, domestic, kitchen.
Richard emailed the recipes and equipment that we needed to make everything. “Please note” he advised us, “that most items can be substituted and with the scarcity of some ingredients, we may have to do so. But don’t worry if you can’t get hold of certain items, it’s all about getting together, having some fun and learning new techniques to improve your cooking along the way – getting innovative is all part of the joy!”
What did we learn?
Dos and Don’ts of running a virtual cooking class
Do your homework in terms of the participants; the technology; and the food.
- Richard said he found it very helpful knowing some of the background to the participants – why they were interested in food, what level of experience they had. Also, check food intolerances of participants and their households (bearing in mind that it may not be possible to cater for these – no onions or garlic is quite limiting).
- Equally, we sent out to all the participants a bio of Richard – they were all intrigued and looking forward to the session.
- Issue lists of ingredients, equipment and recipes to be printed out well in advance (ideally a week). Ideally include substitutes wherever possible. Be clear about the ingredients if you have international guests (eg – if you specify coriander put ‘cilantro’ in brackets; or by red pepper put ‘capiscum’ in brackets). Make sure ingredients are easy to measure in a hurry (eg – not ‘three-quarters of a teaspoon’ of anything. Ideally give cup equivalents as well as weights.
- Make sure everyone (instructor and attendees) is comfortable with the technology – it’s worth a few trial, practices. Try to avoid nude men passing by behind you.
- Make sure that the food is simple and easy to make, and it’s something that everyone wants to eat. Offer suggestions of what to do with leftovers (eg using skordalia as a side dish to duck – an inspired idea. I also serve the bread version of skordalia with beef stew – follow this link to see how).
- Make sure you can fit everything into the time allocated. Then allow more time for the less experienced, and a bit of chat.
- Limit numbers of participants to eight… ten at the most.
Chef Richard Lovemore introduces himself
Once we were all virtually assembled, Richard introduced himself:
“A little bit about me: Originally from South Africa, I started studying chemical engineering but came away with a degree in botany – as one does! Although ‘cheffing’ was never part of the plan, I’ve always loved to cook and my passion for how food is grown lead me to a culinary diploma where I had the opportunity to marry the two interests!
Since moving to London in 2016, I’ve worked in professional kitchens, soon becoming Head Chef at ‘local and wild’ restaurant Rabbit in Chelsea, which has greatly influenced my cooking style. Last year, I branched out to start my latest venture, Indigenous Kitchen. With a focus on locality and sustainability, Indigenous Kitchen is a private catering company which follows the philosophy that cooking which takes natures lead makes for the tastiest and most creative food.”Richard Lovemore
What we cooked
Richard got us making flatbreads with a trio of dips: skordalia, smoky aubergine dip, and roasted red pepper hummus.
How did we do?
Here are some of the comments – we think they speak for themselves.
Comments from France
The attendee from France had never used Zoom before – she made everything the following day, much appreciated by both husband and dog.
“What a success, and how comforting, yet strange it was seeing everyone.
We went shopping this morning. It was a first for shopping together as up until now only one of us has been allowed to go. I think we are just a little further in the unlocking process here in France. Anyway, we were able to get most of the stuff I need for the dips. No tahini or baking powder but we were able to get flour, another first! James is quivering with excitement at the prospect of all the goodies coming his way!
I’m definitely going to have a go at making all those deliciousnesses!
How clever of you to find the handsome Richard, Domini. I’m sure he would have a following if he got into television proper but I imagine he is happier feeding people for real in his restaurant.
Thank you for inviting me and also for getting me on to zoom. I feel like a pro now!”
Comments from Wales
Our attendee in Wales had this to say:
“I enjoyed it hugely and we will be eating our mezzo bits with a drink very soon I hope.
I guess we were mostly first timers. But we were all there to have fun and the glitches didn’t matter at all, actually it was a great learning curve for all of us. You are so right, the raw flat bread looks just like a pair of pants, I was most impressed by his heart shapes. Definitely practice.
My favourite dip was, is, the aubergine, but I know it is vastly improved by being done on the open flame, the flavour intensified in its smokiness, and the colour too, although it makes a horrible mess of the cooker! My grandparents lived in Cairo for a while and we grew up eating this. If you are having a barbecue it is really worthwhile putting a couple of whole aubergines on and cooking them well, burning all over, then put in a bag and keep for use the next day. Either like this or mashed into a Mornay sauce made with good Parmesan, traditionally served with beef slow-cooked with red peppers but also very delicious with roast chicken, Hunkiar Begendi, the sultan’s delight.
It was a wonderful afternoon, thank you so much for including me, as you must know now I love talking food. My grandmother was Italian and we grew up discussing and dissecting the food we ate.”
Comments from The Netherlands
If you are running an international ‘event’ (if you can call a meeting of just eight people an ‘event’) you need to be VERY careful with specifications for ingredients – there is a lot of confusion between British and American terms. The attendee (with fluent English) from The Netherlands misunderstood ‘red pepper’ to mean ‘red chilli’ and Richard had to do some quick clever footwork to come up with a solution which could be eaten without the consumer self-combusting. But in the end she commented:
“I really enjoyed myself, and the food tastes great”
Comments from Portugal
The wife of the attendee from Portugal has a number of food allergies – and this was another learning point. His comments were as follows:
“That was amusing. Shame there wasn’t time for any chat. That sort of event is always going to be limited by people’s struggles with unfamiliar technology though.
I won’t need to make lunch for the rest of the week after that! Linda can’t eat any of it with her various intolerances; I normally try to make things without raw garlic but you can’t get away with a substitute in those dips.
Do you find you are eating less meat these days? I do…just don’t feel like it very often. Raw garlic suits me fine.
Thank you again, I really enjoyed myself and the food tastes great!”
Comments from London
“We liked the skordalia best too!
Having the leftovers as a side with duck tonight!
And Richard said my flatbread needed a slightly thinner yogurt (when I said they could be better!)”
Tailored cooking classes are the very best presents you could buy your friends, and the best way to throw a virtual party.
Even when we get back to normal (will we?), we will still have these virtual get togethers. You can see the fun we had – and it will always be thus. Attendees were in France, Portugal, The Netherlands; and within the UK they were also scattered: there was one in Rutland, another in Wales, one urbanite in London where our instructor-chef was too, and there was the Saucy Dressings team in Hampshire.
What better way to bring everyone together?
Richard Lovemore’s fabulous flatbread
Serves – 4
250g/2 cups self-raising flour (or use plain flour and add two teaspoons of baking powder to the teaspoon below)
250 ml/1 generous cup of yoghurt (the thinner, runnier type rather than the thick Greek type. The Collective is ideal)
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
olive oil for brushing
Combine the ingredients, except the oil, together until you form a dough. Set aside to rest for five minutes.
Lightly flour a work surface and place your dough in the middle. Divide into six equal pieces and roll out each portion to the thickness of a Euro or Pound coin, flouring as you go so that it doesn’t stick.
Preheat a heavy-based griddle pan, or a flat pan, and brush each side with a little oil before toasting on both sides in the pan for about two minutes each side. You want a little bit of char on the bread to give some smokiness.
Brush with olive oil when it comes out of the pan and then repeat for the remaining flat breads.