From dosas to gnocchi, Albertans expand their cooking skills virtually
Edmonton business has been selling out of 30-person virtual cooking classes this year
Kathryn Joel has instructed in-person cooking classes with a focus on global dishes made with local ingredients for nearly a decade, but last year she was unsure if she'd make it another year with health restrictions related to the pandemic halting classes.
In April, she started cooking meals in her commercial kitchen and delivering them door-to-door, but it was only a temporary measure.
"There were just two of us working initially and we did that for maybe two weeks," said Joel, owner and chef of Get Cooking. "Then I was miserable and it was hard work for almost no money, and I had to sit myself down and think, you can't do this."
With the help of her sons, she upgraded her cooking studio, adding video cameras, sound mixers and video cards to host virtual cooking classes.
This year has been a busy one for Joel — along with three other chefs, she's been hosting public and private sessions almost every day.
Since launching a winter season of virtual classes in January, almost all of the 30-person classes have sold out. Offerings include the Vietnamese noodle dish bun cha, South Indian crepe-like dosas, and the French classic coq au vin.
The classes range from an hour and a half to two hours. The head chef cooks from the Get Cooking kitchen studio, while another host engages with close to 30 participants on the video chat as they cook along at home, making sure everyone is caught up on each step of the recipe.
Joel charges $25 per device, while the at-home cooks supply their own groceries based on the recipe supplied.
Joel is happy with the accessibility that she can now offer through the virtual classes.
"It can be a whole household joining in, which often is couples and families cooking. And it's under thirty dollars," she said. "So you either have to buy the ingredients, but they also have a meal at the end of it. So I love that. I love the accessibility of it. I have not always felt good that it's such an extremely expensive experience for people to come to."
On Wednesday, a group learned how to make gnocchi Parisienne, a version of the pasta that's crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, along with a lamb ragu sauce.
Making the gnocchi involves a tricky process of using a transferring choux pastry through a piping bag and cutting pieces of it as they fall into boiling water.
"It was one of those ones where you've had gnocchi and then you have this and you're like, 'Oh, I'm going back.' I felt like a Parisian chef. It was fantastic," said Trisha Roffey, a participant in the cooking class.
Roffey has taken part in previous Get Cooking classes over the past three years, but has been logging onto the virtual sessions almost weekly
"Instead of going in, doing something, tasting something, coming back and describing it to your family, my family became immersed in it," she said. "The kids started cooking with me while we were doing it and learning the techniques and commenting on the foods and looking forward to the different classes."
Cooks logging on from across the province
The virtual classes have allowed people from around the province — and country — to participate A couple from South Carolina recently joined a class after searching for a class that teaches Indian dishes.
Eileen Dooley of Calgary took part in the Wednesday class, trying the soft gnocchi dish a shot for the first time. She's signed up for classes with her mother as a way to spend time together as they cook in their own homes.
"Food, I think because we're home, it's just kind of brought people together during this pandemic and again, making things you normally don't make," she said.
Dooley was supposed to be travelling in Taiwan at this time and trying out local dishes. She appreciates that the Get Cooking classes focus on International cooking as it's the closest thing to escaping an Alberta winter and tasting different flavours.
"They kind of know you're missing travelling, and you can make it at home. It's not the same, but it's something. It's better than nothing," she said.
Jodena Rogers of Calgary said she usually avoids cooking. Between work as a property manager and keeping her kids busy, making something that involves trial and error was the last thing on her mind, but having time at home during the pandemic has her looking to learn something new like cooking.
"I think social engagement is huge, but sometimes people are intimidated by that experience," she said. "So for me, I came home from work. I'm able to get right into it. I do my prep work and I do think that there is a trend in virtual learning and we'll continue on with that."
Joel agrees with that sentiment. She prefers the virtual cooking classes compared to the in-person group sessions she previously offered. She plans to make virtual classes as part of her business permanently, as she expects the trend of cooking at home to continue.