Zack Mance and partner Michelle Van Veen watch assistant chef teacher Jamie Stein teach them how to make the perfect French toast during a Bubbles and Brunch class at Cook Street Culinary School on October 24, 2020 in Denver. (Seth McConnell, special for the Denver Post)
Teaching customers to navigate the kitchen and how to prepare food comes in many different forms, from professional cooking schools to group courses for beginners and others for children. Of course, they are best done personally.
That has changed this year.
“If we looked back on March and April it would be a low point and we had no idea what we were going to do or how we were going to do it,” said Katie Robbins, who owns Uncorked Kitchen with her husband. Eric. Before the pandemic, “our focus was really on continuing to gain personal experience.”
After classes in the venue’s physical kitchen had to be interrupted, Robbins figured out a way to get them online and start live streaming classes. Their focus was on offering a “date night” class, in which the guests could pick up ingredients from the roadside and take part in the class from their own kitchen.
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She started classes on Friday night and the slots sold out quickly. Next, the team added sessions for kids and then kits for corporate events.
“It’s super exciting to reach people all over the country, including internationally, with our brand and love of food, and not be tied to the brick and mortar as we envisioned,” said Robbins. “If you had asked me a year ago, I would not have predicted that I would grow that way.”
Many schools and teachers have found a way to recover from the drastic shutdown by using online video conferencing platforms like Zoom to connect with students. Some restaurants like Denver Sushi House and Colorado Sake Co. added cooking classes to get more indoor revenue.
What began with Chef Taylor West’s in-house sushi rolling class turned into a digital night out with food sets and sake delivered from Denver Sushi House and Colorado Sake Co. (Linnea Covington, Denver Post Special).
What started with Chef Taylor West’s in-house sushi rolling class turned into a digital night out with meal sets and sake supplied.
“We realized we can deliver sake to individuals’ front doors and give people a date night experience from the security of their home,” said William Stuart, co-owner of Colorado Sake Co. “It was worth it to be people at one another The end of seeing zoom classes getting dressed in suits and dresses to experience this class. “
Classes started quickly, and West ran two classes five evenings a week. After things opened up and the physical space was able to function again, the team reduced it to just two nights a week.
Of course, digital classes are a fun way to learn new cooking skills, but they’re nothing more than a hands-on class in a more professional setting. The staff in downtown Cook Street teach traditional skills to professional chefs and offer classes for those who just want to have fun. During a two-month shutdown at the start of the pandemic, owner Lindsey Reese and some of her chefs focused on developing menus that worked remotely.
“Because the guest cooks so much more himself, the recipes had to be straightforward and ready in less than two hours,” said Reese. “It was an adaptation to teach in front of a camera. The cooks cannot see how people are doing or correct what someone is doing. “
Recreational Chef Senior Instructor Sam Friedman talks tech to Michelle Van Veen and Zack Mance while cutting a piece of fish during a Bubbles and Brunch class at Cook Street Culinary School in Denver on Oct. 24, 2020. (Seth McConnell, special for the Denver Post)
Before the start, Reese instructors practiced menus and classes with friends and family. And Reese sees something positive in the experience.
“It was a great way to get into the online classes, which we’ve always wanted to do but were too busy to shut down,” Reese said. “It was fun and I think it really gave us the opportunity to explore different offers.”
On the actual side of the cooking school, the 16-week intensive course is aimed at people who are looking for a career change or who want to improve their kitchen skills. Interest there has not changed since the coronavirus outbreak, Reese said. In fact, she added, trade schools tend to do well during difficult times.
The next class starts in January and there are currently around 20 students enrolled. Most instructions are given at the facility.
“One thing this pandemic has proven: remote working is not the end of progress,” said Reese, who sees the method go well beyond COVID-19.
At the Sticky Fingers children’s college, owner Erin Fletter hadn’t planned to launch online offers so quickly, but it was the only way to keep the company going.
“We haven’t been able to do what we do best, which is teach in person,” said Fletter.
Will Decorah pours maple syrup onto a plate of French toast while his fiancée Samantha Murray watches during a Bubbles and Brunch class at Cook Street Culinary School in Denver on October 24, 2020. (Seth McConnell, special for the Denver Post)
Since opening the school from her Denver kitchen table about nine years ago, Fletter had seen Sticky Fingers grow into a handful of schools in Boulder, Austin, and Chicago. During this time around 51,000 children have attended courses. Fletter wanted to make sure this could continue in some way.
It took six months for an online Sticky Fingers program to become available. Fletter and her team have completely redesigned the website, added Zoom to the company’s own software, written recipes and created a course that children can usually do alone at home. All of this while making sure that math, science, geography, and other skills were mixed into the cooking lesson.
“We made the decision to embed Zoom into the software, which means kids can safely log into their Sticky Fingers cooking classes themselves,” she said.
Sticky Fingers has also developed two new cooking class series, Kids In the Kitchen and Teens In the Kitchen, with 20 new recipes based on microwave cooking. These microwave cooking classes, known as mug-tastic, are designed to help children strengthen their independence in the kitchen without having to use sharp knives or turn on the stove. Each class has about 10 children or less.
Fletter said she was happy to have the option of online courses and will continue to offer it after the pandemic. This way, not only can your chefs teach in the comfort of their own kitchen, but children from all over the country can cook together too.
Not every cooking school could adapt, however. In June, the 106-year-old Johnson & Wales Hotel and Cooking School announced that it was closing its Denver campus due to restructuring. Officials said the pandemic contributed to the decision.
Samantha Murray pulls a piece of egg white out of a pan of water while she poaches eggs with her fiance, Will Decorah during a Bubbles and Brunch class at Cook Street Culinary School in Denver on October 24, 2020. (Seth McConnell, special for the Denver Post)
“I think schools – not just cooking schools – need to rethink the delivery and actual outcomes of higher education,” said Associate Professor Sandra Dugan, who has worked in the Johnson & Wales Hotel and Restaurant division for about 17 years. “I always believe that students will get what they put into their education, and that goes for cooking and hospitality careers too.”
Johnson & Wales students complete a traditional four-year program of learning math, science and the business side of hospitality, as well as cooking, managing a kitchen and other service skills. It’s good for a lot of students, Dugan said, but she doesn’t think it’s the only way to get that type of education.
“Yes, knife cuts are wonderful and you have to understand, but there’s more to it,” she said. “They have to learn to move in the blink of an eye, and when trends change, they have to keep track and go with the flow. I don’t know if traditional cooking schools teach something like that. “
At Warren Tech Central, a career and technical college in the Jeffco Public School district, senior chef instructor Chris Starkus focuses on teaching teenagers kitchen skills from the ground up so they can work in a restaurant or hotel after graduation.
“In short, I’ve never been an advocate for someone bringing in debt into the culinary industry,” said Starkus, who has worked as a chef for years, most recently as head chef for Urban Farmer downtown. “It’s a tough industry and a stage or training is the only way to really understand if you want to be a part of it.”
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