NEW JERSEY — The pandemic has not only provided people with a want to learn, as many scroll through TikTok and Instagram to see the latest buzzy recipe; but it also shed light on the need to learn to cook. With uncertainty clouding the future, many began to feel that a recipe repertoire consisting of toast and cereal would not cut it in the months ahead.
A Bloomberg report showed that 42% of Gen Zers (born in 1997 or later) and 37% of Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) plan on continuing home cooking, even when a semblance of “normal” has been achieved.
While the hunger to learn new kitchen skills will always be present, the format in which those lessons are delivered have begun to shift.
Award-winning cookbook author and recipe developer Rick Rodgers has been teaching cooking classes all over the country for over 35 years.
“If I wanted to stay relevant, I need to pivot my approach,” said Rodgers. “The virtual route was the best way for me to continue to teach when brick-and-mortar schools were not an option.”
Rodgers plans to launch his own online school, Coffee and Cake, in early April, which will focus on café desserts from Austria and Hungary.
Coffee and Cake’s structure is built for the person who loves to bake and is up for a confectionary challenge. Through these virtual classes, Rodgers will teach students to make desserts like sachertorte, a Viennese specialty, and Rigó Jancsi, the decadent cube-shaped chocolate cake from Hungary.
He pointed out that, like restaurants over the past 10 months, many traditional cooking schools have unfortunately shuttered. Some, however, have adapted to online platforms.
Passion for Spices, Summit’s local cooking school, is launching a new program called Cook at Home. Through the virtual series, students can learn to make foods from around the world, including Thailand, the Mediterranean and India, from renowned chefs during two-hour Zoom classes.
“All the time, people tell me they are looking for something different to eat,” said May Fridel, CEO and founder of Passion for Spices. “But more importantly, they are looking for family activities. Cooking just brings people together.”
Virtual cooking classes are more convenient than going onsite to a location. Even the headache of grocery shopping is taken care of in some cases, whereas participants have the option of picking up ingredient kits.
Of course, hosting classes in a virtual environment comes with its set of challenges. Keeping everyone at the same pace without being able to jump in and physically help out is a common hurdle. But some chefs have found workarounds to create a personalized experience, even if it’s through a screen.
New Jersey resident and culinary instructor for Hoboken’s Hudson Table, Chef Gene Monaco, feels fully equipped when leading his groups.
“Guests still feel a great sense of accomplishment after completing their dishes; the same as they would if they were in-person,” he said.
Cooking schools that operate only out of their physical location are limited to how many people who can drive to their class. Those that offer virtual experiences, whether in place of, or in addition to in-person, are now only limited to those in the world who have internet connection — and that’s a lot more opportunity.
“People will always love being in a room together having a shared experience, that part will never change,” Rodgers said. “But they also like being able to rewind a recording to go over a particularly difficult step, and the ability to learn on their own time is invaluable.”
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