Is there something you are doing right now for fun that you may have never tried if it weren’t for the pandemic?  (Please no freaky answers by the audience.)  I mean, we all know this has been a rough year but is there an opportunity that has come about that you are taking advantage of and loving every minute? Is it possible that there is something that has been kind of fun that has helped erase that longing of “something to do?” Could there be a rainbow during this storm known as 2020?

For me, it is virtual cooking classes.  I’m kind of obsessed.  The funny thing is that I’m really not one to sit and watch a cooking show.  I enjoy them but it still feels like the chefs are in another world and I’m on my sofa.

Being encouraged to participate or cook along has broken that fourth wall and all my senses are invoked like I am cooking with some really amazing talented chefs.  (It has also given me new imaginary chef friends since I probably have alienated all my “real” friends with my social distancing guidelines.)

The best part is that there is something for everyone…everywhere.  You don’t have to live in a big city to experience the fun….it is all in YOUR kitchen!!!!!!  (For the record, I miss going to real live classes but it is time to make the best out of a weird situation.)

First, I wanted to talk about these opportunities now because between September 14thand September 29th Chicago Gourmet (or should I say Go Gourmet) is offering 9 virtual cooking demonstrations!  You can order a meal kit or watch the demo live from home.  (The money is going to help the Illinois Restaurant Association Employee Relief Fund and given that the cold months are coming and the governed restaurant limitations…I think they are going to need all of our help!) 

Chef Stephanie Izard is just one of the many chefs who has been doing demos (and will do one for Chicago Gourmet later this month)

Each demonstration will have a moderator who will pull you in to the action and give you the complete Chicago Gourmet experience with questions to the chefs and play by play cooking action.  Quite a few of the Chicago Gourmet Chefs did Instagram videos this summer teaching us some of their most valued recipes.   It allowed me to see a lot of personalities and their true love of creating great food and sharing their knowledge. 

I made these mussels after watching Chef Joe Flamm on Instagram!

As much as I am going to miss my annual pilgrimage for the big event in Millennium Park, the innovative way Chicago Gourmet is keeping the excitement alive really makes me happy. (Chicago Gourmet also is currently doing their Hamburger Hop and will be offering a Go Gourmet Dinner Series starting on the 14th. Here is their link so you can order your burgers or make your in-person dinner reservations.)

These were some beef short rib dumplings I learned online from Stephanie Izard.

The next group of virtual classes I want you to look at are the ones at The Chopping Block.  I’ve been a fan of theirs since I took my first-class years and years and years ago. (It was a Thai cooking class and I’ll never forget the light bulb moment where I learned how to adjust saltiness of the dish with fish sauce.)  The Chopping Block is excellent at using words to give you visual markers on how to cook which is essential when you are doing a virtual class or watching a demonstration.  

And note, when they say virtual class, they aren’t kidding. Ahead of the class you will get your recipe packet and a “to do” list.  The Chopping Block has it all outlined and sets you up for success. Once class starts, you can ask your questions as they come up in your kitchen. (The classes are done via Zoom so you must wear clothes and if your husband plans on walking through the kitchen…he must have on pants.)  

If you don’t want to actually cook and watch, there are some great demonstrations too. (Please note: don’t be like me and be totally clueless of what type of class you are taking. I signed up for demonstration and cooked along…. making comments and obnoxiously holding my plates up to the camera. Zoom Social Faux Pas!)

Asian BBQ Class DEMO not cook along from The Chopping Block. Sorry Shelley.

To add to the fun, if you are a cocktail person, The Chopping Block is offering some cocktail hours where you can master some mixologist skills or show off the next time you are meeting a group of moms in a parking lot and drinking out of your trunk.  (And a big CHEERS to The Chopping Block for doing so many extra virtual demonstrations that help donate money to other organizations like Meals for Wheels or Chicago Youth Centers…and many more.)

Finally, I’ve got to give a huge shout out to Chef Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass Café.  Besides offering a cooking hotline almost every day to help us all continue to figure out how to make good choices in our kitchens. If you don’t know Chef Sarah, I have been a fan of hers for years. (Here is a link to a post I wrote about her.) She is someone who is the real deal and cared about where our food came from before it was “cool.”  I admire her voice in the fact that she shares her knowledge in a matter of fact and yet humble way.  

Chef Stegner has been doing Zoom classes with the options to purchase the ingredient boxes at Prairie Grass Café or you can watch FREE and learn a few new tricks. (May I suggest making a donation in appreciation to either Green City Market or The LEE Initiative’s Restaurant Reboot Program. Both organizations are leaders in the industry showing how to support and promote local and sustainable farmer’s.  This is so important because the farmer’s need the restaurants, the restaurants need the farms and we need to continue to guarantee that when we go out again we have great options available during and after this pandemic is over.) The food that I’ve made after watching her virtual classes has made me feel like I am creating something amazing and not just cooking dinner.

These scallops were outstanding. I was unable to pick up the ingredient box so I used veggies from my garden and you can’t get more local than that!

There used to be a time when you’d ask a chef how to make a particular dish and it was a hush hush secret. Now chefs and restaurants are opening their cache of knowledge and sharing with us at home so we can continue to expand our minds and palates.  Given the challenges the restaurant industry and chefs are experiencing right now, it shows that they appreciate their customers by sharing some “secrets” so we can have those food moments at home.

GoldBelly did a great “cook along” with Girl & The Goat that was incredible.

I have 7 online classes/demonstrations on my calendar this month. Some of them I’ll cook along, some I’ll cook later but I hope to give you a summary of the fun in the beginning of October.

So whether you want to learn to cook something new or maybe you want to support your favorite restaurant, now is the time to try a cooking class. You will not only be helping yourself, you will be helping a community with your support.