Chefs and Restaurants
Chefs Use Social Media to Host Cooking Classes and Food-Focused TV Shows
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Scroll through Massimo Bottura’s Instagram feed during a normal time, and you’d find the three-Michelin star chef of Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, and his omnipresent ear-to-ear grin alongside a who’s who of famous faces, from Brad Pitt to Bradley Cooper. But these days, Bottura, like the rest of his fellow Italians, is homebound with his family. Even so, he’s not sitting idle. Rather, Bottura is using his kitchen skills to inspire others to cook with daily live cooking classes, previews of which dominate his posts.
Bottura is not the only one. A growing number of chefs around the world have taken to social media to show their own cooking demos. Some have turned their home kitchens into makeshift studios, while others utilize their now quiet restaurant kitchens. But no matter where they are, these chefs’ passionate message of encouragement and motivation for others to get busy in their own kitchens is striking a chord with a chef-loving public stuck in their home kitchens.
Brian Jupiter, executive chef/co-owner of Chicago’s Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods and Frontier, launched the first of a planned series of cooking classes on Instagram Live a few days after Illinois’ shelter-in-place order was announced mid-March. “I really wanted to do something interactive that would bring our guests and social media followers together over food,” says Jupiter. “I think a lot of chefs are teachers by nature and it's gratifying to be able to share skill sets with people at home, especially with what everyone is going through.”
For his first virtual class, Jupiter wanted to feature a dish his customers knew well and would feel comfortable making at home, yet was not something they’d make every day. His Nashville fried chicken po' boy checked all the boxes.
To get the ball rolling, class ‘attendees’ were able to purchase an ingredient kit from Jupiter available via curbside pick-up or delivery. The 48 kits sold out in five days. “Right now, it's more important than ever to get creative and stand out while trying to make money to stay open,” says Jupiter. “Without a timeline, it's hard to make a long-term game plan. It feels like we are in survival mode, and every day we are learning how to operate the business differently.”
For the most part, Jupiter, who had someone on hand to film and field questions from viewers, was pleased with the debut of the 45-minute class, which garnered around 400 viewers. Filmed at Ina Mae’s, the video took advantage of the restaurant’s engaged and loyal Instagram following. The first attempt went so well, he was ready to do it again a few days later. He enlisted the help of his daughter Adriana for a family-friendly brunch class over the weekend, complete with demos of Lucky Charms French toast, blueberry pancakes and bananas Foster French toast. “I hope people are able to add another dish or cooking skill to their repertoire, whether they cook a lot, or not,” says Jupiter. “We really just wanted to bring families and friends together by giving them something fun and hands-on to do. With social isolation, we wanted to bring our community of people together, even if it was virtually.” Upgrades in the works since starting the series include adding step-by-step instructions for those who fall behind while watching as well as uploading the videos to Instagram TV.
Noted chef/author Kwame Onwuachi of Washington, D.C.’s Kith and Kin also launched a cooking series on Instagram Live. Calling it “Eat Clean While Quarantined,” Onwuachi focuses on dishes that are low in fat, sugar, and carbs but don’t skimp on flavor. Additionally, the dishes can be made in 20 minutes or less. “I know how hard it is to eat clean, especially in these times,” he says. “I wanted to give people that as an option.”
For his first class, Onwuachi opted to make a pantry-friendly, Spanish-style stew of white beans, shrimp, vegan chorizo, onion, smoked paprika, and garlic, cobbled together from ingredients he already had available. “I looked at what I had and went from there,” he says of how he planned it.
During the well-paced 15-minute video, Onwuachi offered tips while he prepared the dish, including how to properly clean cast-iron pans, his love of canned beans and the importance of eating clean (“It makes room for the snacks we really love”). He also wove in talk about his activism to help save independent restaurants. “It’s not a secret how vocal I am about advocating for things for the restaurant industry and how much we need to be included in the stimulus package,” he says. “But people still need to eat, and this is what I do.”
Overall, Onwuachi says he was happy with his first endeavor, which he filmed on his iPhone mounted on a tripod, but in the future he wants to have the ability to answer more questions. “It went by quick,” he notes. For other chefs hoping to do something similar, Onwuachi, who’s gotten camera experience on Top Chef and other cooking shows, recommends doing a few timed run-throughs, noting “It’s a lot more involved than it looks.” For his next class, he plans on partnering with his friends at Ghettogastro.com via a dual screen.
For Jimmy Bannos, chef/owner of Chicago’s Heaven on Seven, sharing his home cooking on Instagram isn’t something new. He’s regularly documented his Sunday dinners at home, a regularly observed tradition with his family that includes son Jimmy Bannos, Jr., the chef/partner of The Purple Pig. But with the stay-at-home status in Illinois, it’s taken on a new life.
Bannos recently teamed up with a restaurant influencer for a live-story cooking demo. “She reached out and proposed, ‘I’ll cook, but you’ll teach me how to do it,’” says Bannos. The hour-long video, which had some 1,500 people watching, showed the two side by side (albeit in their respective home kitchens) with Bannos walking her through the cooking steps of an orzo pasta dish. Afterwards, Bannos posted the recipe on Instagram. The positive reception got Bannos thinking of doing more of these types of cooking videos, a desire further fueled by a call from a commercial director friend who offered to help with production.
When it comes to choosing the dishes to feature, Bannos recommends ones that are easy to make and inexpensive. “Simplicity is the best, especially when a lot of people are out of work,” he notes. He suggests tapping into dishes with a strong family connection to add the context of comfort to the video.
Rick Bayless agrees that cooking at home can bring comfort, and has been doing casual kitchen sessions live on his Facebook page since mid-March. “I’m going to offer you something in these unsettling difficult times I hope will bring you some personal joy,” he told guests in the first installment. “Yes, you can get these kinds of flavors from our places by ordering takeout. But I’m encouraging you to spend some time in your own kitchen cooking something.”
The first class lasted six minutes and featured his chorizo and potato tacos. A second, longer virtual class provided instruction on red chile steak with beans, followed by roasted poblano corn chowder. “I hope [viewers] will make something that will bring joy and comfort to you in these really hard times,” says Bayless. “I hope this helps.”
As the quarantine continues, chefs are getting more creative with videos. Andoni Luis Aduriz of Spain’s Mugaritz teamed up with friend and musician Josemi Carmona to launch #YoMeQuedoEnCasaCocinando (#I’mStayingHomeCooking) on Instagram, a daily mix of cooking and music (both in Spanish) designed to “cheer up this confinement.” Meanwhile, Sean Brock announced he’s hosting private cooking classes from his home kitchen; proceeds from the hourly rate he charges will go towards paying the staff at his two Nashville restaurants, Audrey and Joyland. Brock will work with participants to determine what to prepare and then they will cook together via Facetime.
In Italy, Bottura has perhaps has taken the concept the furthest with his nightly Instagram show Kitchen Quarantine (8 p.m, CST), which also includes short previews and post Q&A videos on his feed. For the live-streamed show, Bottura teamed up with his family, which includes daughter Alexa, who acts as MC, and wife, Lara, and son, Charlie, who are in the enviable positions of taste-testers. The demos feature easy-to-prepare dishes featuring ingredients commonly found in Italian homes with an emphasis on not wasting anything.
Much more than a cooking class or even a glimpse into how a famous chef cooks at home, these videos, which are translated in Italian and English, are light-hearted and filled with laughter and serves as a lovely reminder of what’s important. “This isn’t a master class,” says Bottura. “We just want to show to the world with the few things you have—a table, a few ingredients and family—you can have fun.”