Read: Irish Examiner | Online cooking classes for basic cooking skills
First published in the Irish Examiner on 10 June 2021.
Calorie counted food deliveries. Healthy takeaway concepts. Strictly portioned meal kits. Is this healthy eating, 2021-style – or is it merely outsourcing the issue of cooking for yourself?
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned during the last year of rolling lockdowns, it’s that being able to cook simple, healthy meals – for yourself, your housemates, your family – is a superpower. But this is not a superpower that you’re born with; it’s one that is honed with practice and repetition. Without universal cooking-based home economics classes for all school goers – we wish! – many of us only learn how to cook when we’re older.
While we might have gone to real life cookery classes in the past, the virtual world offers new solutions in 2021. Chef Eamon Lynch recently set up Sprig Cookery School, running a range of online classes that are structured for all levels, with cookalong and demonstration options. He’s a big advocate of people learning to find their way around the kitchen: “cooking for yourself is just so much healthier and gives you a lot more control.”
At Sprig, there are three levels: “Basics classes are designed for inexperienced cooks who want to grow their skills in the kitchen…Technical classes are those which concentrate on a core topic like pasta, bread, or pastry…Explore classes are for all skill sets who want to learn more about a specific type of cuisine.” There is a mixture of demonstrations and cookalongs at Sprig, with some of the more advanced classes, with chefs like Grainne O’Keeffe and Niall Sabongi, also including an ingredient delivery.
Lynch believes that cooking classes delivered by Zoom can be as effective, if not more so, than doing a hands on class: “I think it is a massive advantage being able to work from your own kitchen, with your own pots and pans, your own utensils, It can be a lot more of a learning experience than walking into a cookery school where everything is laid out for you.” While Lynch started his school on the web, Yvonne Carthy has been running Hey Pesto! Boutique Cookery School at her home since the last recession. In autumn 2020 she took her classes online, working with photographer Jeff Harvey, and she says that the filming set up is now “like being in an interactive TV studio.” It’s enormously helpful for her students too: “they find it easier on Zoom because they can see everything. We have five cameras and it’s very interactive. They can ask questions and show me what they’re doing on their own cameras.”
Carthy has a particular, and very personal, insight into beginner cooks: “I didn’t learn to cook until I was in my 30s,” she says. “My mum worked, so there was no time to learn. I lived on tuna and coleslaw sandwiches in college and when I was an engineer I ate out all the time.” After a career change which involved the 12-week certificate course in Ballymaloe Cookery School, Carthy now teaches a lot of absolute beginners, customising her classes to different levels. Some of the dishes that she finds popular with people just starting out in the kitchen are fakeaways, e.g. egg fried rice, and simple dishes – like pasta sauce from scratch – “so that you know what is in there”.
“Positive eating,” is how Carthy describes it. “It’s eating that’s balanced, cooked from scratch, and where you know where your food comes from.” It’s your new superpower: healthy cooking with care.
www.sprigcookery.com, from €40 per class
Heypesto.ie, €20 per class
Top five online cooking classes for basic kitchen skills.
To get the most from these classes – and for the most fun – you’ll need to bring your device into the kitchen so that you can cook along. Just make sure that it’s in a safe place!
Ballyknocken Cookery School: Catherine Fulvio offers individual live cookery classes and more in-depth, pre-recorded cookery courses, like Healthy Meal Prep for Two, which focus on different kitchen skills and techniques. Videos and notes are online, along with a facility to ask the tutor any questions that you might have. From €29 per class. catherinefulvio.com
Cookalicious: Cepta Mahon hosts online classes and cookalongs with the aim of helping you to cook delicious nutritious great tasting food. Mahon’s “infectious enthusiasm and achievable recipes” are lauded by past customers, her notes and classes are clear and easy to understand and she’s good at giving people confidence in the kitchen. €20 per class. www.cookalicious.ie
East Coast Cookery School: Cordon Bleu-trained Tara Walker, the author of Good Food, No Stress, has always had a focus on making food approachable. Her live online cookalong classes, like Simple Summer Suppers and Healthy BBQ & Sides, have fans all around Ireland and beyond – from the Bronx to Canada – who credit Tara with making them a better cook in lockdown. €25 per class. eastcoastcookeryschool.ie
How To with Chef Brian McDermott: A great teacher and communicator, Donegal-based McDermott condenses his knowledge into succinct 45 minute online classes. Each class focuses on one recipe: once you’ve cooked your way through his Ultimate Gourmet Burger, Seafood Chowder or Seriously Good Meatballs with Spaghetti classes you’ve got the building blocks for some firm family favourites. €20 per class. chefbrianmcdermott.com
Kenmare Foodie: Karen Coakley runs her home cooking groups via WhatsApp, bringing people together to learn how to cook. She uploads a meal plan on Mondays, records 2-3 recipe videos every week and is on hand all day, every day, to answer questions in her own inimitable friendly way. Four weeks for €55. kenmarefoodies.com