The pan of rice was bubbling a little ominously as I folded the rich cream into my risotto. Is it supposed to be this soupy, I pondered? And just how chewy is authentic Italian al dente supposed to be? Instead of panicking like I normally would, though, I typed my question into a live Zoom chat.
“No worries,” came the quick reply, “keep stirring for a few more minutes before you add more liquid.” Then the chef on the other side of the screen smiled and said “Let’s see those pots! I know you’re worried about consistency and texture, here’s what you should be looking for,” before pinning a picture of his similarly bubbling pot on the screen. I followed along and within moments my risotto was as creamy looking and glossy as the pro one on the screen and tasted just as delicious as dinner was when I last sampled the dish in Milan. Welcome to my favorite part of the pandemic, live cooking classes from around the world being held right in my kitchen!
As COVID travel restrictions settled me into a home-based routine these past months, some of the things I missed the most were meeting new people and exploring new cultures by sampling food around the world. As I sank into my couch, I sadly assumed I couldn’t replicate my previous international cuisine explorations. But as I scrolled the internet, I discovered hands-on classes filled with opportunities to cook up tasty feasts while gaining a window into kitchens across the world. I had a couple of misses (there was gummy gnocchi even the dog wouldn’t touch), but I’ve now participated in myriad live classes with amazing instructors that make me feel like I’m traveling even though I’m still safely at home.
Here are a few of my favorite cooking classes and others on my must-cook list that friends have sampled and recommended. Bon appetit!
1. Truffle Shuffle
Created by a trio of former chefs from the Michelin-starred French Laundry in Napa Valley, Truffle Shuffle provided my favorite cooking experiences of the pandemic. I valued the lively chat with the fun virtual community and enthusiastic instructors as much as the incredible gourmet ingredients that included lashings of truffles, yum! These Italian- and French-inspired classes include all the ingredients to create the recipes delivered right to your door. I’ve made risotto (mentioned above) and focaccia pizza, and both turned out to be way tastier than honestly anyone in my family expected from me. Ingredients arrived fresh and fast and included a decadent truffle carpaccio and a truffle salt that I’ve sprinkled on everything from tomatoes to eggs. I’m also a big fan of the cocktail base included in each kit so you can sip while you stir. Prices start at $95, a great deal since it includes all the ingredients for dinner for two and the live class.
2. Nonna Live
“It's a bit surreal to be making pasta dough with a group of people you've never met and showing it to a great Italian cook for a virtual approval!” exclaimed Missy Glassmaker, vice president of TravelAwaits, when reminiscing on the interactive classes she’s tried with Nonna Live. So far, she’s cooked lasagna, gnocchi with pesto, and fettuccine with ragu during live classes.
“Our classes were with Nonna's granddaughter, which I think was because it was so late in Italy, Nonna was asleep.” The gnocchi was Missy’s favorite dish so far, and she especially likes having the ability to ask questions and has even been able to request the chef to slow down when necessary. Classes start at $60.
3. Giglio Cooking School
Another straight-from-Italy class, this one feels like you’ve stepped right into the kitchen of Giglio Cooking School in Florence run by chef Marcella Ansaldo. My family and I were lucky enough to take a private class with Marcella when we stayed at the Four Seasons Firenze a few years ago, and her warmth and knowledge put us all at ease, including my teen son. She has the same energy through the screen at home and is great at building the self-confidence of novice chefs while teaching crowd-pleasing dishes such as tagliatelle with vegetable sauce and tiramisu. Marcella is offering group Zoom classes for 79 euros or private classes for up to five people on one device for 100 euros, which would make a great holiday gift.
4. Goldbelly Live!
During the pandemic, Goldbelly, a marketplace for top restaurants and shops delivered worldwide, became a bit of an obsession. My family ordered everything from cheesesteaks from Philadelphia to a ham from Louisiana. So I was already a fan when I learned about Goldbelly Live!, hands-on cooking classes with top chefs with all the ingredients delivered to your door. And that was before I learned that I could cook with the king of French cuisine, Daniel Boulud. Yes, that’s a mic drop you hear. The chance to cook along with a Michelin-starred chef, especially one as charming as Boulud, is almost worth being stuck at home. This class included ingredients and instructions to make endive and Roquefort salad and chicken fricassee, plus some madeleines for dessert (all for $159). If haute cuisine isn't your thing, there are a number of other chefs offering classes, including pizza with Emily Hyland of Emmy Squared, modern Asian cuisine with Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat, or Southern soul food with James Beard Award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster. Prices start at $119 and include all ingredients, with the exception of a few pantry items, for dinner for two plus the live class.
5. Diane's Online Classes
Two years ago, I sailed the Aegean on Star Clippers’ tall-masted ship and fell in love with the Greek Islands’ light and fresh cuisine. Ever since, I’ve been trying to recreate the taste of the Mediterranean without much success, so I was especially excited to discover Diane Kochilas. Kochilas, who may look familiar from her PBS show My Greek Table, currently lives in Greece and has created a slightly different take on live classes: She pretapes her cooking presentations, but then live chats with participants during the scheduled showings, therefore eliminating tech streaming issues. I’m a fan of her easy-to-create spanakopita, which I’ve now discovered isn’t just a filling for the popular spinach pie, but can also be used as a lovely stuffing for peppers and fish. For $25, you can watch a video lesson and live chat with the chef at the same time, or you can stream classes without the live element for $15.
Even though I’m not traveling right now, Airbnb still found a way to get my attention, providing access to online cooking experiences at incredibly affordable prices with locals who have a passion for culinary pursuits. In short, these are the kind of hosts you’d dream of having if you were traveling around the world and staying at an Airbnb, but quite honestly aren’t always guaranteed to have. Now, however, you can drop into the Paris home of Gaby and Carlos, two siblings with a passion for French baking who will walk you through the steps of making choux dough for just $19 per person. Have a craving for tacos? There’s even a Mexican chef to immerse you into the tasty world of street tacos for just $20 each. You’ll need to shop for ingredients beforehand, and unlike some more expensive online chef options, there’s not much guidance in ingredient selection. But in these casual, foodie fun lessons you’ll “meet” locals on your Zoom call, and you can check out the host’s rating and read reviews on the platform, just like you would for a vacation rental.
7. Traveling Spoon
Traveling Spoon pivoted early in the pandemic from providing food tours with locals to creating online experiences to give home-bound travelers authentic interactions with other cultures. Like Airbnb, the online cooking classes are with hosts across the globe who share their local traditions, and you can eat your way around the world by teleporting into their kitchens. And also like Airbnb, you can read reviews and ratings to help you get a better idea of who you’re signing up with. Some of the highlights I found were a Moroccan Tagine class straight from Casablanca and a Garlic Paratha and Palak Paneer workshop with a host in Delhi. All classes are private, which is a great perk, and are scheduled at your convenience over Zoom; the cost is $36 for one person, $18 for each additional person on the same device. Note that some of the ingredient lists I looked at were quite lengthy, so definitely familiarize yourself with what you’ll need to have prepped before you get started.
Below are a few other virtual experiences that are keeping us sane right now!