Elana Horwich is the Consulting Chef for the UCLA Women’s Cardiovascular Center and Author of Meal and a Spiel: How To Be A Badass In The Kitchen.
Elana Horwich shares her insights and practical ways to create effective virtual events that truly capture the spirit of coming together face-to-face and connecting through a variety of life-like interactive experiences plus basics of re-tooling cookbooks for industry professionals to adapt to today’s marketplace.
Since you are conducting live cooking sessions on Zoom and now Instagram Live and Facebook, could you give advice for an executive chef, general manager or restaurant owner on how they too can pivot to virtual formats?
I feel it begins with four primary focus points:
• Connecting with staff: Though there’s been some recent controversy about using Zoom because of privacy issues, the platform is much safer. Hosts of the video meetings can share a unique link for participants and can approve/refuse to allow participants to enter. This protects the meetings from any unwanted guests, ideal for virtual calls with staff. Restaurant executives can use the video chat function on Zoom to train staff in new skills. By actually seeing what staff/cooks are doing in their own kitchens, it will be easier to give feedback. Instagram Live and Facebook Video are also helpful for sharing skills or video messaging with multiple staff members at once.
• Creative solutions for staying connected with patrons: By featuring favorite recipes, cooking advice, and new takeout options, restaurants can stay connected with established customers while also bringing in new ones. Customers will welcome learning what the restaurant is doing to help their staff and keep the kitchen safe. Plus, these virtual formats present great opportunities to teach clientele to make their favorite dishes, or even showcase how the chefs make it themselves! This won’t prevent your customers from coming back once this is over. It will make them love you.
• Benefits and tips for using Zoom: Chefs/Managers/Industry professionals need to know that each platform (zoom/skype/Instagram live/Facebook) has its own characteristics. If the host is using the virtual meetings/videos for business only, Zoom is likely the best option. Why? Zoom allows the host (in this case, the chef/manager) to see the faces of the participants and call on them. While teaching my own classes over Zoom, I make sure to mute the class so that participants can listen rather than speak. This also cuts out the background noise and feedback. It might also be helpful for Zoom hosts to have someone help track and relay comments received via the chat box. This way, participants still have a venue to ask questions without derailing the primary instruction. (One thing to note, however, is that the recording quality over Zoom is not the best. If the chef hopes to share videos to social media, Instagram and Facebook might be better bets).
• Some (much needed!) general encouragement: Don’t be afraid to get personal in videos! This can be an excellent way for restaurant industry professionals to connect and reach out to their customers and share a little bit about themselves. For example, a chef can share about how they studied in France and connected to a random grandma who taught him a recipe that was one of the most popular in the restaurant. Also, don’t get so precious about the technology! We’re all learning this new normal and people are just grateful that you’re there.
As a cooking class instructor, what advice can you provide for other cooking instructors?
You need to give your audience/class a chance to ask questions. They need to participate in order to feel heard, otherwise they are just watching TV and the educational experience and community experience is lost. Have them ask questions in the chat box and look over to answer them periodically. Speak to people using their names. Be personal. I am as detailed as possible about what I am doing. I don’t skip any steps. And I encourage them to ask questions on Instagram or Facebook even after the class which I
The entire food industry is having to pivot their businesses right now. They’ve had to change their menus, their staffing, their delivery and takeout systems. What advice do you have for anyone trying to tackle these changes?
Keep posting on social media, offering as many “free” goods as possible. This means recipes, cooking instruction, videos. The way to stay successful in the pandemic is to be able to shift and be flexible. If using seasonal ingredients are easier to find and use, do it. If they aren’t, do what is easy and flows. You can’t stick to old practices simply because they are easy.
How can these industry professionals utilize cookbooks during this time?
Cookbooks usually offer recipes that are more reliable than online recipes, however, you need to test the recipe before making it in big batches of course. People are looking for home-cooked “style” meals as they are at home, so shifting to comfort food, even healthy comfort food that stores well as leftovers is on point.
As a chef or business owner, it is imperative that you are constantly in a state of learning and cookbooks can be wonderful teachers. I taught myself to cook through reading hundreds of them. And it prepared me to write a cookbook that works incredibly well for readers.
Chefs hoping to use cookbooks to expand their takeout menus should look for:
- Slow-cooked foods and pureed type dishes that will reheat well and would sell in bulk.
- Don’t just offer delivery for one meal. Offer a week’s worth of meals. Or three days’ worth of meals.
- This will help people feel safer because they don’t want delivery people at their door every 5 hours.
- Since I work primarily with Italian dishes, I would have to recommend any cookbooks by Lidia Bastianich or Marcella Hazan. My own cookbook, MEAL AND A SPIEL: How To Be A Badass In The Kitchen, which is Italian with healthy California elements.
Due to the delays in shipping books from Amazon because of the Coronavirus, you can now order a signed copy of MEAL AND A SPIEL from my website for a limited time. To receive an additional 20% off, just enter the code KITCHENBADASS20 at checkout. Orders are being shipped out every day of the week so place your order today!
Cooking classes: I am offering cooking classes Tuesday and Thursday evenings on Facebook Live and Instagram Live. They will be held at 7 PM ET/4 PM PT. The link for more information from her Instagram is here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B-Z4oajlN_S/