What beats a new season of your favorite cooking show?
How about a live and interactive version starring you and a Zoom checkerboard of other home cooks (or non-cooks)? Maybe those others are random strangers; maybe they’re family and friends from all over the country or even all over the world?
That’s the experience that Seattle cooking school The Pantry has been offering since late May, part of a pandemic pivot for the 10-year-old business. And it’s been such a success that the school, which offers 70-80 classes a month, plans to keep up some virtual classes even when gathering up in person is once again allowed.
“People have been taking them from all over the place, which I really love,” said Jay Guerrero, an instructor who teaches both traditional French cooking (duck à l’orange) and sessions inspired by Chinese takeout classics and international bar food (often fried).
“There’s a woman who used to take classes with us in person, and now she lives in Cyprus,” he told The Olympian. “She has taken three or four classes with us from Cyprus. Her internet is kind of wobbly and it’s about 3 in the morning for her, but she still takes the classes.”
Around 700 people a month take one of The Pantry’s classes, said instructor Renee Beaudoin, whose recent Farmhouse Supper class included a juicy roast chicken brined with citrus, coated with garlic butter and sprinkled with herb salt.
That’s about half the number of students The Pantry attracted before COVID-19, but the school, which also offers takeout meals and a wine club, doesn’t plan to stop Zoom offerings anytime soon.
“We have had such a positive response to Pantry virtual classes that we do plan to keep them in some capacity alongside our in-person classes after we go back to ‘normal,’ ” Beaudoin told The Olympian. “It is a delight to reach people from all over the world and cook with our students in their home kitchens.”
The classes can be challenging: Beaudoin had her students make homemade butter and buttermilk by shaking heavy cream in a mason jar for a very long time. Guerrero’s duck class involves dissecting a whole duck so that the breasts and legs can be cooked in different ways for maximum flavor.
That, Guerrero said, is part of what makes taking the class at home so fun. If students were in the kitchen with the teacher, student cooks would get hands on with only bits and pieces of each recipe.
“it’s fun to see something that you’ve made from start to finish,” he said. “There’s a certain satisfaction in that. I take great pleasure in seeing raw materials turn into duck à l’orange, which really is a duck and a bunch of oranges.
“It’s a more complete experience in some ways to do it online, which is kind of funny.”
He encourages those who don’t normally cook to give it a try.
“Nothing ventured nothing gained, that’s what I think,” he said. “You’re going to have a pretty good time. There’s a lot of camaraderie.”
Here’s a tip for choosing a class: Each class description includes a link to a list of ingredients and equipment needed, and that will give you at least some idea of what to expect.
Expect to spend lots of time on dinner. The classes are generally 2 to 3 hours long and it takes about an hour to set up beforehand. (Students are asked to measure out all the ingredients before they start and group them by recipe, a technique pro chefs call mise en place.)
The results, however, can be impressive. Several months of cooking with The Pantry will yield the ambitious cook a new collection of favorite recipes waiting to impress the world when dinner parties resume: shrimp poke, Belgian frites, a collection of tapas and a Persian roast chicken stuffed with dried fruit and nuts and basted with saffron and honey.
Another option, though, is just to watch the chef and the other students, who show up on camera with dogs, cats and babies and, generally, lots of wine. It’s like reality TV, only it’s real.
“Neil (Duncanson, another instructor) was teaching a taco class,” Guerrero said. “He had a pair of people from Alaska take the class, and they were not remotely interested in doing anything about making tacos. They just drank margaritas and watched it like a TV show.”
- What: The Seattle cooking school has moved classes online for the pandemic and is now teaching students all over the world how to make dishes from, well, all over the world.
- When: Wednesday through Monday
- Where: On Zoom
- Tickets: $75 per screen
- More information: https://thepantryseattle.com
- Coming up: Among the April options are classes on pho ga (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup), duck à l’orange, New York bagels and Girl Scout cookies.