Like most things during this pandemic, cooking classes have moved into cyberspace, making it possible to learn new techniques and refresh your recipe repertoire with the Zoom app and click of a mouse. With offerings running the gamut of Jewish food, from traditional Ashkenazi fare to modern Israeli cuisine, sweet to savory, and kosher or not, there’s something for every taste and budget.
Before COVID-19, Australian-born private chef Naomi Nachman had a thriving business staging live food events and Chopped-style cooking competitions, but she shifted operations online to private Zoom classes “once I realized we were in it for the long-haul. At first, I did 20 demos for free, for kids with cancer and other charities. After Passover, I advertised on Instagram, Facebook, and my website, and have done over 50 private online classes since,” she says.
Bookings range from a private date night to large groups. The cost varies, “depending on what we’re doing.” Menus have included everything from Vietnamese summer rolls, pho, and garlic knots and pizza to the more traditional babka and challah. “One woman had 12 children all around the country participating,” she notes. “Afterward, I left the Zoom link on for another hour so they could continue to talk. My classes have brought so many people together.”
Chef and cookbook author Paula Shoyer has been conducting cooking classes for Jewish organizations, synagogues, and private groups via Zoom since Passover. “Some of the content is recipes from my four cookbooks, but I give people flexibility about ingredients,” says the Paris-trained chef and author of the recent The Healthy Jewish Kitchen. “One popular class has been my Quarantine Soup — how to use whatever ingredients you have around. I’ve also talked about how to plan meals, shop for ingredients, and make them last longer — zest before juicing, putting herbs in water in the fridge.”
Shoyer also runs cooking and baking day camp classes for kids aged 11-14 that teach junior chefs to make both healthy meals and decadent desserts, which she plans to continue into the fall.
Israel-based pastry chef Lior Mashiach has been doing workshops via Zoom, demonstrating how to make challah, babka, and specialty items for the holidays. “It’s really a combo of super simple recipes like pound cakes and cookies, fun stuff to make with kids, and some of the more advanced stuff like sourdough, breads, laminated dough,” she says. “My Zoom workshops can be in either language [Hebrew or English]. It depends on the participants.”
American Inbal Baum, who has run the Tel Aviv-based culinary tour company Delicious Israel for a decade, has shifted operations online, offering 1-hour virtual tours.
More recently, Baum launched Delicious Experiences — private workshops led by top chefs and culinary experts from Israel. “You can customize your menu, choose from offerings, or request something special. You’ll get a list of ingredients you need beforehand. We’ve done synagogue groups, a gala, a bar mitzvah,” she says. “We’re also offering Israeli wine and whiskey tastings, where we ship the wine and whiskey to the guests. There’s no limit to the number of people who can attend.”
The culinary options are international as well as Israeli, and include more offbeat choices like making pretzels. Lockdown limitations are kept in mind. “You learn how to make recipe replacements on the spot, substituting milk and cream for half-and-half, or using a wine bottle for a rolling pin. It’s so empowering to cook with a chef from your home. It’s all about keeping food simple and fun,” says Baum.
YIVO Institute for Jewish Learning is a great resource for everything about the Ashkenazi experience, and has made its vast digital library of recipes, video tutorials, and food-related discussions, books and artifacts available for free as part of its online course A Seat at the Table: A Journey into Jewish Food.
“I think it’s especially relevant now,” says YIVO Director Jonathan Brent. “You think about your bubbe’s chicken soup or a kugel that she made, a honey cake or matzah balls. Food is a subject that induces comfort rather than anxiety. I think part of the part of enormous response to this class is that it helps to alleviate some of the anxiety that everyone is feeling in this particularly stressful time we’re in.”
Leah Koenig, author of The Jewish Cookbook, demonstrates how to make rugelach and hamantaschen in the two videos she contributed. “Seeing the depth and breadth of what they were able to put together, I’m utterly honored to be a part of it,” she says, “You can get so much out of an online course.”
Sign up for Naomi Nachman’s classes on her website and get 25% off her books, Perfect Flavors and Perfect for Pesach.
For more information about Paula Shoyer’s classes, head to her website.
For more information about Delicious Israel virtual tours, head to the website.
For more information about Delicious Experiences, head to the website. Private classes start at $125.
For more information about YIVO Institute for Jewish Learning’s online course A Seat at the Table: A Journey into Jewish Food, head to their website.