Technical assistance

Making the Most of the Pandemic Pantry


This story is part of our December 2021 issue on the theme of innovation. Click here to subscribe.

When the initial shock of the coronavirus wore off last spring, people were stuck in their homes and found themselves without social opportunities, some with more free time than ever before. Those who had the luxury of overtime were encouraged to develop new skills in this unscripted space, and with nearly every restaurant in the area closed for food service, many turned to cooking classes. in line.

“If anything, this pandemic has taught us to step out of your box,” says Chef Ricky Yap, a local chef who runs Homeskool’d, an interactive cooking class series, with fellow chef Chris Lombardi. “Virtual cooking classes filled the knowledge gap for those who relied on home cooking.”

These classes also allowed people to stay connected during a time of isolation. As Californians faced nearly two years of cautious closings and reopens, the chefs behind these courses have also adjusted, adjusting their businesses to the ebb and flow of demand. Their passion for teaching people to be comfortable, even daring, in their own kitchen has remained constant.

Online in mind

Before the pandemic, Jeremiah Duarte Bills had considered moving his Portuguese pastry classes online. He liked to run intimate classes at his home in the Pocket neighborhood of Sacramento, but was limited to six to 12 students per session. He was able to cast a wider net when he took his lessons on Zoom. “So much logistics suddenly dissolves when you connect to the internet,” Bills says. “I took the plunge and the response was huge from the start. ”

Jeremiah Duarte Bills, a former contestant of “The Great American Baking Show”, now runs the Portuguese Pastry School. He hopes to expand his online courses to include an online library of recipes and instructional videos.

Bills grew up in a family that loved desserts, and he began learning Portuguese pastry in college to deepen his connection to his heritage. After participating in ‘The Great American Baking Show’ competition series, he developed a niche as a Portuguese bakery instructor.

When it switched to Zoom, anyone wishing to learn the art of Portuguese pastry making could participate from anywhere with internet access. Its students have included well-known bakers like Helen Goh and Brian Hart Hoffman.

Thanks to the Portuguese Pastry School, as it recently renamed the online program, it offers classes from $ 18 to $ 38 per session and provides a list of ingredients and equipment.

Very early on, he gave a virtual class on past̩is de nata, cream pies popular in Portugal and its former colonies. Made with just a few ingredients Рbutter, egg, flour, cinnamon, lemon, and sugar Рmaking the dessert is largely a matter of technique.

“I like to say to students, ‘Before you start, take a look at your ingredients. It’s so few ingredients and we’re going to make magic with it, ”says Bills. “I like to pass this technique on because I had a lot of failures to get it right.”

“I like to pass on (the art of making desserts with just a few ingredients) because I’ve had a lot of failures to get it right.”

Jeremiah Duarte Bills, Founder, The Portuguese Baking School

“Once we sign up in class and see all the boxes on Zoom and everyone is smiling, it’s like, okay, that’s why we’re doing this. ”

The day before a photoshoot for “The Great American Baking Show,” where Bills advanced to the semi-finals, the pies washed up in the oven and weren’t ready for the photo. He was upset at the time, but remembers the moment lightly because it was a learning opportunity. When his students fail, he reminds them to forgive themselves and that the stakes are low.

“If we fail, who cares? It’s just flour and eggs and everything, he said. “It’s fun to see people doing things outside of their comfort zone. ”

School is in session

Yap and Lombardi were ready for a new business in 2020. They had been friends since high school and the two bosses wanted to partner in a business. Yap was a sushi chef who helped open the two iterations of Kru in Sacramento; Lombardi was the owner and chef of the Burger Saloon in Woodland. They had just started a restaurant business when the pandemic hit, putting an end to parties and private events. They redesigned their business and offered Interactive Homeskool’d Cooking Classes on Zoom. They taught their own proven recipes, starting with Lombardi prime rib. Yap has largely focused on its specialty: Japanese cuisine, such as sushi.

“We really tapped into how it felt to go back to high school,” Yap says. They had what they called the “classroom”: 30 minutes before class, during which the students could greet each other, ask questions and solve technical problems. They teach students how professionals cook – focusing on preparation, efficiency and sanitation.

“In restaurants, we do things a certain way,” Lombardi says. “We have understood this in almost 20 years of kitchen management. … We want to share it with you. Chefs agree that the classes foster confidence in the kitchen and, at the height of the pandemic, have given way to peace of mind. Each class lasts an hour and a half with no news, no politics. Just food and connection. “Once we sign up in class and see all the boxes on Zoom and everyone is smiling, it’s like, okay, that’s why we’re doing this,” Yap explains.

“Once we sign up in class and see all the boxes on Zoom and everyone is smiling, it’s like, okay, that’s why we’re doing this. ”

Ricky Yap, Co-Founder, Homeskool’d

Skills for life

Shankari Arcot loves to see the faces of the students beaming with pride in their cooking achievements, especially the children. When she grew up in India, she saw her mother prepare meals every day with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Her love for teaching blossomed in the Bay Area, where she gave informal cooking classes to her friends. After moving to Folsom, she taught in-store and private cooking classes until the pandemic. With a helping hand from friends and technical assistance from her husband, she launched Sacramento Spice online classes in July 2020. Her expectation that online classes would be more difficult than in person has been proven wrong. .

“What I thought was a disadvantage turned out to be very positive,” she says. “If I teach a class in person, we do everything for them. … Now they cook for their families.

Shankari Arcot teaches students of all age groups, but especially enjoys teaching younger ones.

The online model allows students to better prepare recipes over and over again, as they have the ingredients on hand and learn to cook in their own kitchens. She encourages students to experiment with her recipes for dishes like chicken tikka masala, wonton soup and veggie burgers. Each class costs $ 20, unless otherwise specified, and Shankari sends students a shopping list a week in advance.

Rescue resident Sarina Bronson says her family’s collection of spices has grown since her son, Luke, began attending classes. Luke, 13, quickly switched from kids’ classes to adult classes and says pad Thai and fried rice are some of his favorite dishes. As well as giving Luke something to look forward to during isolation, classes have equipped him to help his parents prepare for the birth of their seventh child.

“When the new baby comes, I can take out a recipe and cook it,” he says, adding that his younger sister, Lucy, is taking the children’s lessons. “We can do them together for the whole family. ”

Arcot makes the most of the passion for next-generation cooking. It offers children’s lessons and home lessons for children in grades 3 to 12. The Global Cooking Home Schools series introduces students to a new country every week. In addition to cooking and culture classes, students learn about budgeting and shopping, time management, and problem solving.

“These kids are our future and we teach them these life skills,” she says. “It makes my day just watching these kids light up. ”

The future of the virtual cooking school

Each of the cooking classes has seen a drop in enrollment since the start of the pandemic, and chefs cite a few reasons: reopening of restaurants, Zoom fatigue and increased travel. When Homeskool bosses saw a downturn, they stepped up corporate team building for clients like Intel and Sacramento State. Bills plans to create an online school with a library of videos and recipes that members can review at any time. After a break from his adult classes in the fall, Arcot resumed home classes and weekend family sessions. Despite the changes in demand, they see the benefit of maintaining virtual classrooms, for themselves and their students.

“It was a wonderful silver lining,” says Arcot. “Everything that happened – it’s not the best situation, but we all made the most of it. ”

Stay up to date on business in the Capital Region: Subscribe to the Comstock newsletter today.