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Interactive online cooking classes make a worthy COVID-19 past-time

  • COURTESY AARP HAWAII
                                Windward Community College chef Daniel Swift teaches an online cooking class in this screen capture from video.

    COURTESY AARP HAWAII

    Windward Community College chef Daniel Swift teaches an online cooking class in this screen capture from video.

The assignment was blackened ahi, and I was acing it, my block of fish perfectly seared. But you’ll just have to trust me on that. When I stepped away to fetch a lemon, my dog swallowed the evidence.

What kind of dog? The tall, sneaky kind. And he doesn’t chew. So there went $15 worth of sashimi-grade ahi, gone in .03 seconds.

I’d been following along with an online class taught by Foodland chef Keoni Chang, one of a number that are newly available in these socially distant times. Such cook-along sessions have become a popular early evening activity, combining entertainment with education and dinner.

Lesson learned from my experience: Line up your ingredients in advance (this helps you keep up with the class, but also assures the dog won’t eat your unattended homework).

Today is Wednesday, so at 5 p.m. some 200 people will be watching Chang’s weekly class, as he talks them through making Thai chicken and breadfruit curry. On Friday, Daniel Swift, chef-instructor at Windward Community College, will walk another 200-plus through the preparation of mushroom risotto made with whole grains.

For Swift, the classes help make up for the loss of connection over these disconnected months. “I miss the classroom and I love teaching,” he said.

His sessions are themed Fast, Healthy and Ono, a focus set by AARP Hawai‘i, which presents the classes along with the college’s Uala Leaf Cafe.

“Theoretically, the ono part is pretty simple,” Swift said, so the trick is to teach kitchen efficiency in his 30 minutes of class time. He leans toward practical techniques that use equipment almost everyone has.

For example, the rice cooker. In Swift’s first class, on Sept. 4, “The Art of Steaming,” he made a seafood meal right on top of the rice just cooked in his rice pot. “You could go for a walk while the food steams.”

Both Swift and Chang are experienced in the art of the cooking demo. Besides teaching culinary students for more than 20 years, Swift is a veteran of adult-education cooking classes.

Even during the pandemic he was able to run five cooking “camps” for various age groups — in-person, hands-on classes set up for social distancing, with just nine students spread out in the cafeteria.

He also did a few livestream videos for his newly locked-down co-workers. “A lot of faculty were asking questions,” he said. “I guess a lot of them never had to cook before.”

Over the years, Chang, corporate food officer for Foodland, has filmed a number of how-to videos that have drawn hundreds of thousands of YouTube views. But those were a different animal, pretaped with the option of retakes and the narration done on voiceover. “With taping I could make lots of mistakes.”

Online live, he said, “you can’t hide. … No matter what happens, you have to keep going.”

For example, the adobo episode, when Chang let an empty pan heat up as he was explaining how to cut the pork. By the time he got back to the stove and added oil to the pan, it was so hot the oil caught fire. There was no stopping, no rewinding, so he calmly carried the flaming vessel to the sink, rooted around for the lid and smothered the fire. Then he took out another pan and carried on.

Chang said he had no choice but to turn it into a teaching moment. You can witness his ultimate calm, it’s Episode 6, viewable via foodland.com. Should your pan/pot/skillet flame up, he says, do NOT try to douse it with water. “If you put water in there, it could splatter and you could burn yourself.”

Chang’s cooking sessions are broadcast from his home, as he walks around his kitchen in shorts and bare feet. The video is taken via iPhone by Chaslee Ikawa, Foodland’s digital marketing manager. Swift’s classes are also two-person shows, shot at the now-closed campus restaurant, with one person — often his wife, Alice — monitoring a pair of webcams. Participants can ask questions via online chat.

ANOTHER TAKE on the live class is offered by the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival, which has launched a three-part series featuring local chefs.

While the Foodland and AARP sessions are free and lean toward practicality, the Cook & Drink Along classes cost $25 to $35 and have a more foodie bent, in keeping with the festival’s aim of promoting Hawaii’s food and farm scene through star-studded dining events.

They’re practical, too, though. In the first, on Sept. 3, chef Roy Yamaguchi led a class on making sushi for 134 viewers. He took questions throughout — “Chef, can you do something with hamachi?” — offering tips and tricks for emulating restaurant-level presentation.

The classes have a charitable aim. Fees benefit the Kokua Ag & Culinary Fund, which supports the agricultural, culinary and hospitality industries.

Participants can add on an ingredient kit that provides a significant head start for cooking along. The sushi kit, which included seasoned rice formed into nigiri blocks, rows of meticulously sliced seafood and several sauces, cost $60, class fee included. An additional $25 covered a shochu cocktail kit to mix along with Justin Park of Bar Leather Apron.

Those taking the Foodland and AARP classes are on their own for ingredients — recipes are provided in advance.

ALTHOUGH AN innovation born of these difficult times, online classes have some advantages over traditional in-person classes. They can accommodate more students, who can participate from their own familiar kitchens and even include their families, at least to sample the food.

Swift, in fact, says these classes could well become a model going forward. He has plans to eventually teach a class using a drone that could, say, fly out to the school’s garden to showcase fresh ingredients, then back into the kitchen and hover as the chef works.

“No one’s on campus so we haven’t been able to practice,” he said.

“Stay tuned.”

HOME COOKING WITH FOODLAND

>> Instructor: Keoni Chang, chief food officer, Foodland supermarkets

>> Focus: Chang features local favorites (an episode with nori-wrapped chicken and shoyu pork leads in number of views), but has also presented some global staples designed to teach basic techniques (how to make your own croutons, for example, or a Caesar dressing from scratch).

>> Cost: Free, but registration required at foodland.com/home-cooking-with-foodland

>> Cook along: You’ll be sent the recipe so you can pick up ingredients.

>> Coming up: Classes are an hour long, held at 5 p.m. Wednesdays, with subjects announced a few days in advance. Today’s class is on Thai chicken and breadfruit curry.

>> Catch up: Watch previous classes at the same Foodland website or via YouTube. A Foodland spokeswoman said that as of last week, Chang’s 18 classes that began May 21 have drawn 29,400 YouTube views.

FAST, HEALTHY AND ONO

>> Instructor: Daniel Swift, workforce development coordinator, Windward Community College

>> Presenters: AARP Hawai‘i and WCC’s Uala Leaf Cafe

>> Focus: Swift is at the mid-point of a six-part series on quick, healthy, budget- friendly meals. His next series will begin with overviews of knife skills and cooking methods, then move on to weekly classes on ethnic favorites from Portuguese bean soup to Chinese dumplings to Vietnamese pho.

>> Cost: Free, but participants must register at 808ne.ws/aarpcook. AARP membership not required.

>> Cook along: You’ll be sent the recipe so you can pick up the ingredients. (For those who just want to watch, webinars are simulcast on the AARP Hawai‘i Facebook page.)

>> Coming up: Classes are 30 minutes long, at 5 p.m. Fridays. This week is “Great Whole Grains,” followed by “From Frozen to Fabulous,” Oct. 2; and “Signature Shortbread,” Oct. 9. The second series, shifting to Thursdays, runs Oct. 15 to Dec. 10. For a schedule go to 808ne.ws/aarp2.

>> Catch up: View past episodes on AARP Hawai‘i’s Facebook page (click on “videos”).

>> Also at WCC: Online cook-along pastry classes on Oct. 3 cover fruit tarts (10 a.m.) and cinnamon rolls and sticky buns (1 p.m.). Cost is $20 per session. Sign up at 808ne.ws/wcccooking. Additional classes will continue through Dec. 5.

COOK & DRINK ALONG

>> Presenters: Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival and Armstrong Produce

>> Focus: Three cooking sessions led by various guest chefs, accompanied by a wine or cocktail pairing. The next class is “Ragin’ Viet-Cajun,” at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 1, with Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka, chef-owners of MW Restaurant. They will demonstrate a Southern-style seafood and sausage boil. Master sommelier Chuck Furuya will present a wine pairing, Ancient Peaks Shell Seeker Chardonnay.

>> Cost: Varies. The Oct. 1 class is $25, to benefit the Kokua Ag & Culinary Fund. Register at HFWF.me.

>> Cook along: Purchase a $135 kit of prepped ingredients to serve two — including Kona lobster, Kauai shrimp, clams and sausage — for pickup on class day at MW. The $135 includes the class fee. The wine may be added for $25. Participants on neighbor islands or those who wish to buy their own ingredients will be given a list.

>> Coming up: Chef Lance Kosaka of 53 by the Sea teaches the final class, on Oct. 29.

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