Cooking up global goodness over Skype

What makes each culture different, but brings us all together like nothing else can? Food! The scents, stories, and sharing a homemade meal around the table together—few things are quite so satisfying or make us feel more connected. And yet, who can afford to whisk off (no pun intended) to Barcelona or Tokyo every time they want to experience a truly authentic meal? Very few of us, to be sure.

Enter, Jenn Nicken. When Jenn left her high-profile job in the technology industry a few years back, she took some time off to travel and get back to one of her favorite activities: cooking. Jenn got to know the local food and the best chefs from each place she visited and was inspired to bring this rich experience to anyone with a kitchen and a Skype connection.

We caught up with Jenn recently to find out more about how The Chef & The Dish cooking classes work over Skype.

Jenn Nicken, owner of The Chef & The DishOwner: Jenn Nicken

Do dishes really taste better when prepared by a cook from that specific locale?

Yes! This surprised me a bit but it turns out to be true. The best Bolognese sauce I’ve ever had was in Bologna, Italy. The best New England Clam Chowder was, well… in New England. They are masters of their dishes, because the cooks and people there have spent lifetimes perfecting them. They are steeped in the culture and the history behind the dishes. So, they’re not just recipes to be followed, but reflections of where they’re from. This knowledge and essence is passed on to each student in a personal way during their cooking class.

Who are your chefs? Are they well known?

Yes, indeed! They are at the top of their field in their given regions. Some have been featured in national publications, have been the private chef for celebrities, others have worked in Michelin-rated restaurants or have 5-star Trip Advisor ratings. And, I have eaten in their restaurants, homes, or schools and know them all personally. That is what makes our service so different.

Chef Pol in SpainChef Pol in Spain

Which cooking class would you recommend starting with?

Any of them, really! Each class is so unique and meets the cook where they are as far as experience. The more you take, the more you learn how different food cultures of the world are similar, and different.

You can learn how to make Ravioli with Chef Paola in Northern Italy, make New Orleans Jambalaya with Chef Gason, learn how to make Japanese Gyoza or Bento Box with Chef Yoshimi in Tokyo, master how to make the simple—but technically sophisticated—Cacio e Pepe with the very famous Chef Daniela of Daniela’s Cooking School in Rome… You can even take a class on how to make Thanksgiving dinner with Chef Joanie in Boston! Each class is completely different, just like the food you’re preparing.

Chef Gason in New OrleansChef Gason in New Orleans

How does a typical class work?

Each step of the way we aim to surprise and delight our clients. After a client selects from one of our tens of different cooking classes, they are immediately contacted by a kitchen assistant who schedules a kitchen prep session. During that prep session, the kitchen assistant walks the client through any questions they might have, including the shopping list, unusual ingredients, necessary kitchen equipment, and then technical details to make sure they get the most out of their cooking experience.

The client then heads out to get groceries, and awaits their chef to video call them on Skype. Once the class begins, the chef tells the client a bit about his or her background, region, interesting historical information about the dishes, and then—what everyone waits for—they get cooking! The chef coaches the client through making their dish at home, just like a traditional cooking class, but now they’re cooking in their home kitchen, with the help of a top chef based in Tokyo, Rome, or Barcelona—just like they’ve traveled there for the day.

Each class includes multiple dishes, so over the course of 2-3 hours, students make three or more iconic recipes, learning how to juggle multiple dishes and hearing interesting tips about each one. At the end of the class, the students say goodbye to their private (virtual) chef, and have a traditional and authentic meal to enjoy with their loved ones.

Chef Paola in ItalyChef Paola in Italy

Is it hard for the chefs and students to connect since they’re not in the same room?

Not at all. Skype is just another way to be together and everyone is pretty accustomed to communicating this way now. The bottom line is people love cooking together! It’s an experience you’d otherwise have to travel thousands of miles to have. Now, you can do it from home—and experience food cultures and world-class cooking instructors from your own kitchen. Clients always learn something new: interesting facts about food, history of a culture, and new techniques on preparing dishes. The cooking instructors love feeling like they’ve traveled to a new country each day, too.

I love this quote from Heather Lawless, a vegan food blogger, because it really sums up what we’re about: “As a foodie who’s traveled around the world on culinary journeys, I can genuinely say that my experience with The Chef & The Dish stacked up. No matter what your background is in cooking, you’ll leave the session with a refined skill set and a deeper understanding of another culture.”

On Skype with Chef Yoshimi in JapanOn a Skype call with Chef Yoshimi in Japan

We can’t wait to see where Jenn goes next and which delicious dishes are on the menu for all of us savor together, using the power of Skype.

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We love learning how Skype brings people together, even when they’re far apart. Do you have a story we should know about? Tag us #Skype in social media and you might just hear from us.

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