Red Stick Spice Company owner Anne Milneck hosts a Zoom cooking class. Photos courtesy Red Stick Spice Company.

Red Stick Spice Company hosts virtual cooking classes

There’s a reason cooking has become so popular during self isolation and social distancing. According to Red Stick Spice Company owner Anne Milneck, it’s less about avoiding restaurants and more about loving yourself and one another.

She’s spreading the love by continuing to offer cooking classes, though in a little different format. She and her team have quickly pivoted to offer Zoom classes teaching everything from plant-based meals to classic grilled cheese. We spoke with Milneck–virtually–to learn more about the classes and what to expect. Click here to see all the upcoming class offerings.

1. Why did you decide to start offering virtual cooking classes?

Teaching home cooks is the heart and soul of Red Stick Spice Company. We had so many customers asking about getting back in our classroom. We decided to take the classrooms to their homes, virtually.

2. How do you translate a normal, in-person experience to a Zoom conference?

Transferring a cooking class to Zoom was easier than I thought it would be. We get a shopping and equipment list to the customers three days in advance. We instruct them on what should be prepped, in addition to oven preheating instructions or if water should be simmering.

We quickly adapted our equipment to include a tablet above the cooking surface so that there would be two Zoom images: one of the instructor and one of the instructor’s hands. We have a “host” (one of my staff) on the Zoom call to moderate comments and spotlight different Zoom screens.

Anne Milneck.

3. What are the challenges?

The challenge is that there is an overall Zoom fatigue in our world. From office setting to schools, we’re finding that folks simply don’t want to do another task via Zoom. But we’ve been able to turn that frown upside down. This is not another Zoom meeting with folks staring blankly or talking over each other. You’re going to be busy! And we’re going to do all the talking.

4. Are there any unforeseen advantages?

The advantages are many. First, you get to take a cooking class in your soft pants. Or jammies. Or leggings. Or barefoot. Or with your dog or toddler or teenagers. Next, you can ask your friends and family around the country to book the same class. Then, you get to see each other on the Zoom screen and cook along with them. We often unmute for folks to visit with each other from across the country. They sit back, watch, have a glass of wine and observe. Some folks learn best that way: watch first, then do it later.

5. What has the response been like?

The response has been good, but we would love more folks to join us. I think the hesitation comes from the the Zoom fatigue issue. But we want to say loud and clear: these classes are FUN! This is not an awkward virtual experience. We did a class recently that included a cocktail. We took everyone off mute so that we could hear the symphony of cocktail shakers rattling with ice. So much fun!

6. How do you choose the cooking topics? How do you advise attendees to prepare for the class at home?

We draw from our most popular in-person classes and choose a dish or two to teach–classes are one hour so we don’t do a full class menu. My advice would be to arrive to have fun–whatever that looks like for you. Want to cook along? We’re here for you. Want to just watch? Get ready for a fun show. We’re constantly checking in to make sure everyone is caught up and understanding where we are in the recipe.

Instructor Lili Courtney.

7. What classes do you have planned for the future?

There is a class coming up called Towering Nachos and Pan Banging Cookies. First, these two dishes are so delicious, but they are also visually so much fun. We can’t wait to see that Zoom gallery of mountains of nachos. And we’re going to take everyone off mute as we bang the pans of cookies on the counter.

8. Why do you think cooking has become so much more important to people during quarantine/COVID?

Nothing drives my anxiety up like the unknown. Cooking quells my anxiety. I feel that many people are coming from that same place. Whether it was hurricane aftermath or a death in the family, my aunt Gloria would always say, “Well, we have to eat.” And in those terrible moments, she would cook something wonderful. Cooking is soothing and, at its very basis, is something you can do to stay in control, care for others and care for yourself.

9. Do you have any advice for aspiring cooks?

My advice today is different had you asked me pre-COVID. My advice to aspiring cooks is to do it with others and for others. If you can’t gather, cook together virtually. If you do have a bubble of friends and family with which you’re interacting, cook with them and for them. Loneliness is the next layer of this pandemic. Cook together, eat, repeat.

See the full calendar of upcoming Red Stick Spice Company cooking classes here.