I've been lucky enough to teach a string of cooking classes recently, and boy have I ever learned a lot! I've actually been teaching cooking for well over a decade, but there's always something new to learn. That's why I've finally decided to sit down and lay out the secrets that take a presentation from good to great.
Some of these have been recent revelations, while others are tried-and-true cornerstones. So, whether you're teaching an intro to cooking class or an advanced kitchen technique workshop, these tips can help you make the most of your presentations.
Cooking Class Tip #1: Go with Video
I've found that my cooking students appreciate an introductory video. A video engages the class right off the bat. Now, using an introductory video doesn't mean that I had to get out my camera every time I wanted to teach a technique. Instead, I relied on YouTube, which has a seriously vast library of cooking resources. A few of the videos that I used in my latest class (and which my pastry students begged to watch over and over) include...
All of these videos are fun and different. They make great ice breakers! The topic should be relevant to your class and it can talk about your ingredients or show how other people are using it. One chef played a fun song about the topic and it was a hit with students!
Cooking Class Tip #2: Share Your Past Successes
I was really struck by how much my students appreciated stories about past classes. One of the best parts of my introduction happened during a review of what the last class had accomplished. My new students were nervous about their own abilities, but when they saw what their predecessors had done with the same equipment, during the same course, they were inspired. At that moment, they realized that they could do this too. If you take photos during your classes it makes it easy to share past successes in future classes.
How do I know that, you ask? The success stories came up over and over again in my class surveys. The students just loved them!
Cooking Class Tip #3: Offer Step-by-Step Pictures
A cooking demonstration can really fly by, especially if you're being engaging and energetic. I've found that my students really liked it when I could offer step-by-step photos after the demonstration. That way, they could go back and check a technique they might have missed, confirm what a dish should look like as they cook it, or simply commit the checklist to memory.
Plus, you don't have to set up a separate photo shoot to take these photos. Instead, you can simply snap some pictures with your iPhone during one of your practice runs. (You do have practice sessions with each cooking demonstration dish, right?). You can also draw a diagram on your whiteboard.
Another alternative that can help you save even more time is to get one of the cooking PowerPoint presentations that are available in the Nutrition Education Store. These all feature step-by-step photos and instructions for simple, healthful dishes that also happen to be easy to demonstrate. Browse the selection today!
Cooking Class Tip #4: Get Hands-On
If there's any way to do it, allow your students hands-on time to prep and make their own dishes. They can even participate in the demonstration itself, though this needs a little extra forward-planning. Using a few volunteers and rotating them throughout the demo can help you maximize participation, especially if you don't have the budget or the space for everyone to cook a dish themselves.
If you do let people participate actively during the cooking process, make sure that they wash their hands well first. Keep loaner aprons on hand so that everyone can stay clean.
(There are some gorgeous aprons available here, if you're interested).
Cooking Class Tip #5: Use the Spice of Life
Each and every one of my cooking students has shared an opinion about something during my classes. Maybe they don't care for honey, or they want to add lemon to everything. Perhaps vanilla is too everyday, or they just hate greens. Whatever it is, people have their own particular tastes. You won't be able to please everyone. That's why a wide variety of dishes is key.
You can't go wrong if you offer many choices. I tend to favor simple, colorful dishes that feature ingredients that are currently in season. The bright colors make the meal look appealing, the simplicity makes a recipe easy to make, and the seasonal ingredients are at peak flavor. What's not to love?
Cooking Class Tip #6: Seek Inspiration
Collect images of great dishes, presentation approaches, garnishes, etc. Keep this inspiration collection all in one place (Pinterest really is perfect for this) and share it with the class.
You can turn this into an industry study if you'd like. An industry study offers ideas to aspire to, as well as a way to take the temperature of current food trends. With it, you can stay relevant, watching what is working, making money, and staying popular in the industry.
Cooking Class Tip #7: Finish Well
The final step of your dish will have a huge impact on your students, especially if you present it well. Don't fail to plan that "ta-da" moment. Sloppy presentations can kill a dish. Practice plating, look at your inspiration board, and come up with a final way to present the dish so that it looks great. After all, at the end of a recipe, often the whole take-home message is "what did it look like?"
Are you ready to take these tips and apply them to your next cooking class? Check out the materials below for more cooking class resources.
By Judy Doherty, PC II and Founder of Food and Health Communications, Inc.
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world-famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. After a decade in food service for Hyatt Hotels, Judy launched Food and Health Communications to focus on flavor and health. She graduated with Summa Cum Laude distinction from Johnson and Wales University with a BS in Culinary Art, holds a master’s degree in Food Business from the Culinary Institute of America, 2 art certificates from UC Berkeley Extension, and runs a food photography studio where her love is creating fun recipes.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science and Dietary Guidelines to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.