I have been doing cooking demonstrations since I was 20 years old and freshly graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.
You know, I can still remember my very first demo. It was at a country club in Tucson, and I taught everyone how to make my favorite fruit desserts (like the Sonoran Sunset and the Parisian Berry Tart). It must have gone well, because I got another request for a cooking demonstration. Then another, and another. Each year brought more requests.
Things leveled up from there, and soon I was taking my demonstrations to the big leagues, baking pumpkin swirl cheesecakes for a PBS television series and making fresh apple strudel from scratch on live TV.
I even managed to woo some American Culinary Federation (ACF) judges, winning an ACF gold medal for one of my desserts. My ability to give clean, organized, and engaging cooking demonstrations really catapulted me to the top. You see, I knew that the judges were watching me as I put the final pieces of my dessert together. Instead of throwing everything on the plate in a messy hurry, I staged each portion carefully and efficiently. This methodical approach really impressed them, as did my show-stopping dessert, and I took home the gold.
I was able to further sharpen my cooking demonstration abilities as a consultant for Princess House, spending years doing cooking demonstrations for their sales teams. My audience was often large, between 300 and 3,000 people, and I worked with a whole range of mediums, often repeating demos over 8 hours straight. Sometimes I had to do a lot with very little, but I improvised, baking cakes in microwaves (yes, it's possible!) and using marshmallow cream as a meringue on baked Alaska.
I didn't really think about my experience with cooking demonstrations when I first started Food and Health, Inc, but the requests soon came pouring in. I remember typing my first 10 tips for a cooking demo for the readers of foodandhealth.com after countless appeals from family and consumer science experts, along with dietitians.
- Make sure the lavalier microphone has fresh batteries.
- Bring paper towels.
- Wash your hands and sanitize the area.
- Never measure things in front of people -- it bores them.
- Demonstrate how to assemble the dish, then whip out a finished dish for them to taste. It's like a well-planned magic show.
The blog post almost brought the website down -- I had thousands of hits. So I decided to run with it, pouring all my knowledge and experience into two books -- The Cooking Demo Book and Salad Secrets. Both are now bestsellers in the Nutrition Education Store, and I get lots of email from people who have loved the books and used the tips to improve their cooking demonstrations.
My repertoire has since expanded, and I've added two more books to the cooking demonstration resource page -- The MyPlate Cooking Demo Book and Home Run Meals. I've also created a cooking demonstration section for the free recipe database. I love sharing my expertise with health educators!
Now let's fast forward to this month, when I started teaching an advanced pastry class for the culinary art students at Johnson and Wales Denver (JWU). It means a lot for me to teach as an adjunct instructor at such a great school with very talented students.
- This is a lab for chefs who are unfamiliar with pastry art and the discipline of exact measures and procedures.
- There are only 9 days to teach all the lessons they need.
- Most of the audience is made up of innovative and visual young people who don’t want to sit for hours of lectures.
- The restaurant industry itself has leaped ahead of classic culinary art instruction. Social media and the Food Channel have enabled massive idea sharing and trends like molecular gastronomy that have to be considered.
I wanted my class to feature traditional preparations and skills but still be relevant for chefs, inspiring them while educating them about what is going on in the industry. I am thrilled to be in a facility that allows the students to do so much cooking.
But how do I meet the challenges?
- I have divided the classes into 8 major lessons about skills that my students absolutely need to know.
- We are taking a tour of highly successful Michelin-starred restaurants and highlighting their desserts each day.
- The students will research the restaurants and find desserts they like. From there, they will design a final project that can be done in our classroom.
- Each session features an inspirational photo, then a video, followed by hours of lab work with "pop up" demos.
- We plate everything we make. This allows hands-on creativity and it develops confidence.
So far, my approach has been successful. My students came up with amazing plates using nothing more than fruit, crème Chantilly, and almond lace cookies on their very first day!
I would highly recommend this exercise for any cooking demo: Allow the students to make a dish or many recipes in groups, then help them produce a final plate that they can photograph. They love it, and the hands-on portion really helps the lessons stick.
Another approach that I found to be very effective was incorporating photos. On one of the final days of the class, I used a photo of a fruit tart to teach the kids about proper tart composition. The fruit was tightly and neatly arranged and the glaze was very thin. This photo helped set a good example and inspire the students in a way that a description or lecture could not.
I believe the combination of photos and hands-on creation time is an excellent way to teach the lessons they need.
The class even completed a final buffet that is served to other pupils at the school. This social event offers the pastry students a real chance to show off what they learned and will help everyone see what they have achieved in 8 short days.
I am looking forward to the summer, when I can develop some demos for healthful cooking using the same techniques that I have implemented in my course at JWU.
By Judy Doherty, PC II and Founder of Food and Health Communications, Inc
PS: Are you looking for resources to improve your cooking demonstrations? I've poured all my expertise into the following products -- which one will help you reach your goals?
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.