For the second class, Elisabeth cooked and I played backup. This group, the one with our friend Jen in it, had a much different vibe.
There's perhaps a spaghetti Western joke in here, but this was clearly not this gang's first online Italian cookery rodeo. Many, like Jen, had taken an actual, physical class with chef in Rome (nostalgic sigh), then followed him on Facebook and started taking both one-off classes and a regular series with him. With some gentle ribbing between classmates and a lady with a Christmas apron shushing her husband, it was easy to pick up on a sweetness to the group, a perk of having done this together for a while.
"I see everyone else is drinking, so I'll grab a glass," said chef Andrea's wife, Erica, a transplant from Michigan. During this class, she did something similar to what RJ in Memphis did, running cameras and keeping things moving.
In this class some people just watched, with the idea that they'd make the food from this class—white lasagna and beer-battered cod—at another time. Not everyone knew each other, but they had a "happy-to-be-together" feeling that you might get at a book club.
Andrea cheerfully shepherded us through the process, his hands a literal digital blur on our screen as he worked. Lasagna and fried fish aren't go-tos in our house, so it was fun to have a guide while we made it. He also knows when to chat for a bit to allow people to catch up to him.
"Chop mushrooms as thin as you can," he encouraged. "No fingertips."
He's good at working the room, using peoples' names, making us feel included in something larger. There's clever use of hand gestures which help keep people from interrupting each other: thumbs-up for good, hand in front of the screen for wait or I have a question, a forward rolling of the index finger for keep going. When Elisabeth and I tried to figure out if we had our batter thick enough, we looked at the screen and see a few students holding bowls right up to their cameras and lifting their whisks up so he could advise if they should add flour or water.
At one point, Jen brought chef to a halt when she mentioned her "trashy Midwestern lasagna" made with non-Italian ingredients.
"I swear the cottage cheese does something magical," she said.
As class wrapped up, and people said their goodbyes, I got a little sad to leave this group I'd just joined, and had a few realizations.
First off, I like this. Meeting new people and taking part in a group activity is a welcome change to my pandemic routine.
Like the experienced sages in the second class taught me, you don't have to cook everything on the menu in each class. You will, however, be well served to prep everything as much as possible before class starts. (Both classes I participated in had their versions of recipes sent out ahead of time.) Do this, and you'll be able to watch, talk, learn, and enjoy more, instead of struggling to keep up with everyone. I was half-prepped for both classes and felt like I spent a fair amount of time scrambling.
These classes would make a great gift. Taking them with a group of faraway friends or family would be a fun way to spend time together.
It would be nice to have more hangout time before or after class. I didn't necessarily want to watch a bunch of people eat on Zoom, but I would have enjoyed a bit more time to linger with everyone, especially our Italian hosts. After class, I certainly got a bit of mileage from telling friends that I took a cooking class with a chef in Rome.
Mostly though, as we get ready to go into a long, hard winter tinged with hope, it's nice to have groups we can be a part of, with peoples' kitchens smelling like garlic, an animated Italian holding court, holding us together and teaching us how to make some good food.
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