Think back to lockdown one in early 2020, with its overwhelming influx of Zoom aperitifs, group catch-ups, quizzes, tastings, quizzes, more quizzes… both at work and at home. Like many people, having made the transition to working from home and communicating exclusively with my friends and family via the internet, I didn’t have much enthusiasm for spending even more time in front of a screen doing virtual versions of my hobbies. I felt that one of the most enjoyable aspects of courses I had attended pre-Covid was the excitement of going to a different place with new people, chatting with them, and of course, having someone be able to physically step in and save a failed clay creation/an unpromisingly cooked piece of fish.
Instead, I made the most of the long periods indoors embarking on the more involved crafts and recipes I had never found time for BC (Before Corona). Where I previously would have flicked past pages in a cookbook involving 2-3 day processes, making dough, proving dough, resting dough, I found myself making ragù from scratch, pasta, bao buns, bagels, apple tart, sourdough, you name it. Taking much of my culinary inspiration from Instagram, I had noticed Olia Hercules’ (@oliahercules) beautiful dumplings arise on my feed a few times, and eventually decided to give one of her online courses a go.
We were sent a short list of easy-to-source ingredients and were tasked with making the dough plus a filling or two before the evening class – the perfect way to keep busy on a lockdown Sunday afternoon. Having prepared the potato, feta and spring onion filling (native to Ossetia on the Russian border) and the Ukrainian kraut, mushroom and caramelised onion, my boyfriend and I donned our aprons, opened a bottle of wine and logged onto the Zoom. Slightly apprehensive about whether it would be awkward to take part with a glass of wine in hand, we were instantly put at ease by Olia’s kind smile and easy manner. Feeling more settled, the never-ending pandemic debate was decided – camera on.
The class was limited to around 25 people, an ideal number for the class to be interactive without too much chaos, and to get an idea of who our fellow Zoomers were and the level of their dough skills. Olia is Ukrainian and she expertly demonstrated five different dumpling-making techniques native to various Eastern European countries and central Asia, all the while entertaining us with family tales and mini-origin stories of the pastries as we rolled and sculpted our dough.
She was more than happy to help fix any dough-sasters (!) and praised us by name as we held up our creations to the camera. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, and we enjoyed the easy intimacy of seeing inside other participants’ homes and kitchens as they cooked along with us.
We were both pleasantly surprised by the evening: just the right length at an hour and a half, the class was also just the right level of challenging. We were proud of our intricate creations, and owing to the pre-preparation we were able to taste the delicious dumplings while we cooked. The sort of recipe that would have been difficult to understand from a cookbook but simple when demonstrated, it was the perfect course to follow online. We came away feeling we had been able to enjoy each other’s company and take our time whilst having an unobtrusive focus to guide us through the cooking process.
A definite convert to the online class phenomenon, I will certainly be scoping out the vast array of other food and drink courses offered online. An effective and achievable way for brands and the on-trade to build relationships with consumers too, it seems they could be here to stay post-pandemic – watch this space!