Despite in-person cooking classes not being held this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Airdrie Rotary Community Kitchen has continued to build social connections within the community.
Meghan West, the kitchen co-ordinator, said the organization – which is an Airdrie Food Bank initiative – pivoted its programs to an online format early into the pandemic.
"We wanted to put out some positive content to give people something to engage with," West said. "More than ever, I think people are looking for creative solutions to connect."
Anyone wanting to learn how to make a pie, movie night snacks, cinnamon buns, breakfast cookies, and more could tune in to the kitchen’s Instagram Live videos, which were hosted by West from her kitchen throughout March, April and May.
"We would post the ingredient list earlier in the week, and then whoever wanted to participate could tune in – there was no participation fee," she said.
Although there are no more live sessions scheduled for the rest of the summer, West said they might do a "rainy-day pop-up" class at some point. The kitchen's Instagram handle is @airdrie.community.kitchen.
More formal cooking lessons have also moved online, according to West, including the seven-week Food Explorers class, which had youths aged eight to 12 learn to cook different recipes every week to improve their food and literacy skills.
West said six households signed up for the class. Making sure all the young cooks were safe and had a supervisor during the more difficult tasks was one of the challenges, as it wasn't something the kitchen had to focus on when the program was held in-person.
"The first week we were doing something on the stove, and I said, "OK, whoever your helper is should help you with your frying pan," she said. “And I'm just waiting to see someone else show up in the little Zoom grid. Fortunately, all of them had someone pop up."
West added there were challenges in adjusting to teaching in the new format, as well.
"For me, as the facilitator, the learning curve was pretty steep," she said. "When you're working in a big group in a kitchen, no one notices if you drop your rolling pin or spill sauce all over your apron. But being the person on the screen, there were a couple of moments when I felt really clumsy."
Now that the Food Explorer program has wrapped up, West said she suspects everyone is feeling a bit "Zoom-fatigued" and would rather enjoy the nice weather outside. Therefore, classes are done for the summer but will start up again in the fall in an online format.
"I miss being in the kitchen with everybody," she said. "I look forward to when we can do that again. But for now, we're doing what we can and connecting in the ways that make sense."