NAIT launches virtual cooking classes in time for Thanksgiving

Ernest’s executive chef leads sessions

There isn’t much about food or mealtimes that the pandemic hasn’t changed. People are dining out less and ordering more takeout. They’re buying groceries online and using all that extra time at home to try out new recipes. Dinner parties are largely avoided, especially outside regular cohorts.

That means food-centric holidays like Thanksgiving could look and – taste – very different this year. For chef Rylan Krause (Cook ’12), that’s an opportunity to embrace new flavours, and new ways of learning in the kitchen.

The executive chef of Ernest’s Dining Room is hosting a Thanksgiving-themed virtual cooking class on Oct. 8. It’s the first in a series of virtual cooking courses offered by NAIT.

“Thanksgiving is such a communal time. I think something like this is a really good way to have fun with the family and invoke some positive feelings,” says Krause. “It’s so easy to get caught up in the negative [of the pandemic].”

Public health restrictions make in-person cooking classes impractical, so Ernest’s teamed up with NAIT’s Radio and Television program and IT department to deliver the classes remotely through video conferencing.

Krause will stage the classes in the polytechnic’s state-of-the-art Culinary and Innovation Centre, where he’ll demonstrate how to prepare a multi-course Thanksgiving feast for participants who will follow along in their kitchens.

Modern take on Thanksgiving

Bacon-wrapped turkey breast stuffed with cranberry and chesnutsNAIT’s classes are designed for home cooks of every experience level.

Ingredients are supplied and available for curbside pickup from Ernest’s the day prior to the class. Each box of food includes a few prepared goodies for participants to enjoy, such as black pepper and sage turkey wings, pickled veggies and whisky butter tarts. Wine and beer pairings and cocktails are optional add-ons.

The menu includes an appetizer of wontons stuffed with smoked duck bacon (yes that’s a thing, made from the breast meat), brie cheese, pear and honey. That’s followed by a bacon-wrapped turkey breast with a cranberry and chestnut stuffing and gravy. Side dishes include a root vegetable terrine, Brussel sprouts served with prosciutto and chili honey, and confit shallots cooked in duck fat.

Krause says the menu itself is an adaptation to the pandemic and the likelihood that families will host smaller Thanksgiving dinners. “You can’t cook a 15-pound turkey to feed four people.”

The flavours are influenced by Thanksgiving but also his own experiences cooking in fine dining restaurants in Germany where they would take traditional dishes and give them a modern spin.

Rising interest in virtual cooking classes

Virtual cooking classes have grown in popularity as restaurants and culinary professionals have looked for ways to replace lost revenue from in-person dining.

“We’re seeing a lot of it now and the uptake from the public has been really exciting,” Krause says.

This past summer Krause refined the delivery by hosting a practice session with several NAIT staff members and their families. The trial run proved that there are still opportunities to engage, ask questions and learn. It’s also an opportunity for families to cook together and have fun, he says.

“My worry was that I’d spend two hours talking and everyone would just listen … but the engagement was just so warming and promising to see from the participants.”

Future classes in the series will be held monthly. November’s will likely be a bridge between fall and winter seasonal flavours, while other ideas, like a plant-based menu, are also being discussed.

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