Behind the scenes as a Roving Chef

Posted by Alex on 18/08/20 in Articles, VfL News and Events

In March, COVID-19 resulted in a national lockdown. Normal life was suspended, toilet roll and flour became king. All visits to care homes and community centres were suspended. Not being allowed to physically deliver catering training meant, like many other organisations, we had to go online. This was not a massive step because we were already making some online materials. What we weren’t doing though, was live online cookery demonstrations.

How does it all work?

As a national charity, we have been contacting relevant age-friendly networks across the UK, offering free cookery demonstrations (donations always welcome though!) Each demonstration is unique and tailored to the needs of the specific group, delivered by one of the roving chefs in the team.

Most demonstrations last 30–40 minutes, while cook-alongs are usually 1.5–2 hours, giving plenty of time to cook and follow the chef’s guidance. Zoom is often used for the cook-alongs, because this gives the chef the opportunity to see what you are cooking and questions can be answered verbally, like a 'normal' Zoom meeting would be.

Facebook Live is generally used for cookery demonstrations only. Viewers questions need to be typed, and the chef will still be able to answer live, or after the demo, but won’t be able to see you. Setting up both is a simple case of initiating a meeting for Zoom and sending the viewer a login code.

For Facebook, temporary admin rights are granted to the chef, which is really easily done. Age UK Trafford, for example, were interested in good nutrition, but also the dishes had to be easy to prepare and be flexible. We settled on Mushroom Medley Pie and a Puff Pastry Tartlet. I have to say these are really nice recipes. Click here If you would like to watch the video or make the recipes.

It's all in the preparation!

Practice makes perfect so they say, so demonstrations are always trialled beforehand to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible and timings are correct. On the morning of the demonstration, as much of the preparation that can be done is done. So, vegetables prepped, ingredients measured out, chef’s whites ironed, kitchen cleaned, phone switched off…

Camera angle

The camera angle was something that we had to think about carefully. For the demonstrations that I do, I have a little camera placed on the window ledge, so slightly elevated. I have tried moving the camera around during the cooking, in order that you, the viewer, can get a better look at what is going on. The trouble with that was it was like being on a swing as the camera moved. Our compromise, at least for the time being, was to find the best place to begin with and not to move it. Remember we are the only ones in the kitchen: no camera crew, director or runner. Keeping the camera in one place does have extra advantages. You, as the viewer, can’t see what is outside the frame. So surprises like "here’s the one I made earlier" can’t be seen until the big reveal, and dirty pots can be put out of the way.

It's too loud!

One of the interesting aspects of creating videos is that what it sounds like in my kitchen is not the same as watching. Every chop and rattle of a pan or pot seems to be amplified to an irritating level. Generally, if I were doing a cookery demonstration at a cookery festival, making noise is a good thing; it helps to create atmosphere, excitement, and keeps attention on the stage. Chefs like to show off! Noise however is not good on Facebook or Zoom. We got around this by first reducing the amount of chopping and putting things down gently, but also using mats to deaden the sound.

Ready, Steady, Go!

I enjoy doing live demonstrations. A few nerves at the start soon seem to pass once I get cooking and talking. When I press the “go live” button there is no turning back. The audience is watching, and you are being recorded too. Incidentally, I can see how many people are watching live and can see when people stop watching. It can be a little off-putting when that happens. What tends to happen though, is that most views are not live, but after the event.

Talking to myself

Ever heard yourself mentioned on the radio? Nice, isn’t it? It makes you feel special and part of the programme. This is what we do on Facebook. If you send a question or comment we will try and answer you there and then. It adds interest to the demonstration, and is reassuring as a chef that I am not talking to myself (again!)

Looking forward

As a team we are finding ways to get around the hurdles and hopefully delivering interesting presentations. It has been a steep learning curve, but like everyone else we have had to adapt working methods. 

If you support and cater for older adults and would like to find out more about having a live online cookery demonstration please get in touch, and hopefully we can book you in.

We can work with a number of organisations including Age UK’s age-friendly network; veggie/vegan groups; housing associations; care homes; carers' organisations; luncheon clubs and more. For further information please email Ellie or call us on 0161 257 0887.

Inevitably, life will at some point get back to normal, or at least the new normal, and we will be allowed to physically deliver cookery classes. Until then, we will probably combine these with online classes when needed.

What the Roving Chefs on the team had to say

Justina Bajorinaite, Roving Chef (Central)

Preparation and planning ahead is key! Considering the small things beforehand, and getting out of habit of being a noisy chef is the tricky part! Most importantly, be yourself.

Ollie Bragg, Roving Chef (South)

I’ve had all-positive experiences from the cook-alongs so far. I think the best response I had was from a vegan lady who joined the Lambeth cook-along. She said: ‘’I’ve taken part in lots of video cook-alongs recently, and have found them quite stressful. However, this one was really informative and easy to follow.”

I think the simplicity of the recipes really resonated with her. It must be hard trying to follow complicated recipes via Zoom.

Claire Bannerman, Roving Chef (Scotland)

Using technology has meant that we can now connect with people anytime and anywhere from almost any device. It has been great to reach hundreds of people via Facebook Live, helping to reduce the isolation that Covid has brought, and to make people feel more connected through food.


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