How Virtual Cooking Classes Taught Me to Love Cooking

by Phoebe Schiff with Urban Balance

Cooking, to me, used to feel like an arduous, unpleasant task. So many steps. So many dishes to wash, ingredients to scour the grocery store for, and steps to follow. Another chore among the dozens of others, on my never-ending to-do list.

Enter: pandemic. Remember at the beginning of quarantine when we were instructed to buy enough groceries for two weeks and everyone started fighting each other for toilet paper and frozen taquitos? When grocery shopping suddenly became the new street fighting?

What’s funny is that when I ventured out to do that first massive shopping spree, I thought I would dread it. I used to look at grocery shopping as a drag, an inconvenience, and a time-suck and then with the added complication of mass hysteria, I didn’t think I’d feel particularly excited about it.

But that evening in March right before lockdown was different. I suddenly felt so lucky to be able to go shopping. To have enough money to stock up for a few weeks. To have the luxury of so many options for food. It was a complete perspective shift.

Luckily, the Safeway I ventured to in Downtown Portland was nothing like the chaotic scenes being broadcast on the news – it was peaceful and calm – and relatively stocked.

I shopped slowly, deliberately, and thoughtfully. With all the time on my hands I would have with the impending quarantine, I started to think of dishes I wanted to try.

As I unloaded the groceries in my kitchen that night, I promised myself that I would use the time at home to bring this new slow, deliberate, and thoughtful approach to the whole process of cooking.

That said, I needed help. I wanted to make recipes that were healthy, hearty, relatively easy, aligned with my dietary preferences (pescatarian, gluten-free, and dairy free) and good for batch cooking as I would be working from home during lockdown. The answer, as it usually is, was right under my nose.

The company I work for, Urban Balance, delivers virtual wellness offerings to companies – including cooking and nutrition.

Our cooking classes feature lovely, intelligent nutritionists who offer not just recipes, but tips for prepping and cooking, along with insider details about the nutrients, health considerations, and physiological impact from food.

Before I got too fancy in the kitchen on my own, I dove into our library of cooking videos and watched them with a new fascination.

I learned so much. I got much more excited to cook when I learned shortcuts, tools and tricks to have on hand; the nutritional benefits of specific types of food preparation and food combining; and even some of the (simple) science behind what happens when we eat well and drink plenty of water.

With these tools and tricks in mind, I started to make all of our nutritionist-created recipes – and I enjoyed the whole process.

Our nutritionists recommend, when possible, healthy, local ingredients that are harder to come by than mainstream products. Instead of viewing this as a barrier, I reframed it as a fun challenge – and even as the pandemic waged (and continues to wage on) I managed to forage for the ingredients at my local farmers markets and health food stores on the weekends.

I actually enjoyed the process of cooking which, I learned, is tied to being incredibly organized. I set out all of the ingredients first, arranged all the tools and utensils I would need, kept the recipe open on my laptop, and plugged a spacy spiritual podcast into my earbuds to listen to while I prepped.

Equipped with the knowledge of how to best wash, chop and prep my ingredients from the cooking video I’d watched leisurely the night before, I started to feel the experience of flow.

This isn’t a task, I thought to myself as I gently stirred the pot with all my fresh, portioned ingredients heating up together – this is meditation.

I left the pot to simmer, cleaned up the kitchen pretty quickly, and then opened the lid of the pot about 20 minutes later and its contents smelled absolutely incredible.

If you already enjoy cooking then this wouldn’t seem novel to you, but as someone who never did, I felt the delight of a mad scientist getting her chemical concoction right for the first time in her entire career…

As I sat down and ladled the fresh soup into my mouth in sheer ecstasy, I realized that the entire process of this meal, beginning with watching the video, finding the ingredients, prepping the recipe, cooking, cleaning…it was all relaxing when I slowed down, stayed organized, and enjoyed the process.

So, sure, maybe anyone with a recipe and a few pots and pans “can” cook…but being guided by the wisdom of a nutritionist, being organized with your set-up, and making the process as easy and enjoyable as possible, in my experience, turns cooking from a task, into a retreat.

Phoebe SchiffAbout Phoebe Schiff: Phoebe’s mission is to hold space for her students as they grow in their practice, self-awareness and lives.

This mission extends off of the mat into her Account Manager position with Urban Balance, where she connects with companies ready to offer their employees wellness programming that allows them to show up centered, healthy and focused for work each day. She also has a weekly podcast, Yoga Chit Chat, where she, along with her teacher Keric, explore the modern understandings of Sanskrit words and yoga philosophy, on and off the mat.