Learning to cook is hard. And the (free) resources we have at our disposal — despite the millions of recipes, videos, and courses online — tend not to be so beginner-friendly. Feast, a company devoted to helping normal people learn to cook like badasses, seeks to change that. The Feast Crash Course; a free, seven-day, email-based cooking course aims to help users ditch the frozen dinners and overcome their fear of chefs’ knives. Lessons are delivered to participants’ inboxes once per day with the goal of getting users comfortable in the kitchen by the end of the week.
What’s the Deal?
The platform was built to solve a problem that two of the company’s cofounders, David Spinks and Nadia Eghbal, faced themselves: They liked to cook and wanted to expand their skills, but found doing so really stressful. “Everybody seemed to be going online to learn how to cook… but nothing out there was really built for teaching regular people how to do it,” says Spinks. There were online culinary schools, cooking videos, and recipes, but nothing that was relatable and easy to follow for the average Joe or Josephine. “The problem isn’t a lack of resources [for learning how to cook], it’s too many resources…. We wanted to create something that’s super down to earth, [with] no expectations, no pretention, [to help people] become more comfortable and confident in the kitchen,” he says.
At the start, Spinks and his team focused on longer, four-week cooking courses. With the new Feast Crash Course, they’ve switched gears a bit in favor of a simpler approach.
Here’s how it works: Participants enter their email address on Feast’s homepage. Every day for the next seven days, a lesson will appear in users’ inboxes with a link to one small project (hosted on a private blog). Feast also hosts short, free or inexpensive, single-skill classes on their website. (Paid classes are $22 and under or $9.95 for access to the full set of nine.) For kitchen newcomers, it's probably best to complete the email-based Crash Course before embarking on more difficult cooking journeys.
The lessons (and the individual classes) explain the steps through a mix of photos, text, and videos (which are hosted by Jeremy Umansky, Feast’s third cofounder and chef as well as a sous chef in New York’s Brooklyn Fish Camp and a farm manager in upstate New York). The videos aren’t long or hard to follow — they’re short tidbits of information or techniques demonstrated by Umansky.
In the name of thorough research, I tried my hand at a Feast class last weekend to see if it was as easy to follow and as useful as it appeared to be. I learned how to grill indoors (hint: use the broiler!). This weekend, I’m going to tackle kimchi in the fermentation class. Other staple skills classes include “how to roast a chicken” and “how to cook the perfect steak”. The beauty of these lessons is that all of them teach a skill that’s simple and basic — but still significant enough that it will get people comfortable in the kitchen without much time, money, or stress. I found the steps pretty easy to follow and the recipe pretty simple, though going back and forth from text to video did get a little tricky once my hands were covered with pork kebab marinade.
Why It Matters
Feast isn’t the only company entering the online culinary education field. Similar courses have popped up over the last few years, including Culination, a web-based cooking school community currently in development. Other online culinary classes are hosted by well-known brands such as America’s Test Kitchen and Top Chef. And then, of course, there’s YouTube videos and recipe sites, and even one culinary academy (serious chefs only, please).
But Feast’s approach is different: It’s more about building motivation and confidence than learning to cook super fancy, complex dishes. “We had been doing a lot of these quick little tips and hacks though email for a while and realized that people love them because they feel like they’re instantly becoming a little bit better at cooking,” says Spinks. “We teach them how to crack an egg the right way, and… now they suddenly feel a little smarter, a little more comfortable.”
Based on my sneak peak at the Crash Course and experience with the classes, it’s easy to see why this approach may work better than others. The Crash Course lessons build on themselves to create a fairly complete — though very, very basic — cooking education. Day one starts off teaching about flavor, day two is knife skills, and then the classes move all the way through to plating. (Because, really, who wants to eat ugly-looking food?) They’re also freakin’ funny. There's no shortage of ninja or jedi jokes — and that’s just the way we like it.
As the Feast community builds, interaction among users will be central to its function and purpose. “Throughout the Crash Course [users can] ask questions, share pictures, and get involved in our Facebook group called The Feasters,” says Spinks. “There will also be a lot of student interaction in the comment section below each lesson.” But we’ve been assured there’s “more community goodness to come.” With Spinks’ background in online community building (he created TheCommunityManager and built communities at startups including Zaarly and LeWeb), we don’t doubt it.
Feast offers simple guidance in the kitchen that’s relatable, approachable, and has one goal: To help normal people get over their fears of the kitchen, learn to cook, and not screw it up too badly. And if all else fails, you can always order takeout and give yourself credit for trying.
Tell us about your experiences learning to cook in the comments below! Would you give Feast a try?
Photos by David Spinks