Hi, I’m Kaja. I studied politics and public policy, worked within EU politics in Brussels and quit my job a year ago to become a cooking class teacher and a private chef. I also moved from Brussels to Stockholm and started building my food imperium. Sorry, I’m dizzy from all the chocolate cake I ate yesterday – I rather mean my little, humble food business here in Northern Europe.
I lived in Brussels for almost three years, so the biggest challenge once I arrived in Sweden, was for people to hear about me, book my classes as well as my other food services. I started giving some classes at the end of 2019, gave two in 2020 and then the pandemic came.
As a Private Chef and Cooking Class teacher 100% of my business was reliant on face-to-face experiences. During cooking classes you cook together, laugh together, eat together. If you book me as a private chef, I come to your place and cook for you in your kitchen. Doing this online? Unthinkable back in March.
When Covid-19 started, all of a sudden I stood there with cancellations only, no sign ups for my classes and tons of free time. At first, I thought the situation would relax again soon, but it didn’t. So I started talking to friends and family and brainstorming by myself and trying to come up with ideas on what to make out of this situation.
“Why don’t you go online,” a friend of mine asked. Yes, of course, I’ve been thinking about that for some time already, but was always scared off by the video shooting and editing related to it. I also thought that cooking classes are all about social contacts and sharing an experience together, rather than sitting in front of a screen and watching online tutorial videos.
I offer different classes: 1. Cooking classes with different themes, such as Asian inspired or Middle Eastern inspired dishes 2. Sourdough bread classes. My class on how to bake sourdough bread from scratch for example is a class that usually takes 6 hours and needs loads of preparation. How could I ever create the same experience online? I tried some Instagram live videos, but for me they weren’t interactive enough. Youtube is great but also there the interaction is lacking. One day it struck me: why don’t I just use the same platforms that companies use to organise video calls?! I would basically just move my classes online, instead of entirely transforming them. Yes, I would lose the aspect of direct and personal interaction, but there would still be a contact and dialogue between me and the class participants.
From then onward it went pretty fast. I set up a Zoom account, adapted the time schedule of my in-person classes to make it more suitable for an online meeting, and announced everything on social media. The interest was big, with a large international crowd and then I realised something else. One thing that has bothered me in the past, was all of a sudden gone: geographical boundaries. All people that I had ‘left behind’ when moving from Brussels to Stockholm, could now sign up to my online classes and participate from their home kitchen. They could still get to know me and I them, we could exchange ideas and stories, just that now everything happened hundreds and thousands kilometers apart. I was so impressed by the technology. Now, people were sitting at home in Belgium, Germany, the UK, Austria, Switzerland… basically all over Europe and were baking bread together, sharing their progress on Instagram and enjoying freshly baked bread loaves at home.
The sourdough bread class came in handy also, because dried and fresh yeast seemed to be sold out everywhere. During my class, people learn how to build their very own sourdough ‘starter’, their natural yeast, which they can then bake bread with, but also anything else that would usually require commercial yeast.
Once signed up and paid (40€), people receive instructions on how to build a sourdough starter (or buy one in a bakery), a handout, a FAQ sheet as well as access to an Instagram account with sourdough bread explanations and videos. Then, participants can either already start by themselves based on this material or wait until my online class via Zoom that takes place at least once a week. During that live class, I explain the theory behind sourdough bread baking and show people how to bake sourdough from scratch, while they follow along in their kitchen.
The end of Covid-19 will definitely not be the end of my online sourdough classes, in fact, I want to make them even more frequent and more professional.
I also started offering my cooking classes online. For private people, but also for companies, who needed new online team building activities that were more than just ‘having a beer’ on Zoom or via Webex. People receive a list of ingredients and utensils a week in advance and then everyone cooks together, their partners and families included if wished, with me at the other end of their phone or IPad. This became quite popular and is also another thing that I won’t stop once there is no more pandemic.
Of course, I will also go back to offering face-to-face classes. The online classes however, require less preparation and carrying of boxes, make my planning more flexible and make geographical boundaries insignificant. Anyone can participate.