Choosing an online cooking school
When it comes to cooking, a video may be worth a thousand pictures. Indeed, no combination of prose and photographs can convey how to chop an onion as effectively as a short video.
The Internet is an almost infinite source of live-action cooking instruction. Whether you want to prop up your iPad behind your cutting board or watch your computer before heading into the kitchen, the Web puts a world of culinary know-how at your fingertips.
If you're looking for cooking advice, one effective way to proceed may well be the simplest: Google the skill you're interested in (put it in quotes -- "chop onion" -- for more accurate results) along with the word "video" and presto: a screenful of results, each one tagged with its length and when it was posted. Going to youtube.com, the Web's largest library of videos, will generate similar results, plus you'll be able to see how many views each video has, a rough guide to its usefulness.
There's always a chance that Google or YouTube will direct you to a video starring someone who has no idea what she's doing. That's why it's helpful to patronize websites that exercise some curatorial control over content. Professional chefs, cooking magazines and even a local cooking school, A la Carte in Lynbrook, are rising to the challenge of translating their expertise into online videos.
THE SITE alacartecs.com
THE PRICE $39 a class
THE DEAL Polly Talbott founded Lynbrook's A la Carte cooking school in 1999 and for years thought about how to expand her reach beyond Long Island. A la Carte Live Online, launched in February, is her solution. Almost every Wednesday, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., anyone with an Internet connection can participate in an actual cooking class that streams in real time. Six cameras deployed around the school's teaching kitchen capture Talbott and her staff as they demonstrate recipes to the students, then follow the students as they learn new skills and eat the fruits of their labor. Online participants receive recipes, shopping and equipment lists before the class airs, and can ask questions, via live chat, during class. Upcoming classes include "Great American steakhouse," "Evening in Tuscany" and "Five best pasta sauces." The class scheduled for March 28, a dinner party featuring bruschetta, chicken piccata, roasted potatoes, string beans and profiteroles, is available as a free trial. Register for the class online and enter the promotional-discount code "freetrial" in the payment box. 516-599-2922 for more information.
THE SITE Idealchef.com
THE PRICE Free
THE DEAL Ideal Chef was launched in 2009 by Leif Holm-Andersen, an enthusiastic home cook, and Scott Schneider, a trained Long Island chef whose prior gigs included co-founding caterer Elegant Affairs in 1995. The site offers about 1,000 recipe and skill videos, which feature working chefs, most of whom are from the tristate region, and many of whom are from Long Island. You can watch fishmonger Bill Mieschberger of Gra-Bar Fish in Westbury filleting a whole salmon, Jeanine DiMenna of Page One in Glen Cove making Asian tuna with ponzu-wasabi dipping sauce, and Schneider decorating a cake. Recipe videos come with a printable recipe, and the site is searchable by skill or recipe, by category (from baby food to butchering) and by chef.
THE SITE chow.com/videos
THE PRICE Free
THE DEAL Chow.com, best known for being the home of the chowhound message boards, is also a great source of video cooking instruction. The site has a number of video "collections," but my favorites are "Chow tips" and "You're doing it all wrong." Chow tips are very brief, bare-bones instructional videos on subjects as diverse as how to clean your blender, how to tell the age of an egg, how to store foie gras, how to cut the perfect slice of cake, how to make "super easy" tart dough. Most of these clock in at less than 45 seconds. The comparatively rambling "You're doing it all wrong" videos (between two and three minutes long) explain, often hilariously, why you should not use chopsticks to eat sushi, why you should not poach your matzo balls in chicken broth, why you should not stir-fry in a nonstick pan.
THE SITE epicurious.com/video
THE PRICE Free
THE DEAL Epicurious, one of the Web's most authoritative culinary destinations, is home to hundreds of well-produced videos. Although there is no dedicated video search function, you can easily browse the 12 "channels," the most helpful of which are "80 global recipes," techniques, holidays, entertaining, wine guide and cocktails. Each of the "80 global dishes" is demonstrated by a chef-instructor from the Culinary Institute of America and comes with a printable recipe. The technique videos are arranged under 17 general headings (such as coffee, eggs, napkin folding, sauces and stocks), and many of them feature noted experts. In the 12 coffee videos, for example, Mike Phillips of the esteemed roaster-retailer Intelligentsia Coffee explains how to choose a coffee grinder, make an espresso and use a Chemex brewer, among other skills.
THE SITE jamieshomecookingskills.com
THE PRICE Free
THE DEAL British chef-polemecist Jamie Oliver developed this ambitious site to help adolescents learn basic cooking skills. There's information here not only for kids but also for their teachers and parents, as well as fact sheets on such diverse topics as shopping for beef and handling food safely. The printable recipes are of limited usefulness since they give only metric measurements, but the 40-odd video skills, from carving a chicken to cutting a mango to my favorite, "the all-important rubbish bowl," are wonderful. This site is great for kids.
THE SITE cooksillustrated.com/video
THE PRICE $34.95 a year
THE DEAL Since it was founded in 1980, Cook's Illustrated, the exhaustively researched cooking magazine, has spawned a television show, America's Test Kitchen, dozens of books and a sister magazine, Cook's Country (with its own TV show). Features from all these media make the website, cooksillustrated.com, unusually rich. There are hundreds of recipe and skill videos, but also the eye-opening blind taste tests and equipment how-to's that Cook's Illustrated is famous for. You can find a video guide to buying frozen shrimp, seasoning cast-iron pans, choosing baking apples, a new technique for making French omelets. The annual subscription to the website also grants access to the equipment and product reviews, which I always read before making a major purchase for my kitchen.