Chef Pivots to Virtual Community
Holiday FlavorsRecipes

Chef Pivots to Virtual Community

Yes, Chef! Cyndi Sterne transitions her business, providing joyful Chanukah recipes for family activity. Perhaps we don’t have to laboriously grate potatoes for the best latkes.

After 37 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now with the AJT, , Jaffe’s focus is lifestyle, art, dining, fashion, and community events with emphasis on Jewish movers and shakers.

Lox and Cream Cheese Rangoon use egg roll wrappers.
Lox and Cream Cheese Rangoon use egg roll wrappers.

After three successful years operating corporate team-building events and culinary classes from her brick and mortar location at Belle Isle Square, Cyndi Sterne has segued her popular Yes, Chef! Culinary Events into a virtual format. Providing the same warm environment and engaging culinary techniques at Yes, Chef! Sterne had to transition to provide these same interactive classes online.

“We’ve been hearing from a lot of individuals who are socially distancing, but are looking for ways to stay connected,” she reflected. “Cooking classes and team building collaborations have been just the thing they’ve needed to mix things up among their families, friends and for corporations during a time when monotony and solitude can definitely be overwhelming.”

The holidays are also a traditional time for families to participate in virtual cooking classes. Those outside Atlanta and the bulk of others who are staycationing here, can enjoy a Zoom cooking class together. During two-hour classes, everyone on at the same time feels like they are cooking together in the kitchen, even if they can’t be in the same kitchen. Chef Cyndi can deliver pre-packaged ingredients as well as a list of basic kitchen tools necessary for the class, for participants in their individual locations.

Chef Cyndi has pivoted to virtual classes to keep folks engaged and families entertained, especially during the holidays.

When asked about the pandemic effects of the culinary arts, she said, “I see a few different shifts. Some are the obvious with kids being at home, without the constant shuttling to activities and interaction with friends. This is making parents become creative in unprecedented ways.

“Making a meal is not just feeding the family, it’s a science project, creative endeavor, global studies, and practical math lesson for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Kids are in the kitchen more than ever. They are helping plan the meals, cooking and serving. Family meals are center stage. People are tackling those recipes with many and/or unusual ingredients. Also, there is a lot of repurposing with less waste, creation of comfort foods and experimenting with new fruits and veggies.”

She continued, “Yes, Chef! Culinary Events is based on the idea of people connecting through the bond they create through the natural interaction of cooking together. What do you do when you can’t get together? Virtual classes have been an amazing tool to help me connect families and co-workers across the nation. We have been able to keep the interactions lively and menus customized. Guests have an opportunity to stop me at any time to ask specific questions and chat with each other. We assist clients with menus, detailed lists of equipment and ingredients; help with ingredient sourcing; and provide live-prechecks from our studio, as well as orchestrating the entire Zoom experience.”

Sterne sees virtual events and classes becoming more of the norm. Valentine’s Day classes have been her most popular for 10 years. She is already planning to have live virtual classes for 2021. She predicts that breads and home baking will continue to be strong, and more people will be tackling homemade pasta.

“Although there isn’t anything easier than searching the web, more often we will be dusting off our grandmother and great-grandmother’s cookbooks and handwritten recipes. This is not only comforting, which is something everyone is craving right now, but a way to connect the past with the present and future. To these ends, we are going to see a lot more ‘heritage cooking.’” Sample two-hour virtual classes are pasta making, dumplings and bao, pizza, bread and sourdough, Thanksgiving prep, vegan and vegetarian.

For Chanukah parties she recommends getting the family involved in cooking is important to create special holiday memories. “A simple riff on the favorite rangoon, for example. Fill store-bought dumpling or egg roll wrappers with a little chive cream cheese and smoked salmon or cooked salmon. Even the youngest kids can help fill and pinch the sides of the wrappers. It’s a great appetizer for a socially distanced gathering. Another fave is using leftover mashed potatoes to make latkes.”

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Mashed potato latkes shown here are topped with smoked salmon.

Mashed Potato Latkes
Servings: 8 to 10
1 cup leftover mashed potatoes
¼ cup flour
1 egg
½ cup panko or seasoned
¼ cup vegetable oil or butter

Optional toppings:
Smoked salmon
Poached eggs
Everything Bagel seasoning
Sour cream with chives

Whisk egg. Then mix into the mashed potatoes. Mix in flour. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. When thoroughly combined, shape into patties and coat in panko. Heat oil in a pan and fry latkes until golden brown.
Alternative method: If you prefer to bake, preheat oven to 350 F. Coat in breadcrumbs and drizzle with oil or use cooking spray.
Topping ideas: Dollop of sour cream with chives, smoked salmon and sprinkle of Everything Bagel seasoning.

Note: If your mashed potatoes are very creamy, you may need to add a little more flour. If you don’t have breadcrumbs, coat in seasoned flour.

Lox and Cream Cheese Rangoon use egg roll wrappers.

Lox and Cream Cheese Rangoon
Servings: 12 to 14
1/3 cup cream cheese, softened
2 ounces lox, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
12 egg roll wrappers (Nasoya small
½ cup warm water in small bowl.
2 cups vegetable oil

Mix cream cheese, chopped lox and chives until thoroughly combined. Using one square at a time, place a teaspoon of mix in the center of the square. Wet fingers in the water, and brush along the sides of the wrapper. Pinch sides to the center to meet in the middle, beggar’s purse style.
Set aside and continue with the rest until wrappers and mixture are finished.
Heat oil in a medium-sized pot. Once small bubbles have formed, fry the rangoons, a few at a time until golden brown. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Alternative method: Running short on time? Substitute the plain cream cheese with veggie cream cheese, chive cream cheese or salmon cream cheese.

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