Delivering cooking demonstrations to the public and select groups not only benefits others by sharing your and your students’ expertise and talent. More importantly, it also builds and promotes your program’s unique brand. And the strongest advice from Chef Weiner? Keep it simple.
By Adam Weiner, CFSE
Last month I wrote about giving back to the community. One of the things I mentioned is giving cooking demonstrations. Besides being altruistic, another reason to have you or your students give demos is to promote your program.
When I went to obtain my California Teaching Credential, one of the first things I was taught by my instructors and mentors, Lee and Susan Clark, was that it was critically important to promote your own class. If you don’t—they made emphatically clear—you will be unemployed very soon because of a lack of students. I took their words to heart. When I started teaching the program there were seven students and I was told the program was to be shut down in six months. I brought the enrollment up to 20 people, and 10 years later I am still teaching the same program. I continue to promote, and there is now a several-month waiting list.
So giving demos is a good idea for a variety of reasons. Now, you just have to learn, yourself, and teach your students how to do demos. Like everything else in cooking, the key to success rests with three issues: planning, preparation and practice.
1. Before planning what you or your student will demo, you have to get a lot of information including: Is the demo on site or off site, indoors or outdoors, is there water/gas/electricity available, how long it will be, will there be tasting, what equipment will be available, etc. The more you know, the better you can plan.
2. Don’t Be Too Ambitious. Giving demos is far harder than cooking. You have to keep eye contact with the audience, you have to talk, you have to explain everything you are doing, and you probably have to answer questions at the same time. Keep it simple.
3. Talk It Over. Talk over the demonstration with the promoter, your students and your friends. Find out what they think. Their input is quite useful in this regard since we tend to get wrapped up in our own ideas of what people will want to see.
4. Tour the Location. If the demo is off site, give it a tour. See what it looks like from the perspective of the people watching as well as you. Look at the height of the table (after checking to see if there is a table), the status of the equipment, etc. Don’t assume anything works, check it yourself. (I have learned the hard way—check the ventilation system, too.) Is there a sink with hot water, power, etc.?
5. Logistics. Figure out how long it will take to load, drive, unload, set up, etc. Where is the loading area? Where do you park?
1. Determine What You Will Demonstrate. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, keep it simple. A short and simple recipe or technique will take twice as long and be twice as hard to do when you are demonstrating
2. Write Lists: You should start by writing three lists—equipment, product and mise en place. Make sure to include an easy-to-read timer and a camera on your lists.
1. First Practice. Don’t try to follow the promoter’s timeline. Just go slow. The most important thing in this first practice is to write down all of the things that should have been on your three lists that weren’t there, and to see what you need to add or delete. Take notes.
2. Second Practice. The second practice is really a repeat of the first. You are looking to see what needs to be added to your planning. In this practice, force yourself to not turn your back on the audience. Reset your station, and change your three lists to accommodate this. If you have to turn around, do it as little as possible.
3. Future Practices. For beginners I recommend one practice for every minute of demo. A 15-minute demo yields 15 practices. I am fairly experienced giving demos, and I now do one practice for every three minutes.
Yes, you read that correctly. The most experienced musicians and actors practice before they go on stage. So should you and your students. In doing these practices, work on getting the flow down right. Use your timer to make sure you stay within the time provided. Practice looking at the audience any time you can. (See below about safety.)
If your demo will be outside, practice outside. If you will be looking into the sun, practice looking into the sun.
NOTES ON SAFETY
1. Food Safety: It may not be possible to keep your food out of the danger zone. If this is the case, don’t let anyone—no matter how much they beg—taste the food. Some health departments will not let you give out samples or tastes unless everything was prepared in a commercially licensed kitchen. Check with the health department first! You can often pre-prepare samples in your licensed kitchen to pass around after the demonstration.
2. Kitchen Safety: Be careful when cooking or cutting. The most embarrassing thing that can happen in a demo is to cut yourself. I did it one night on a United States Navy destroyer halfway between Pearl Harbor and San Diego. We have all done it, we will all do it again. Even Giada on Food Network on Thanksgiving sliced the end of her finger and needed several stitches in the middle of the show.
THE BIGGEST THING TO REMEMBER for anyone doing a demo is to always look at your fingers when using a knife. (If you want to talk while using the knife, put it down. Don’t hold it in your hand and wave it around; it is unprofessional and scares the audience.) Again, look at the audience as much as possible, but look at your fingers when cutting.
One of my funniest demo stories is about me stripping my vocal chords and being unable to speak just one hour before I was supposed to give a demonstration on healthy cooking to the media at the Four Seasons Hotel. It is too long of a story to write here. However, I will be at the CAFÉ Leadership Conference in Salt Lake City in June, and I would love to tell it to you. Just ask and be prepared to laugh out loud.
Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula.