The TV Cooking Show pioneer James Beard (photo: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, beardfoundation, flickr)

One of the most basic TV-formats that has been with us since the beginning and shows no signs of extinction is the televised cooking show. The first one in history aired in 1946, was hosted by James Beard but even before there were cooking shows on the radio (here’s a timeline).

While the ratings aren’t always the highest, you still find them everywhere.

They’re relatively easy to produce. And they’re educational.

But apart from this they have another important characteristic that make up for their popularity: They connect back to the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives.

Instead of showing a Magic Lantern fantasy, the TV screen is transformed into a window of another person’s kitchen. You’re not looking at the screen. You’re actually looking through it, trying to repeat the rapid-fire carrot-chopping you see in front of you without cutting off your fingers.

One could argue that the cooking show helped to transform TV from a new, futuristic medium into an integral part of our lives, giving housewives a reason to have that extra set installed in the kitchen, turning technology into a companion that would teach you how to make a perfect Crème brûlée.

Slicing Tomatoes  in The Internet Age: The Google+ Cooking School

Cooking Classes in the 21st century: (screenshot from class)

Lee Allison, a New York technology consultant is the mastermind behind the Google+ Cooking School.

Here’s what he did:

He simply took the Google+ feature Hangouts which allows up to 10 people to hold an audio/video conference and started sharing his cooking expertise live and direct, online.

Allison had been doing it offline for years but the “opportunity to do it face-to-face using technology was a light bulb kind of moment,” he told the NYT.

There are certain limitations such as the relatively small number of participants and the lack of advanced moderation features but then, again, Google Hangouts was never designed as an online learning platform – and yet, it works!

This is an interesting phenomenon, for neither Skype, a tool that many private tutors use world-wide to conduct lessons and coaching sessions, was primarily designed as a teaching tool.

There are two important insights here:

  • advanced conference and classroom technologies aren’t obligatory for an awesome online learning experience
  • Instead, software designed for free and open communication is often a more pragmatic way to get started learning online


In Allison’s case he is launching a start-up at the moment that will enable him to host more people, broadcast to mobile devices and also to charge for lessons. For this, he will have to leave Google Hangouts and pick a premium conferencing software.

Cooking As A Gateway

There are a few differences between live online cooking classes and cooking shows on television.

But the most important one is this: interactivity!

The students can ask questions while the chef is doing something. They can hold their burnt steaks into the webcam and have them diagnosed by a pro. They can whip their egg yolks “on air”. They can toss their salads simultaneously and receive comments on their performance.

And once again, the relatively new and “exotic”  online learning technology is brought closer to people through the comfortable everyday reality of cooking.

One could say that when people stand in the kitchen in front of their Macbook, connected to a WiFi,  hands caked with coating, repeating the skillful breading of their instructor a thousand miles away, another barrier has been crossed.

But would you take a cooking class online?

And will it help lower the barrier for enrollment in other online learning activities?