Thursday, February 22, 2024 Feb 22, 2024
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Virtual Dallas Food Classes to Ease Our Collective Confinement

Ulam’s Anna Swann, Rich Rogers of Scardello, and baker Stephanie Chalklen-Leichtle bring us together even when we’re far apart.
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Elizabeth Lavin

As students get back to learning through online schooling, adults, too, crave a sort of virtual edification. Three Dallas food leaders have answered such a call. Behold, virtual tasting, cooking, and baking classes for these strange, isolated times.

Anna Swann, Ulam  

The Filipino queen of positivity talks silog and adobo.

On March 29, Anna Swann put on her red bandanna, set up her filming light arm, and got ready to make chicken adobo. The buoyant presence behind the Filipino pop-up Ulam, which has garnered an almost 4,000-person social media following, cooked for the viewers who tuned into an Instagram Live video broadcast from her home kitchen at 3 p.m. on Dallas’ first shelter-in-place Sunday.

You can think of Swann as the Marie Kondo or Julia Child of quarantine cooking: telling us it’s okay, holding our hands as we brave the world of need for comfort and home cooking. Like Kondo, asking us what sparks joy. Like Child, reassuring a nation they could make boeuf Bourguignon and omelets. Swann had an impulse and she followed it.  

The equipment came from an Instagram episode she’d filmed for local food blogger Alex Snodgrass of The Defined Dish’s “Pass the Dish” kitchen takeover seriesHer own first live video saw 120 followers tune in as Swann cooked Spamsilog, a classic Filipino breakfast combo of meat, garlic fried rice, and egg. Another 30-minute video took viewers through marinating the chicken for chicken adobo, making the Filipino pico garnish (tomatoes, scallions, serranos), spooning the sauce with its hallmark vinegar and soy. Some ladled it over cauliflower rice. 

In between live Sundays, a video that Swann set to music—which garnered over 2,000 views—showed how to make a 35-minute Instant Pot arroz caldo, gingery and soothing, with its toppings of fried garlic, scallions, hard-cooked eggs, and a glug of fish sauce. 

As a social media presence with followers, she felt deputized. After a moment of feeling “kind of helpless,” Swann rallied. Her driving question: How can I keep the community aspect going throughout all this?  “A lot of us are yearning for other human interaction and connection,” she says. “You really start to realize the importance of community and what it means to you.”  

She’d like to amass a library of simple videos—a way for people to make “a delicious home-cooked meal for their families, even if they’re not going anywhere,” she says. “We just have to keep the positivity going. Trying for that.” That’s the persona she’s channeling—“peppy, happy, positive”—as she creates the continuity we so deeply need. 

Rich Rogers, Scardello
An at-home wine and cheese tasting class.

As gatherings of more than 10 people halted, Scardello Artisan Cheese owner Rich Rogers moved quickly to flip his Cheese 101 class to a virtual format. In step with cheesemonger-driven specialty shops like New York’s Murray’s Cheese and Austin’s Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, Rogers created a format in which he and sommelier Marco Villegas could lead virtual attendees through a guided cheese tasting and pairing

Knowing that California producers were struggling, Rogers selected eight California favorites (a Cowgirl Creamery pick; the pungent Bay Blue from Point Reyes Creamery) for a second class with a California-based show of solidarity. Cheese selections were sent out to virtual attendees in advance. The shop, meanwhile, is offering curbside delivery and cheese board pickups.   

So far, virtual classes held Thursday and Friday last week were attended by 175 attendees in all (the total surpassing the reach of the classes of 34 usually held two or three times a week).  

For virtual class attendance, the schedule is live on Scardello’s website.   

Stephanie Chalklen-Leichtle, Kuluntu Bakery
Because everyone you know is learning how to bake sourdough right now. 

Stephanie Chalklen-Leichtle added virtual, donation-based sourdough baking classes to her repertoire, which has heretofore brought bakers into her home. (The donation-only basis is a new fold, added to the fabric in this time of outsized communal sensitivity and need.)  

“Alright, guys, we’re doin’ it!” she wrote in an Instagram post, announcing the all-day, interactive workshops she’d host on April 4 and 11.  

In the two-day sign-up window last week, Chalklen-Leichtle received 77 attendee requests. Since then, she’s mailed 28 dehydrated starters, shipped to Hawaii, Washington, California, New York, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina as well as areas in Texas. (In dehydrating her starter, she went back to what she’d done when she moved to South Africa and New York.) 

Supply kits she wasn’t using for this month’s cancelled classes—these include a proofing basket, bowl scraper, jar of starter, razors for scoring, and shower caps for putting over the dough in the fridge—were available to locals for $15, at cost. (She’s reports having 21 picking them up.) 

All other materials are based around items people are likely to have at home.  

“I’m pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm,” she writes. But she’d already seen it—people were pulling out starters from the backs of their refrigerators. I, too, have seen starter-swap offers and random acts of socially distanced starter-sharing kindness, executed via direct-messaging, and mailbox and porch drop-offs and pickups. “I had been thinking about it for a while,” she says. And, like so many initiatives, it took the coronavirus to kick it into high gear.

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