Savory Reviews: A live online cooking class with Chef Anja Lee
When the opportunity presented itself for me to participate in one of Chef Anja Lee’s live cooking classes, I happily accepted. Chef Anja Lee, founder and head chef of Tiny Kitchen, offers a truly unique cooking experience via her at-home, real-time cooking classes with a focus on healthy, fulfilling recipes. This was particularly intriguing for me, a self-described “home chef” – the ability to learn from a professional in the comfort of my kitchen, at my own pace. Her background varies from serving as the caterer for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors to authoring her own cookbooks, Easy Cookbook for Healthy, Wholesome Recipes, and The Magic 12: Essential Gluten Free Recipes. She’s also sommelier certified and the ‘About’ section of her website shares her goal as a “focus on cooking food to make us happy and bring joy to our day, but also to feel like you could dance after eating the food”.
How a Chef Anja Lee cooking class works
Chef Anja Lee offers a variety of virtual, live classes where she teaches you (often partnered with other renowned guest chefs) to create one-of-a-kind meals from your kitchen. Some recent classes boast titles such as “Carnitas Tacos”, “Wildflower Focaccia” and “Baked Salmon Sushi” – all recipes you probably have seen at restaurants but may be intimidating to try recreating on your own. However, with Chef Anja Lee ’s guidance, she makes these impressive recipes approachable and feasible in any kitchen. She offers her classes a la carte or accessible via her monthly membership, which offers three tiers of membership ranging from access to her recipes on demand all the way to live classes and a free cookbook upon sign-up.
Prior to the class, Chef Anja Lee sends out an email confirming the recipe shopping list (a list that includes all ingredients that will be required for the recipe), the date and time of the class, and offers you the chance to ask any questions you may have. In the class I chose, Caramelized Carrot Tarte, the recipe called for ricotta as a key ingredient but also included a section on how to make ricotta. Having never made ricotta, I asked Chef Anja if we would be using the ricotta made in class or if we should purchase extra and she quickly clarified we would be using the ricotta we made in class. This prompt and clarifying response is something you may not get from an online recipe or pre-recorded clip; by having a live expert available for questions, you can get comfortable with the recipe and ingredients before even stepping foot in the kitchen.
Zooming In for the Caramelized Carrot Tarte Course
On the day of the class, I logged in to the provided Zoom link about 5 minutes early. Once I joined, I was met by a group of talkative and friendly students who had taken several of Chef Anja Lee’s classes before. Everyone already in the Zoom meeting was excitedly sharing updates about recipes Chef Anja had put out on her website or the recipe from the last class they had taken – being a part of a group with such excited energy immediately eased any nerves I had. It’s quite clear that everyone who attends her classes consistently shares a bond over the love of cooking and that makes the experience all the more welcoming. By the time class was ready to start, I was one of about fifteen total attendees. Chef Anja started it off by having folks do quick introductions and sharing if they were new or a returning student. She also gave a brief introduction to the class topic and shared some quick tips and tricks for the recipe, which was a Caramelized Carrot Tarte. One thing that impressed me was how many dietary substitutions she called out – she had additional options for vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. In my opinion, this makes a class even more approachable; with an online recipe, it can be difficult to identify which items are replaceable and which are integral to the flavor or structure of the recipe. Additionally, during Chef Anja’s class she was actively engaged in discussion with folks about any questions or substitutions they had – for example, some members noted they were using Lactaid (lactose-free milk) as a substitute for whole milk in the ricotta recipe.
Chef Anja Lee’s recipes are thorough, including an ingredient and equipment list so you can prep all your supplies before logging in to the class. I don’t know about you, but I often find that it can be difficult to know what equipment or specific tools are required for a recipe until you’re actually reading through the recipe’s steps (i.e. a grater or a rolling pin) – Chef Anja Lee even calls out how hot to preheat your oven in the equipment list section. She also allows you to tackle the ingredient list in a way that is approachable for your cooking experience level; for example, her recipe included the opportunity to make your own pie crust and gave instructions for using a store-bought version.
Beginner-friendly for the home chef
Throughout the cooking process, Chef Anja Lee guided the class through step-by-step recipe instructions, which I found very beginner-friendly. She would use a phrase such as “hot pan, cold oil” and explain why this technique was important for the recipe we were cooking (and for cooking in general). She clearly walked through each step of the recipe, giving us ample time to complete each step but also keeping the group accountable for moving forward with the steps. Each class runs for about 60-90 minutes depending on difficulty. During or after each step, she would pause and ask if there were questions and would solicit status updates from a number of participants, asking how our ricotta was cooking down or to describe the color of our carrots after adding the spices.
Two of my favorite things about this recipe were 1) it proves how easy it is to make ricotta at home and 2) it teaches the technique to create a fabulous vegetable tarte. Ricotta can be so expensive (and sometimes difficult to find) at the grocery store and it was very simple to make our own, requiring only three household ingredients: whole milk, salt, and white vinegar or lemon juice. Additionally, the concept of cooking a tart from scratch can be very intimidating – Chef Anja Lee makes it easy with her step-by-step instructions. As we were adding the seasonings to our carrot and onion mix, she made a point of noting most of the seasonings could be changed based on preference ranging from fresh herbs to pantry staples, and even mentioned other varieties of vegetables that work well in tarts. One of the biggest things I have learned in my journey as a home chef is that technique is key – once you understand the structure and components of a recipe and why they work together, you can not only replicate the recipe but start to create your own combinations and variations.
Another thing I loved about Chef Anja Lee’s teaching was her willingness to solicit feedback from her students and program members. During our class, she asked for the group’s input on things like topics for upcoming classes and notes on her website that most aspects of the class (down to the run time) have been voted on by her members. While many online experiences (like watching a viral video or reading a recipe) do not feel personalized, taking one of these classes feels more intimate and allows members to have a direct impact on future recipes and the current class structure.
Flavorful, Fresh, and Filling Caramelized Carrot Tarte
In the end, I had a beautiful tart that was equal parts flavorful, fresh, and filling. For my first time baking a tart and making ricotta from scratch, I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of the recipe. As far as flavor goes, the seasonings (curry powder and cumin) complimented the carrots and onions perfectly while the fresh basil, tomato, and ricotta were lovely additions to the warm tart filling and crisp crust. I had to take the opportunity to take a few photos of my creation, and upon sending it to friends and family they were surprised I had made it in the comfort of my own kitchen. Their mouths practically dropped when I said everything (sans the pie crust) was made in-house! Because the recipe had enough servings for 3-4 people (depending on your hunger level), I got two whole meals from my final product – and I’ve got to say, the recipe made for fantastic leftovers.
Final Review: Chef Anja Lee’s Tiny Kitchen class
I would recommend Chef Anja Lee’s classes to anyone looking to expand their cooking skills and technique or to expand their comfort in cooking healthy foods. Beyond the motivated home chef, Chef Anja Lee also provides private corporate team-building experiences, which I thought would be another great way to experience her classes. She has a free blog available as well, some of her posts include: Tamarind Eggplant Supreme, Braised Swiss Chard with Currants, and Dark Chocolate Almond Crumble. Her blog also shares posts focused on technique and skill improvement with topics like modifying recipes to be gluten-free friendly and how to pick the best corn on the cob. It is easy to support a “Female-founded, Women-run, boutique business with sustainability and health as a focus”. Whether you’re looking to expand your skills, spice up a date night, or bond with your remote colleagues in a creative way, these classes are an excellent option.