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Feast brings the online academy model to cooking classes

Want to learn how cook? These days it seems like a PC or a tablet is a more indispensible kitchen tool than a sauté pan or a chef’s knife. The internet is a treasure trove of recipes and techniques – and increasingly ingredients – for the aspiring chef. It was only a matter of time before we saw cooking schools move online.

TV shows Top Chef and America’s Test Kitchen have both launched their own online cooking programs, and we’ve even see the emergence of the first online professional culinary school. Now a San Francisco startup called Feast is taking a tech startup’s approach to the cooking school.

saute pan kitchen cookingFeast co-founder and CEO David Spinks doesn’t have a cooking background. Instead he’s online community developer that has created or managed the community portals for the LeWeb conferences, Zaarly, u30pro, BlogDash and Scribnia. He even created a meta-community for community managers called, you guessed it, TheCommunityManager. But after he did some consulting work for online learning startup Udemy, helping it develop its community strategy, Spinks got the idea for Feast.

Spinks said he wanted to apply the same online education methods underlying teaching sites like Udemy and Coursera to create a platform for cooking lessons. In addition, Spinks wanted to anchor those classes with a strong community, not only to address the inevitable questions and problems that emerge when trying to prepare a dish, but to keep students interested and engaged.

Spinks added that he didn’t want to create something dull or overly academic either – not the cooking equivalent of a coding course.

“We wanted to take the entertainment value you get on television, but create a format where you can actually learn,” Spinks said. “There is a problem with the Food Network. It’s entertaining you, but they’re not really teaching you how to cook. They’re selling you a lifestyle. We’re actually trying to get you in the kitchen.”

Last fall, Feast launched its first online cooking course, a four-week class designed to teach basic cooking techniques ranging from knife skills to braising. Led by Feast’s in-house chef Jeremy Umansky, the self-paced lessons use detailed text descriptions and photographs along with numerous videos.

It’s in the community discussions, though, that a lot of the real learning goes on, Spinks said. Not only does Umansky engage with students on the boards, but students interact with one another, often solving problems before an instructor get involves, Spinks said. That student interaction also acts a motivator, helping solve one of the key problems of online learning: retention. In self-paced learning programs such as those offered by Coursera, Spinks said, as few as 7 percent of students actually finish the curriculum from beginning to end. Feast’s inaugural class last winter attracted 75 students, and more than half participated up to the very to its conclusion.

The company’s spring semester starts up next week, offering a new kitchen basics class as well as a new course on vegetarian cooking (both $60 for four weeks). Feast has also begun offering a free mini-course on fermentation where you can learn how to make Kimchi, Korean spicy preserved cabbage.

Feast has also managed to attract the attention of Dave McClure’s 500 Startups, which accepted the company into its accelerator’s sixth batch of startups.

Saute pan photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Fedor Kondratenko

5 Responses to “Feast brings the online academy model to cooking classes”

  1. David Spinks

    Thanks for the story Kevin. Really enjoyed chatting with you.

    If any of the GigaOm readers want to try out a class, they can use the code “gigaomnom” at check out to get a 15% off discount.

    Feast on,

    CEO, Feast

  2. Man, this is a niche just waiting to be disrupted. I have a 60-something colleague who wants an iPad only so he can read the recipe while cooking or watch instructional videos. Same goes for another female friend, age 22.

    If they can speak to these two age groups simultaneously – in concept, design, and most importantly in seamless (invisible) integration of rather technical features — hitting the main road should be a matter of time.

    All that assuming the recipes are delicious, of course.

  3. There are so many approaches to this whole recipe thing, it will be interesting to see how this whole field plays out. It used to be an SEO thing ‘how do you prepare pasta’ but now there are many more approaches.

    • David Spinks

      Totally agree. It’s an exciting space right now.

      Our goal isn’t to replace recipes, but rather help people who find recipes confusing and unclear to cook impressive recipes that they didn’t think they could. If we’re successful in that regard, then they’ll feel a lot more comfortable using recipes after they take a few Feast classes.

      CEO, Feast