At the beginning of April, stuck at home with limited items in her cupboard and a shortage of many staples on the shelves at local grocery stores, Westchester’s Cory Birkett took to Facebook. Someone that has always loved to cook, she was looking for new meals for the age-old question of “What’s for dinner?” She created the “Quarantine Cooking Group” as a way to share recipes and get some inspiration from friends, but with so many people looking for ideas on what to feed their families, the group quickly grew.
“Even people who love to cook get stuck in a rut. During quarantine, people have become adventurous because of limited ingredients and are working within their pantry,” said Birkett a realtor with ERA Matilla in Playa del Rey. “I was surprised by how it has grown. It started off with a few friends and now we have a lot of people sharing what they are making throughout the day. While 90 percent of the people are from Westchester/Playa, we have someone from as far away as Italy and even a few professional chefs.”
Now the group has more than 800 members who are pushing their culinary skills, trying new dishes and adding variety to what could have otherwise been a bland menu for the last few months.
Birkett grew up eating a lot of traditional American comfort foods made by her mom, who was a great cook. But after moving from Northern California to L.A. to attend LMU, she felt the need to expand her palate and try different types of cuisines. Tons of cookbooks and internet research later, her favorite things to make are now Chinese and Indian dishes. Feeding her vegetarian daughter and a meat-loving husband, she looks for recipes where proteins can easily be substituted and that make full use of her garden’s supply of zucchini, Swiss chard, tomatoes and berries.
“I love seeing all the styles of cooking,” said Birkett, who tries to acknowledge each post with positivity. “I have been inspired by many of the chefs on the group and bought some new ingredients, like red curry paste and white miso, hoping to mimic these amazing dishes. It’s also great to see everyone’s hacks for how to jazz up simple meals.”
Checking out the feed of homemade pastas, all types of breads, desserts galore and foods usually reserved only for holidays, has been good motivation for the group’s participants.
“The Quarantine Cooking Group has been a fun resource for recipes and ideas as we have been sheltering at home and unable to grocery shop as often as I used to. It’s also been nice to be able to connect with others in the community while we are social distancing and unable to see friends,” said Westport Heights resident Christie Kobata. “Honestly, my favorite endeavor has been jumping on the sourdough bandwagon. Although there is a learning curve to it, it’s been so satisfying to make my own bread and to also use the starter to make other things like pretzels, pancakes, croutons and muffins.”
Echoes Bahar Geslin, “It’s been a great place to get inspiration and come together with neighbors about a common passion such as cooking. I love reading recipes even if I don’t intend on making them. I can get inspiration to use spices, flavors and textures in ways I am not accustomed to using them. Recently, members have been sharing stories about the origins of their dishes which has been enlightening.”
In addition to great meals, sharing tips, recommendations for cooking tools and outstanding dish presentations, the group has also had some unexpected positive benefits.
“It’s given people a source of entertainment and togetherness. For a lot of people food is comfort,” said Birkett. “Cooking has also brought a lot of families closer together and, in some ways, our community closer together as well.”
While businesses start to reopen and items become easier to find, Birkett hopes the group will continue to be a hub for new recipes, collaborations and encouragement as members continue to excel in the culinary arts.
“I’ve loved being part of this group and I love that it has brought us together during a difficult time to inspire us to try new things in the kitchen with our families,” said Birkett who has been blown away by dishes like Nam Tok Neua and Beef Wellington that people have shared. “I hope it continues. I’d miss seeing all these local chefs posting their amazing pictures and recipes.”
Want to participate in the fun and show off your meals? Search “Quarantine Cooking–Westchester & Silicon Beach” on Facebook.
Posted June 2020.
Photo by Zsuzsi Steiner.