On a recent Saturday evening, chefs Matthew Lewis and Manu Alfau got together to do something they've both done many times before: cook. This time, though, they were doing it in front of an audience of hundreds. Virtually, of course.
Alfau, of beloved Pioneer Square spots Manu’s Bodega and Manu’s Tacos, guides the audience through the steps to creating a “Paella Party.” On the right side of the screen, clear written instructions provide additional guidance, but the chefs encourage viewers not to get too hung up on the recipe. “This is your kitchen, your dish,” Alfau says as he and Lewis walk viewers through seasoning chicken wings with a liberal coating of paprika, olive oil, salt, and pepper. “If you go outside the lines, no big deal.”
The Saturday class was part of Chef Box Live, a series of Covid-era virtual cooking classes from Matthew Lewis (of soul food truck Where Ya At Matt) and Samuel Minkoff (of event planning company Sound Excursions). Alfau was the "chef partner" on Saturday; upcoming guests include Sabrina Tinsley of Osteria la Spiga and local chef Zoi Antonitsas.
Aspiring chefs can follow along easily—sign up for a session and you'll get a box of ingredients (around $50, depending on the recipe) shipped to your home. “As Sam [Minkoff] always says, we feel like we’ve invented true smell-o-vision,” Lewis says. "It’s not just a cooking show… everyone is cooking with us. So all the smells and aromas are hopefully matching” in home chefs' kitchens.
Chef Box Live goes beyond olfactory replication. Watching Lewis cook with guests feels a bit like you’re dropping in on friends just hanging out (something of a luxury in these times). In Alfau's episode, the chefs sip mezcal margaritas in between steps. Minkoff, off-camera, acting as host and producer, calls out a list of drinks viewers are having as they cook: “Mai Tais, beers, pinot grigio....” And Lewis responds, “This is my kind of crowd!”
Lewis plans to keep the project going in some form even after Covid, maybe with an eventual in-person option, though he notes that there is something special about the online platform. The absence of physical space limitations means there's no cap on how many people can join the class, Lewis says. "The sky’s the limit.”