Featured photo: Fresh spring rolls by Lawrence Feir
In March, as everyone in the world started to rediscover long-forgotten cookbooks, babysit sourdough starters and become amateur farmers, I decided it might be a good time to cook the food that I’ve always wanted to cook for myself and not worry about how the photos were going to look on Instagram. I made tons of cole slaw and fermented cabbage relish, butchered pork shoulders, brined chicken tenders… and all of my labor needed a home without judgement.
After a little online searching, I landed on the Quarantine Chefs and Quarantine Cooking Club groups on Facebook. Both groups are Triad-based with members from all over the country and boast nearly 500 members between them. Both groups are similar in that they offer support for people to share stories, recipes and photos of home cooking. Admission is determined by only one thing: an interest in food.
What I found was a utopia of supportive, eager-to-share food lovers. Each post in each group is unlike the last: overflowing baskets of produce; noodles tossed in cream sauces followed by frittatas studded with diced ham and pickles; step-by-step montages of bubbling pots of oil and baked foccacia; stacked sandwiches interspersed with non-gratuitous shots of favorite bottled hot sauces, smoothies and non-alcoholic seltzers; even the occasional bowl of cereal or bag of chips from a vending machine.
Members are encouraged to share their food photography and favorite recipes, and to interact with others adapting to coronavirus quarantine lifestyle. The groups’ tones are positive and inspirational instead of aspirational. Each group has become a place for strangers to get to know each other a bit, and marvel at homemade meals that don’t have to be fancy. The honesty is refreshing; seeing posts of people taking pictures of their cheese puff and chocolate pudding cup dinners is not uncommon. Others post photos of their vending machine meals.
“My favorite posts are the ones where it’s like, ‘Here’s some stuff I’ve scrounged from my fridge or bought from a vending machine and this is my dinner,’” says Quarantine Cooking Club founder and Greensboro artist Harry Turfle. “And you’re like, ‘I’ve been there, I appreciate you sharing.’ That’s so good.
“Since lockdown started it was clear to me that dinner parties were suspended, having people over, going out for dinner, drinking with friends, sharing meals was not gonna happen for a long time,” he adds.
Some photos are presented without explanation. Others have simple descriptions. There’s no pretense, no glamour shots, no begging for likes or entries into contests. There’s no hierarchy between chefs and home cooks. To scroll through the group’s feed is like a modest yet intimate look into the kitchens and plates of people who love to cook and eat food.
Matthew French cooked for 30 years in Greensboro kitchens like Painted Plate, Café Pasta, Lucky 32, Café Europa and Undercurrent. Since November 2018 he’s been a product stylist. He started the “Chefs Cooking During Quarantine” group to help lift up friends and former colleagues still in the business.
“Once the industry shut down,” says French, “I knew there would be a lot of really sad people. And I knew that what they needed was to commiserate and share what their comforts are while cooking for themselves and their families.”
Recently, local sculptor and artist Lawrence Feir joined the group and posted that he battled throat cancer and lost his sense of taste for two years.
“The radiation and chemotherapy were really devastating to my taste,” Feir explains. “Everything tasted like poison. Rice Krispies were too spicy. A sip of wine or beer tasted like battery acid.”
Today, Feir is two years cancer-free and enjoys sharing his renewed sense of taste with photos of dishes he’s created like fresh spring rolls, grilled lobster tails and Korean style beef tacos sprinkled with sesame seeds.
“I really enjoy it,” he says. “It’s just a way to connect with like-minded people who enjoy cooking and enjoy sharing with others.”
And despite being social media-driven, these down-to-earth groups aren’t here for the likes or the follows; it’s just about the connection. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some photos from my camera roll that I need to post on Facebook.