Last December, I was looking for a gift for my wife for Christmas and thought a "gift experience" would be unique as opposed to a material gift such a necklace. I stumbled upon Eatz, a cooking school located near Melrose and La Brea Avenue. Eatz offers a variety of classes, including themed cooking classes for couples. For my wife's "gift experience," I booked two spots for a "Night In Florence," which offered instruction on cooking a Florentine meal. The evening started with us making an Aperol Spritz cocktail to help us get in the mood for our culinary adventure. We followed this by creating a ricotta broccoli rabe and truffle honey crostini appetizer. Next was a Panzanella - a Tuscan-style bread, tomato and cucumber salad with basil. The main entree for the evening was a Pollo Alla Fiorentina, chicken with spinach and white wine cream sauce. Finally for dessert, we made an orange zest cake with a whipped cream topping.  

The evening was so much fun, as couples worked at stations around a giant table preparing their Florentine meals under the direction of chef/owner Niki Tehranchi, a dynamic former lawyer turned Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Niki gave us cooking tips and took questions while we prepared our meals. I learned how to butterfly chicken breasts and the benefits of zesting. We had a great dinner, made friends, took a bunch of pictures, and left with an incredible memory. I promised Niki we would return for her Persian cooking night. That was on January 24, and it was a terrific start to a new year. However, a month and a half later, our country came to a standstill as businesses shut down nationwide, and Americans sheltered in place to protect themselves and others from the Coronavirus. A Pandemic was now a part of our lives, and more than two months after the Coronavirus shutdown began, we have recently started re-emerging into a changing world. As Coronavirus cases slow down, we will continue to maintain social distancing and practice other forms of mitigation until a vaccine is available. The virus will continue to cause significant distress to businesses, especially in the food industry, including Eatz, which is slowly returning to teach cooking classes. However, I wanted to discuss with Niki how she has pivoted during this crisis by offering customers live cooking classes on Zoom.

When Los Angeles shut down all non-essential businesses, what was your initial reaction?  I felt a great deal of panic, and I felt awful for my employees. I started a GoFundMe for them. 

After you completed your culinary school training, you moved to Europe without a job. I thought that showed a lot of grit for a young woman. Is that inner strength helping you get through this dark period?  I went to Italy in 2017 for a year and a half so I wasn't that young. ;) But it was still hard moving to another country by myself. That experience is helping me get through this time.

How did the idea of teaching virtual cooking classes come about? I wanted to keep my clients engaged and offer them something fun while they were at home. I also wanted to find a way to pay my employees. 

What's the maximum number of people who can participate? 40

Tell me about your virtual classes. What does it entail for someone who signs up? They're so much fun! People sign up on our website, and each class only costs $25 per person. It's been a great way to connect, cook, drink, laugh, and even have little dance parties.

Let's talk about the menu. Are meals challenging to cook? I've been offering a lot of options for people. Even if the menu is somewhat difficult, I guide them through each step, and they learn! It's been great. 

Is there a pattern of creating a meal? A lot of our classes start with a cocktail that we make together. Some other classes call for wine, it depends on the menu. For example, in our "Sushi Soiree" class, we do sake bombs!

What are the most popular virtual classes that people are signing up to take? Gnocchi, Island Fever, Whiskey a Go-Go and Vegan Fiesta are the most popular. 

When I took the class in January, I was socializing a bit with other guests as we prepared our meals. Is that going on while you are teaching on Zoom? Yes, people talk to each other, make new friends, or just connect with friends who are far away! We've had classes where friends sign up together, and they live in different states! It's been a great way for people to connect, see friends, and do a fun activity. 

How are people handling the virtual classes on Zoom? People have been great. They are paying attention when I'm showing them a technique, and we eat as we cook. So there are breaks to be social and chat. It's been a really nice flow. 

How can you tell if students are preparing the meal correctly? They show me what they're making. I can help in real-time. 

With Father's Day coming up, are you planning a special meal? Yes! We have a Father's Day Steakhouse class! 

What's been the feedback from people who have taken these virtual classes? They love it! They always tell me how surprised they are that they had so much fun! 

Eatz offers private parties. How does that work? Yes, if people want to cook with a group of friends, we can host a private party. People have been doing that for birthday parties, team-building events, and more! 

Will Virtual Zoom classes be a permanent part of your business model, even if our economy returns to its pre-coronavirus origins? We will definitely keep doing virtual zoom classes! A lot of people prefer them, and we've been getting clients from all over the state! 

If you could conduct a virtual cooking class from any location in the world, where would it be and what would be on the menu? Great question. I'd be somewhere tropical and teach Ceviche and the local foods of that region. 

For a list of upcoming Summer virtual cooking classes for only $25 each and to reserve a spot, visit Eatz is located at 612 N. La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036. For additional information, visit