Not all dietitians are extroverts. There are many dietitians that would rather work in a research lab or write articles all day than get out in front of an audience and speak. But, if you are one of those people that loves to work a crowd and show off your nutrition knowledge and culinary skills, then doing food demos may be right in your wheelhouse.
Before you pack your cutting board and knives, there’s a few things to get situated before pitching a food demo to a company, mom’s group or other audience. For starters, find out if the group you’ll be teaching has a budget. Will they be paying for your food, prep time and expertise or will you be doing the work pro bono? While your demo may only be 30-45 minutes, it is definitely more work than that. A food demo is more than just showing up with your skillet.
Melissa Altman-Traub, MS, RDN, LDN advises that organization is very important. “Don’t underestimate the time to choose recipes, handouts, buy and pack supplies. Visit the site ahead of time to look for cooking equipment, sink, refrigeration, fire extinguisher, outlets, etc. Practice your recipes for family/friends, first. Bring paper towels, food thermometer, alcohol wipes and your own knives. Discuss who will pay for food and paper supplies when making up a contract.”
Know your audience. Are you cooking for kids or adults? Are there men, women or both? It’s safer and less expensive to use vegetarian recipes for most crowds. Tailor your demo to your audience. Lindsey Pine, MS, RDN, CLT and Owner of TastyBalance Nutrition, recommends asking the event contact if there are any food allergies or other major special dietary needs. If you have a number of nut allergies in the audience for example, you wouldn’t want to demo a bunch of dishes with nuts!
Next- what will you cook? Will you be making something cold like a salad or something hot such as soup? It’s seriously important to find out where your demo will take place. Will it be inside or outside? Will you need electricity or can you get by with a camp stove? Is there a place to prep and clean food or will you have to do most of this at home? If onions make you cry, consider chopping them at home. This saves time in addition to the embarrassment of having to wipe your eyes in front of an audience. Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, Integrative, Culinary & Media Dietitian in Atlanta advises, “Use recipes that you’ve made many times before. Knowing the recipes well boosts confidence during the demo and makes it easy to adapt as needed for small or larger groups.”
Keep it simple and seasonal. For one thing, fewer ingredients are easier to schlep to your demonstration. Secondly, delicious, heathy food does not need to be complicated. Part of our role as RDs is to show people that tasty food can be created in minutes. Consider dishes with 5 or less ingredients and recipes that take less than 30 minutes to prepare. You’ll want to have time to eat and answer questions after the demo. In addition, use seasonal produce and affordable ingredients when you can. This will encourage your participants to repeat the recipe at home.
Carrie Gabriel, MS, RDN, owner of Steps2nutrition in Los Angeles offers this advice, “I always have insulated freezer bags on hand for refrigerated or frozen items I need to carry. Another absolute must for cooking demos is a foldable dolly cart. As a party of one, depending on how many people I am expected to do a demo for and what kind of cooking toys I need, that is absolutely essential so I don’t hurt myself!”
Katy Bowen, MS, RDN, LD, director of community outreach for Culinary Health Education for Families in San Antonio suggests the following tips, “During a part of your demo that requires a repetitive action such as dicing an onion, work to engage your audience by asking questions about their food preferences, favorite recipes to cook at home, or most memorable meal from their childhood. If you are doing a demo for young children, they love to share their favorite fruits and vegetables. This technique helps to fill the awkward silence in between recipe steps. When chopping produce, always keep your eye on your knife! Don’t worry about maintaining eye contact with your audience. It will be much worse if you slip and cut your finger during your demo. If you do cut yourself, don’t panic! Use your slip-up to talk about knife safety and that we are all human, which will better connect you with your audience. Pack a small first aid kit with band aids and gloves, just in case. If you are preparing multiple recipes for your demo, group the utensils and ingredients in reusable grocery bags by recipe to keep organized and minimize your setup time. "
Sharon Palmer, MS, RD, AKA The Plant-Powered Dietitian suggests creating a demo template so it’s easy to do demos on demand. “I usually have a few favorite “go to” demos all ready to with shopping list, equipment list and sampling information. These recipes are colorful, aromatic, and easy to do on stage in one skillet on a burner.”
Finally, before you head out the door, check your check list. Do you have all the utensils needed? Don’t forget can openers, measuring cups and spoons, cutting boards, kitchen towels, knives and serving utensils. Do you have copies of your recipe and containers for leftovers? You may want to keep a bin of frequently used utensils for demos to make it easy on yourself for future demos. The more prepared you are, the more successful your food demonstrations will be.