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Stormy Sweitzer
Stormy Sweitzer, an instructor at ChefHangout.com, prepares her kitchen for a course through Google+ hangouts.

Two Utah food bloggers are helping to launch a worldwide virtual cooking school by taking their talents to Google+ hangouts.

Krista Dearden of BudgetGourmetMom.com and Stormy Sweitzer of Maoomba.com are among two dozen chefs across the globe who have joined to create ChefHangout.com, an online cooking school that allows teachers and students to make meals together from the comfort of their own homes.

“I don’t see a better way to teach,” Sweitzer said of the “hangout” feature of the social media site Google+, which allows up to 10 people to interact through their Web-enabled cameras. “There is broader reach through this technology. I had students last week who were from Canada and the East Coast. As a teacher you’re not limited to the Utah market.”

Joe Saad, owner of ChefHangout.com, approached the two women during the beta testing of Google+ when he saw the power of the social network to allow food lovers to engage in conversation, sharing and video interaction. Sweitzer, who had been blogging about food since 2009, immediately latched onto the idea.

“(Google+) is growing like crazy, and unlike Facebook or Twitter, it’s interest-based. I don’t know most of the people I teach, but I do know that we have a lot in common,” she said.

Dearden explained that the capabilities of Google+ hangouts extend far beyond the technological mediums cooking teachers have been using in the past, like YouTube and her own food blog.

“It’s like nothing that is out there. It’s completely interactive. If a student has a question, I can answer it immediately, right then and there, and I can also tailor what I’m teaching to any student’s skill level.”

Dearden also noted that the use of Google+ hangouts is re-creating a staple of American culture: the family dinner.

“Dinner is a family meal, and I’m passionate about sharing it,” she explained. “People who have families who live across the country can take the cooking class together. Then, after the class, I can hop out of the hangout and those three brothers who live in different parts of the world can sit down and eat together and talk and share a meal. It’s powerful.”

Sweitzer has also seen family interactivity in the classes she’s taught. “Usually there will be one particular family member interested in taking the class, but a lot of times they will have their children and spouse there in the kitchen and they can learn together and help each other. It’s very social.”

ChefHangout.com, which launched this month, provides more than 60 classes, ranging from skill classes such as knife skills to specialties like vegan, Cajun, Italian and Malaysian. Dearden offers weekly classes for kids as well as a “Once a Week Cooking” course, in which students make seven meals that freeze well and can quickly be prepared throughout the week. Sweitzer focuses on gluten- and dairy-free cuisines, offering classes that draw on her Mexican heritage, a simple one-bowl meal formula, and an impromptu “Friday Night Fridge Find” class.

Jennifer Ball is a journalism student at Brigham Young University. EMAIL: [email protected]