yes, but how does it work? the nitty-gritty of cooking at the office

June 29, 2011

in cohealth

our june cohealth chat on teaching employees how to cook with IDEO’s cooking & company left a lot of specific, unanswered questions. i’ve captured them below, and IDEO’s helena cohen answered them.

in case you missed the chat, let me first explain cooking & company. IDEO’s had a relationship with jamie oliver since he won his TED prize and decided to focus on childhood obesity. you probably know about jamie oliver’s food revolution. cooking & company is one possible answer to how to scale it. unlike jamie oliver’s food revolution TV show, cooking & company’s going after the adult population. IDEO wants to teach them how to cook. and it wants to teach them where they spend the most time—at work.

q: how do you handle the budget for cooking supplies?

hc: there are a number of possibilities for defraying or spreading the cost. we’ve split the expenses a couple of different ways so that no one business unit or practice carried the load. apart from the propane burners, you could also reduce the capital outlay by having people bring in their own pans, knives, cutting boards. or perhaps you just supply the basic ingredients, such as oil, condiments and spices, and then ask people to cover the cost of the main ingredients. since this is all ultimately about employee health, could HR’s budget partially or fully cover the expense? this is idealistic and unrealistic—but wouldn’t it be great if HMOs/PPOs coughed up some money too?

q: what’s the average cost of a take-home kit? i’m wondering what kind of budget we’d need.

hc: the cost depends on which recipe (from the cooking & company guide) you’re preparing. the cost of the fajita recipe is about $10 for two people.

q: do people assemble their cooking kit at the event?

hc: when we did the take-home wednesday (dinner) event at method, the people who prepared the dinners were not those who took the food home. in other words, we haven’t done what you’re describing above—but you could do that. there’s no set format here; we want to see this evolve!

q: do you encourage employers to use their onsite kitchens?
hc: yes, if possible. but many work environments don’t have a kitchen. we think there’s a lot of room for improvisation, like having people cook outside—on a patio, perhaps. for example, we can’t get 30 people into our prototyping kitchen; it’s far too small. we set up trestle tables and single (camping) propane stoves on a grassy area instead. this definitely made for a festive atmosphere and created interest among people who weren’t directly involved.

q: have you incorporated a knife skills class?
hc: we try to keep our food culture here at IDEO burning brightly by organizing different events. some are directed toward those who are comfortable cooking while others are targeting the non-cooks.

we’re in the process of organizing a knife skills class. it’s being offered as a general lunchtime workshop at IDEO—not specifically under the cooking & company umbrella. we’re covering really simple stuff, not “top chef” standards. participants will learn three different ways to slice an onion, including one that will not make you cry! They’ll learn the best way to slice a tomato to retain the most flavor and how to cut up, skin and even bone a chicken. and here’s the rest of our lineup for the summer. employees lead all of our workshops or events, and we hold them at noon:

  • a taste of summer: homemade lemonade offered with delicious (homemade) fruit-flavored syrups
  • cheese-making class and demo
  • (fruit) jam-making workshop
  • pizza workshop, making dough from scratch
  • (filipino) lumpia-making (and eating) demo

q: does cooking & company go into workplaces? or are you supporting companies behind the scenes?

hc: we’ve gone out to a couple of workplaces in the bay area and have some exciting events happening in the near future. we’re still prototyping what’s realistic from a time investment standpoint. we can provide some guidance and ideas, but we don’t have people dedicated solely to this initiative.

q: how does a company keep up the momentum once they’ve done a few cooking & company events?

hc: well, to be honest, we need to do some serious planning because our activity within IDEO has dropped off a little of late. this is solely a function of how busy the core people involved in the initiative have been. i’m considering creating a calendar of events for the next quarter as one way to address this problem.

we want to thank aaron sklar and helena cohen again for sharing what they’ve been up to. now it’s our turn. download the guide and start cooking. IDEO’s interested in your feedback, so let’s keep the conversation going.

next cohealth chat

join us on july 20 at noon ET when we talk about metlife’s 9th annual study of employee benefits trends with dr. ron leopold. find the entire 2011 cohealth tweet calendar and recaps from previous chats here.

Leave a Comment

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tamara Melton June 29, 2011 at 10:57 am

Thanks so much for posting this, Fran! Cooking skills is one huge area that I’ve seen lacking with my clients. It often means that I’m conducting a cooking class in their home kitchen (these are private clients). If people don’t know how to cook, we can’t really expect for them to eat healthfully. Healthy, and appetizing meals require cooking skills!

My belief is that chefs and nutritionists need to partner if we want our clients to get healthier. I love, love, love what IDEO is doing in the workplace. I think these cooking classes are also a kind of team-buidling exercise for employees. People really bond over a cooking or baking project.


fran June 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm

i’d add shopping. i’m looking forward to reading about your grocery store tour with clients.



Janet McNichol June 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Funny timing. I just posted this Roadblock to Food Revolution — Seems we have to teach people to cook without a heat source.

One of things I like about IDEO’s approach is that they’re starting with things like fajitas and omelettes. I think people eating at McDonalds now are more liking to give those things a try than quinoa and kale chips. IDEO has me thinking along a different path now.


fran June 29, 2011 at 3:16 pm

i just read your post. what did you think of helena’s example of their patio cooking? would that work for your office?

i’m sure there’ll be lots of learning curves and monkey wrenches with food experiments at work. the cool thing with cooking & company or any other innovation is that it gets people thinking.



Previous post:

Next post: