( ENSPIRE She Did That ) WeWork’s Director of Legal Rebecca Samakow Culinary Web Series, Forkable Foods, Brings People Together
ENSPIRE Contributor: Diana Yafizova
When the pandemic first hit last spring, it seemed like life was put on pause. People were stuck inside, isolated, scared of the unknown, and most of all bored. Most people looked to break their boredom with hobbies, which is exactly what WeWork’s Director of Legal Rebecca Samakow did at the start of the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, Samakow launched a culinary web series, Forkable Foods, to share her passion for cooking with her colleagues and friends.
Growing up watching and helping her grandmother in the kitchen, Rebecca Samakow experienced firsthand the strong bonds that cooking with family, friends, and even acquaintances could produce. By creating Forkable Foods, Samakow can support friends, colleagues, and acquaintances during a hard time by creating a positive space where people can learn a new skill set. The web series is hosted via weekly Zoom meetings to learn how to cook new meals worldwide. Samakow builds her menu from different diverse themes. Some themes featured in her web series include New Orleans Week, which centered on Jambalaya with Sweet Cornbread and a Hurricane Cocktail, or Korean Night, which featured a Korean Beef Rice Bowl served with Sigumchi Namul (Korean Seasoned Spinach) and a Soju Martini.
ENSPIRE Magazine interviewed Rebecca Samakow to discuss how she came up with web series, her journey to becoming a chef, advice for new chefs, and much more.
ENSPIRE: Other than isolation from the pandemic, were there other inspirations for creating Forkable Foods?
Rebecca: While the pandemic may have jump-started my adventure, the real inspiration for taking it to the next level was the impact I was making on people. I know it sounds sentimental, but I’ve seen people who have never cooked a meal before in their life become the primary meal provider in their households. It’s the joy and excitement of seeing them grow and develop each week, gaining new confidence in the kitchen and a deeper appreciation of the food. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I’m so fortunate to witness their progress.
ENSPIRE: Are there certain criteria or factors for what recipes that you pick to teach on the series (like the price of materials or availability of supplies)?
Rebecca: During the beginning of the pandemic, when I started teaching cooking classes, grocery stores were empty. I really focused on available items and provided a lot of substitution options for people who couldn’t get ingredients. Once items were restocked, I really focused on bringing new and different flavors each week. Also, when we started the series, I wanted to focus on quick and easy recipes so not a lot of ingredients or prep so people would feel comfortable starting at whatever level they were at. As the participants continued to develop, I would focus on recipes and ingredients that used different techniques to keep building on those skill sets. I always want to be cost-conscious as well. I don’t want people to spend a fortune on all their ingredients, so some meals are very budget-friendly, and now and then, we can splurge on one or two expensive ingredients such as a nice ribeye steak or saffron. Last, I always ask at the end of my class what people would be interested in making. I love to incorporate their feedback on dishes they would love to learn to make as it provides more excitement for them.
ENSPIRE: For people with no experience with cooking, do you have any advice on getting started?
Rebecca: Don’t be intimidated by the kitchen. You don’t have to make something incredibly complex off the bat. Start with something simple like making your own salad dressing or a simple pasta dish and work your way up. Start building out your skillset with the fundamentals of chopping and measuring, and with each meal, you’ll gain more confidence, and the recipes will be easier to follow. If you don’t know what a recipe prep is calling for, such as minced garlic, look it up! There’s no shame in watching a video online to see how to do things. You’re learning and trying to better yourself so use any resources you can!
ENSPIRE: Can you give insight into how you think of or plan the different themed menus featured on your web series?
Rebecca: This is probably my favorite part of what I do! I always want to introduce the class to different cultures, flavors, and cooking methods. So I started having themes for each week, such as Asian Fusion Night, Mardi gras Night, and Old School Diner Favorites, to introduce my participants to different flavors and cooking techniques. In each class, we explore something new from around the world, and I incorporate the history of the dishes, fun facts about the ingredients, and some cultural references as well. I like to take everyone on a trip around the world, especially since no one was traveling last year. It definitely keeps things fun and exciting, and it mixes things up, so you’re not focused on a certain type of cuisine. I also love to incorporate the calendar into my menu planning. We do a lot of great dishes centered on holidays to help get the creative juices flowing for your own holiday meals. I also want to make sure I’m putting together a balanced meal. Sometimes we’ll do a cocktail, dessert, or appetizer to accompany the meal, so we’re mixing things up.
ENSPIRE: While your grandmother introduced you to cooking, how did you continue to grow your passion and skills in the kitchen?
Rebecca: I was incredibly fortunate to have learned the fundamentals of cooking from my grandmother and father. While I started as their little sous chef, they always encouraged me to experiment in the kitchen and try new flavors. While some dishes I came up with were incredible, others definitely flopped. My father still reminds me now and then how far I’ve come from “cinnamon chicken,” and yes, it was as terrible as it sounds. However, both of them were incredibly supportive over the years. I would take cooking classes here and there on techniques I wanted to learn, and cooking shows are a staple for me at home. I’m always learning something new that I’m dying to try as soon as the episode ends and calling my father to ask if he’s tried that technique. Every time I’m with my father we’re always cooking together. Whether it’s just our family or a party for 50 people, you’ll find the two of us laughing in the kitchen together. He definitely taught me my knife skills, how to work the pans, and even how to poach salmon in the dishwasher! I never stop learning from him, and he’s always showing me a new process to finesse my skills.
ENSPIRE: What was the process of creating your web series? What are some of the obstacles that you faced in the startup process?
Rebecca: So the web series definitely started to keep some friends together while we were all physically apart, and then more people started asking if they could join. It was just something fun for me to share with my friends hoping they would love cooking as much as I do. I love sharing experiences with others, so this was another way for me to share something I’m passionate about. There’s a lot that goes into creating a web series, including a lot that I still have to learn. There’s a lot of planning and time management that goes into it. I need to make sure I have an enticing menu, and the timing is just right so all components are done at the same time. You have to make sure you have everything planned out and provide all the instructions and prep needed in advance. The biggest obstacle for me was time management. Making sure I could get everything finished in the allotted time. I had one class that was technically difficult to execute that went way over the allotted hour. I’m also very type A, so I hate when things don’t go according to my plan. Part of growing is learning from your mistakes and making adjustments. It’s all a learning process, so my best advice is don’t be too hard on yourself as you’ll make mistakes, but with mistakes comes growth.
Rebecca Samakow is building a positive and fun online community through her web series. If you are interested in joining the community and come to one of the weekly webinars and get a chance to cook alongside Samakow. She provides recipes and shopping lists in advance.
You can stay connected with Rebecca Samakow on her Instagram.