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Talking Streaming Live Cooking Classes with Canela Bistro and Wine Bar's Mat Schuster

San Francisco-based executive chef Mat Schuster explains how he and his sommelier colleagues are taking their live cooking classes online--and bringing their hands-on students along for the ride, ingredients and all.

Mat Schuster, owner and executive chef of Canela Bistro and Wine Bar in San Francisco who has been teaching cooking classes for nearly his entire career as a chef, faced the same challenge so many instructors have faced in recent months: how to take his teaching online and still give his students as complete a learning experience as possible. As a practitioner of hands-on culinary education, where students cook along with the chefs as they teach, rather than more demonstration-oriented classes, Schuster knew he had to do it live, and he knew he needed to present it in a way where students could ask questions and get help as they followed the teaching. And of course he had to make sure everyone who signed up for the class had all the ingredients in hand--including the paired wine.

Schuster also knew he needed a space to cook, teach, capture, and stream with one or more co-instructors to discuss the wine--preferably an outdoor space, where they could put the requisite COVID-era space between them and not have to teach in masks.

The first class, "Wine Tasting with KQED’s Leslie Sbrocco and Paella Making with Mat Schuster of Canela Bistro," took place on July 26. 

In terms of gear, Canela was essentially starting from scratch. As Schuster researched the tech and put together the kit, Schuster made another key decision: He knew he needed to present and deliver the class in a way that reflected well on his business, with professionalism and high production sheen, at least a few notches above the now-familiar "good enough for Zoom" look and sound. This meant producing a live-switched show with three fixed cameras in an outdoor area behind the restaurant, with one camera trained on the instructor at each of the two presentation cooking stations, and one focused on the burner and the food.

For cameras, Schuster determined to avoid the visual limitations of a webcam and the practical, operational limits of an iPad. To optimize the visuals, the Canela crew went with 3 Canon SL3 DSLRs. "I'm in food as my business, and food needs more than a webcam," Schuster explains. "And there is a lot more customization that you can do with a freestanding camera. Everybody has an iPhone or Android, so even your grandmother's food photography can look good. So now people have an expectation that food images are going to look a certain way." 

For switching and feeding the livestream, Schuster opted for the increasingly popular--and consequently often hard to find--Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro. One of Canela's key criteria for the switcher was the number of inputs. They needed 3, and the ATEM Mini Pro has 4, giving them room to add another camera for future classes. 

"The switcher was one of the pivotal parts of the equation," Schuster says. "If you don't have a switcher, then you're really tied to one camera, and then it turns into everybody walking up and presenting their dish, and it's just weird."

Also critical to their needs was ease of use--a hallmark of the ATEM Mini Pro. Even though Canela used a dedicated tech running the switcher for the paella class, he says he'd like to have the flexibility to train other staff without a video background to run the show in the future. "We were looking for a switcher that was easy to use for non-tech people. There is a point where, if your equipment setup is too complicated, you can't use it. So, so there has to be a useability aspect of it for people who don't do this every day."