Donna Crivello, executive chef at Cosima Mill No. 1, hosts a cooking class on Facebook every Thursday. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun video)
In eight minutes and 13 seconds, chef Donna Crivello gives Facebook viewers a live demonstration of how to whip up arancini. Streaming from the outdoor patio of her restaurant Cosima, overlooking the Jones Falls, Crivello walks viewers through each step of making the stuffed risotto balls: cooking the risotto, mixing in soppressata and cheese, rolling the balls and baking them, and topping the finished appetizers with sauces and herbs.
The demonstration was the sixth in a weekly live cooking series Crivello hosts called "Sicilian Cooking Secrets" that launched on Facebook in early July. The five- to 10-minute demonstrations give viewers the basic know-how to make pastas, tomato soup, artichokes and other traditional Sicilian cuisine, often on the menu at Cosima.
Crivello had once planned to write a Sicilian cookbook after a trip to her grandmother's homeland years ago, but it never happened. Now, she's sharing recipes in a new medium every Thursday at 12:30 p.m.
"I keep thinking of all the things I'd like to do to show people what Sicilian, Southern [Italian] cuisine is like," Crivello said. "This is my little quick online cookbook, and I keep thinking of all the other things I would like to do — some desserts, more pastas, some meat dishes, some seafood. Just things that I know people would like to make at home and they can. And I'll make it simple enough so you can see how to do it."
Crivello is among the local culinary professionals using Facebook Live broadcasts to reach new audiences, following in the footsteps of nationally renowned chefs and restaurants working to build their brand and share insight on their craft. Mario Batali, for example, has interacted with viewers via Facebook Live in a series called "Taking Requests" — taking comments listing four ingredients and suggesting corresponding recipes on the spot. Thomas Keller of the French Laundry once streamed a tour of the California restaurant's temporary kitchen. Even the restaurant guide Zagat used Facebook Live to give viewers a glimpse of the miniature food served from its Tiny Cafe pop-up in New York.
Old Westminster Winery has been hosting weekly wine tastings on Facebook Live since January. The winery's founding siblings, Drew Baker, Lisa Hinton and Ashli Johnson, held the live tastings Wednesday afternoons in a series dubbed "Wine for Lunch" through the end of June. They moved the filming to Tuesday evenings in July with a new series, "Wine for Dinner," to provide a more interactive tasting experience with viewers.
"We're trying to create a conversation instead of a monologue," Baker said. "We're not selling wine — there's no like hard value associated with it — it's more about conversation and face time."
Old Westminster lists the wines it will be tasting — ranging from its own made-in-Maryland wines to bottles from France's Loire Valley — weeks ahead of each episode so viewers can buy bottles and taste along. All of the wines are under $25 and available in Maryland, Baker said.
"It's cool to see that people are actually trying to find these wines," he said.
They talk tasting notes, potential food pairings, characteristics of the wine's region of origin and take questions from viewers.
Megan James, a 26-year-old speech therapist, is one of their viewers. The Reisterstown resident knew the Baker family growing up in Westminster, and she's tasted along with Old Westminster's founders during several live broadcasts to learn more about the properties to observe when drinking wine.
"I enjoy drinking wine and as I've gotten older I think I've developed more of a mature taste for it," she said. "I've always kind of wanted to learn more about wine."
She said she appreciates people who can articulate the characteristics of wine, and she's learned a lot by listening to Old Westminster's broadcasts. During one session a few weeks ago, James heard Johnson describe tasting the wine on the front of her palate and the tip of her tongue.
"I was actually thinking that but I wasn't able to describe it," James said. "Then I was able to try it again."
The tastings have been just as interactive for self-professed wine geeks, like William Hughes, a federal government employee and retired Navy officer from Potomac. Hughes, 51, met Baker and Hinton eight years ago in a certified wine specialist course.
Hughes was among the original members of Old Westminster's wine club, and he helped volunteer on their farm when the vineyard was in its early stages. He tunes in to the Facebook Live videos to support the winery, to learn and to share.
"It's about sharing wine in general, as well," he said. "When you think of a great wine, it's usually associated with a place, with friends, with food."
Facebook Live receives 10 times more comments on its live videos than on pre-recorded posts, according to the social media network, and its live videos are pushed to more viewers than traditional videos. It's an effective way to reach customers because viewers tend to watch live videos 10 to 20 times longer than on-demand content, according to an August report from Forrester Research, a Cambridge, Mass.-based research and advisory firm.
The streams also allow viewers to interact with one another through comments. Hughes, for instance, has responded to other viewers' questions when Old Westminster's hosts have been unable to answer.
Naijha Wright-Brown, Land of Kush co-owner, uses Facebook Live streams to draw customers to events where her restaurant is dishing out food. She tries to post videos two or three times each week, streaming from the restaurant's kitchen, from events where the vegan and vegetarian restaurant is serving food and inside the restaurant with regular patrons to give viewers a window into a "day in the life" at Land of Kush.
"Photos are great, but video is in and it's like this super marketing machine right now," she said. "People want to see things live."
Sometimes she showcases employees experimenting in the kitchen with dishes not yet on the menu, like gluten-free pineapple upside-down cake.
"It's needed and necessary, it's new and it's fresh," she said. "If you're going to go guerrilla and not spend any money, Facebook is giving you a platform and it's free."
"You've got to be engaged with the social media and the video because it's just so effective," she said. "I mean that's how we're engaging with our customers."
Crivello sees her cooking demonstrations as an alternate to cooking classes and cookbook writing. Once a teacher, Crivello has been offering cooking classes for 20 years, and said she likes showing people how things are made. Patrons have asked whether she will offer cooking classes at Cosima, and for now, the videos are a good alternative. She typically prepares several iterations of the dish in different stages of completion — in raw form, chopped and prepped, partially mixed and completed — to show the process and help speed the videos.
"With Sicilian cooking and with Italian cooking and with a lot of home cooking, they aren't exact recipes. You know, you cook the risotto until it's sticky, or you use leftover risotto because that's what the Sicilians always did," Crivello said. "I'm trying to mix it up in terms of the kinds of food, the style of food … and also seasonally."
Quinn Collins, the principal of Collins + Wilson Communication who films the Facebook Live videos for Crivello, said from a social media standpoint, it makes sense to have Crivello at the center of the restaurant's marketing.
"Whenever we've put a photo of Donna up doing something, engagement skyrockets, and so we've really realized that Donna as a chef is such an important part of Cosima's story," she said. "Doing these videos really lets people feel like they have that intimate connection with Donna."
And Crivello doesn't worry about giving away too many insider tips.
"People are always kind of happy when they discover little secrets," she said. "I don't think anybody will be starting restaurants too soon."