Amazon Explore lets you virtually cook with pros around the world
We took online classes with a mixologist, a baker, and a chef.
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There are plenty of tips and tricks for safe travel this year, but some of us still feel most comfy at home. And because we've all been spending more time at home for quite a while now, chances are you're looking for ways to switch up your routine. From Zoom classes to Instagram live sessions, virtual events are booming, and the folks at Amazon have jumped on that bandwagon with Amazon Explore. This service boasts virtual personal shopping, online learning, remote city tours, and more, but we were most curious about the bevy of food and drink classes.
How does Amazon Explore work?
The first thing you'll need to do in order to sign up for an Amazon Explore experience is sign into your Amazon account (or create one). Once you're signed in, you can peruse the Amazon Explore site and visit the landing pages for specific experiences—this is where you'll be able to schedule the date and time for your class or tour.
Food & Drink experiences are one-on-one live sessions typically around 60 minutes long, and can cost anywhere from $10 to $99 for the class alone. The experiences are all live and use one-way video and two-way audio, so you can see your instructor but they can't see you, only hear you. (We're hoping Amazon changes this particular feature so participants have the option for two-way video, but more on that later.) You can choose to make the dish or drink along with your instructor, or save the hands-on stuff til after the class is over.
The set-up for each class is a bit different, but generally speaking, your instructor will conduct the class from their place of work—this could be the kitchen in their bake shop, the bar in their restaurant, or among the grapevines in their vineyard. You'll find details about the instructor as well as the affiliated businesses (for example, the bakery they work at) on the experience page, along with what you can expect from the class and how you should prepare.
When the time comes for your class, you'll need to use your laptop or desktop computer (no phones or tablets) and make sure you've got a strong internet connection. Amazon Explore has a built-in connection checker that'll alert you to any connectivity problems. You can cancel your class up to 24 hours before your session with no penalty, but if you cancel within 24 hours you may be subject to a charge.
The fine print
Regardless of whether you select a $10 class or a $100 class, you’ll need to supply your own ingredients and tools. Each class page has an easy-to-follow list of ingredients and equipment, but you might want to pay particular attention to the tools needed when selecting your class so you don't end up needing to purchase a stand mixer just for this occasion.
We tried three Amazon Explore Food & Drink classes and here’s how it went
Tester: Valerie Li Stack, Senior Staff Writer, Kitchen & Cooking
Class: Turn over a new snack: Learn to make savory Argentinian empanadas from Buenos Aires
As a frequent traveler, I really missed hopping on a plane to meet people from other parts of the world. This empanada class caught my attention because I wanted to learn how to make them from scratch. It was a great experience for me—not only did Aimé (my instructor) teach me the tricks about how to make them, but she also shared stories about regional variations of empanadas within Argentina.
I received a reminder email about my class the night before. I had no problem sourcing the ingredients as they were easy to find in any grocery store. My instructor Aimé was super patient, pausing at the end of each step, just to make sure that I was following along.
The class ended before my empanadas were ready to eat due to the required cook time, but I was able to complete the last step on my own thanks to my instructors final tips. These empanadas were so tasty! Overall, I loved the experience as it allowed me to cook while chatting with someone across the globe.
Tester: Meghan Kavanaugh, Managing Editor
Class: Learn the Fundamentals of Cocktails with an LA Mixologist
Aside from hugging family and friends, I’ve missed restaurants most of all during the pandemic. Dining out and trying new cocktails while sitting at a long, crowded bar was my favorite form of entertainment, and one that has been hard to replicate as I stay confined to my apartment. I’ve been able to bridge the gap a bit on the food front, teaching myself to cook with the help of a meal kit and upgraded knives, but a quality cocktail had eluded me.
So I was eager to try this cocktail class with Quinn, an LA-based mixologist who offers to teach one of four cocktail recipes, one-on-one during a 40-minute class. I opted to learn about the Smooth Operator, a bitter and complex drink made of bourbon, Campari, cold brew coffee, grapefruit juice, and egg whites—most of which I already had in my home. But between the combination of those ingredients and my own subpar skills, I was skeptical.
Miraculously, I was proven wrong. Not only did Quinn walk me through the flavor profiles, he made the step-by-step process so fun and easy to follow that I was able to actually replicate the drink on his side of the screen with no stress—and it tasted delicious.
The only minor snafu was that I initially neglected to tip the cocktail shaker up enough to get all the egg white foam to top the drink, and I imagine it’s something Quinn would’ve been able to spot if he had been able to see me. The cameras only go one way, which I appreciated in terms of keeping the session casual (read: I was in pajamas), but I do think the option to turn mine on would’ve been helpful.
Otherwise, the technology itself was simple and intuitive to use. There’s a button to easily take screenshots, and Quinn could see my mouse moving on his screen if I had a question about one of the tools or ingredients.
The best part is that the end result was so delicious, I’ve easily made it (unassisted!) half a dozen different times since. All it takes is five minutes and I’m sipping from my fanciest coupe glasses and feeling, if not back to normal, at least a little more sophisticated—even if I’m still in pajamas.
Tester: Madison Trapkin, Kitchen & Cooking Editor
Class: Learn to make delicious French Macarons with The Lincoln Apartment Bakery
Macarons are magic, period. I've always wanted to know how to make my own, and have always been too intimidated (and lazy) to attempt this complicated process at home. Macarons are a great example of how scientific baking can be—these aren't your run-of-the-mill chocolate chip cookies.
I was delighted to see the option for this macaron class taught by Jess, owner of Montreal-based The Lincoln Apartment Bakery. Even if my macarons failed, I was excited to virtually return to Montreal, one of the last places my husband and I visited pre-pandemic.
The ingredient list was pretty straightforward, and I already owned all of the necessary equipment. I was surprised to find that I didn't get the actual recipe until after my class—Jess talked me through the steps during since I'd decided to bake in real time with her. And I'm so happy I did it this way! For something as technical as macarons, there were many moments where I wished I could show Jess what things looked like on my end, but I was able to make it work with verbal descriptions alone.
Jess was an amazing instructor and her recipe was surprisingly easy! She explained the science behind the signature shape of a macaron, and was able to help me troubleshoot especially tricky parts of the recipe. Her video was clear the entire time and I never had trouble hearing her or seeing what she was doing. I did, however, receive a few messages on my screen from Amazon Explore throughout the class alerting me to my weak Wi-Fi signal, but it didn't impact my experience.
Due to the resting period required for macarons before baking, I didn't get to pop mine in the oven and ice them until after class, but I felt prepared to do so on my own thanks to Jess and her helpful tips. My first ever macarons turned out picture-perfect, tasted delicious, and the whole process was relatively painless, to boot.
As I mentioned previously, Jess shared her recipe with me after the class via email as well as the in the Session Summary in the "Your Sessions" tab on Amazon Explore. (This is also where any screenshots you take during class are stored.) This class was really fun, educational, and delicious.
Are Amazon Explore classes worth it?
Whether you’re getting cabin fever or looking to level-up your home cooking and drinking, Amazon Explore could be a great option for you. We each enjoyed our respective classes, especially because of the awesome instructors and delicious end result. We wish two-way video was an option, and we think it would make sense for Amazon to automatically generate a shopping cart based on the items you'll need for the class so you don't need to remember to source things separately.
Amazon Explore seems like it could be a really fun virtual group activity and we hope it adds the option for private classes with multiple students in the future, as this could be really fun for team-building with coworkers or family activities with distant loved ones.
Wishes aside, we recommend all of the Amazon Explore classes we tried and have high hopes for other options currently offered.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.