Virtual cooking competitions, cookbook parties, and wine tastings are just the beginning.

By Stacey Ballis
Updated March 28, 2020
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One of the things we all love most about food (and drink) is that we gather together over it. Which means that while we all commit to social distancing to slow the spread of novel coronavirus, we dearly miss that part of our lives. (Because how many Netflix food shows can we binge watch alone? Okay, a lot, but still.)

But just as getting creative makes us all better cooks, it also makes us better social distancers. Which means it’s time to take advantage of incredible technology that allows us to gather virtually from our kitchens, dining rooms, or backyards to share common experience. Here are five creative and delicious ways to break bread with your loved ones, no matter where they are.

Start by getting everyone coordinated online

First, a note about technology. You’re going to need some devices, some Wifi, and a platform of choice that lets more than two people connect in real time face-to-face. You may already be hooked into Zoom or Google Hangouts from working from home, so go with what you know. If you’re new to the game, here are the four key players:

FaceTime: If everyone prefers to be on their iPhones/iPads, this is a great way to hook up a maximum of 32 devices.

Zoom: The basic plan (which is free) has a 40-minute limit per get together.

Skype: The sky(pe) is practically the limit here: you can hang out for up to 4 hours and up to 50 people can join.

Google Hangout: Participants can use a computer or a phone here but can only see 10 people at once.

Once you’ve got your tech sorted, it’s time to get people together for tasty diversions during these trying times. Here are 5 great ways to play with your food, together, while apart:

1. Play virtual "Chopped"

The judges of Food Network’s popular show, "Chopped", have been posting videos from their homes while they execute the Chopped challenge: putting together a meal in a fixed amount of time from a basket of mystery ingredients. Judge Alex Guarnaschelli recently posted an Instagram Story (@guarnaschelli) of her daughter’s pantry challenge: chicken livers, unripe tomatoes, breadcrumbs, and cashew queso. Other families have been making the local news by doing their own versions of the show while their children are home from school.

Of course you can run your own "Chopped" challenges with family members inside your house, but if you’re ready to connect with friends and family in other houses, get everyone coordinated and up to speed on your videoconferencing platform of choice, and make a date for a "Chopped" cook-off evening in real time. Get some coordinating ideas for set-up, here.

2. Launch a virtual culinary book or movie club

Virtual book clubs are popping up everywhere during these times of social distancing. The aptly named Quarantine Book Club hosts two author-driven events per weekday, while the Virtual Book Channel’s Literary Drinking Show just featured a conversation (and tequila cocktail recipes) with Costalegre author Courtney Maum. So why not start a culinary-themed one with your food-minded friends?

Here’s how easy it is. Hit up a group of friends with a quick text to see if they’re interested, get everyone coached up on your platform of choice, and set a date for a one-hour chat about the book. Think about picking a book folks may have already read to get going (isn’t time we all reread Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential anyway?), then pick a new book for 2-4 weeks from now. You can do the exact same thing as a movie club (and it will only take a few hours for everyone to watch or rewatch the film, so you can kick this off even faster). Here’s our list of the best food-lovers’ movies currently streaming.

Finally, check out these tips from TIME book editor Lucy Feldman for how to run a book club discussion, whether online or in your living room.

3. Have a virtual dinner and a movie date

Thanks to Netflix, we can still cozy in (virtually) on the sofa with a special someone and watch a favorite movie or binge-watch your favorite food shows together. Use Netflix Party, a brilliant new extension (you’ll need a computer and the Chrome browser) that will synchronize your video watching and has a group chat function. Which means between bites of whatever pantry-menu you’ve whipped up, you can virtually chat about the movie.

4. Hold a virtual cookbook club party

Before coronavirus, cookbook clubs were creative dinner parties where everyone had to pick a recipe from one cookbook and then bring that dish to the party. Take take the idea virtual by picking a classic or new cookbook that everyone has on their shelves and agree to all make a dish for enjoying at home on the same night. Then, hop online for dinner hour and have the meal together, allowing each participant to share notes on how the dish turned out and show everyone what it looked like IRL. You’ll share a meal in real time and end up with all kinds of ideas for the next recipe from that cookbook you might want to try.

5. Join a virtual wine tasting

Remember how fun it used to be to hook up with friends (and a designated driver, of course) for a lazy afternoon at a favorite (or several favorite) vineyard? While we wait for happier, non-distancing times to return, a bunch of creative wineries are popping up virtual wine tasting events, which you can hook into with like-minded pals. Here are three amazing options to check out:

Inman Family Wines: Make a date to hang out over a three-pack of Sonoma Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Rosé, or sparkling wines with winemaker Kathleen Inman at her new “Meet the Maker” happy hour tastings via Zoom (5% of proceeds benefit Meals on Wheels).

St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery: Join the Thursday afternoon tasting via Zoom at this Napa Valley winery with a six-pack they’ll ship to you in advance.

Parallel Napa Valley: How’s this for a special virtual get-together? Schedule a guided tasting ($95 per person, on Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime) with general manager Adrienne Capps. You’ll get the wines—their Russian River Valley Chardonnay, Napa Valley Cabernet, and Black Diamond Reserve Napa Cabernet—shipped to you in advance, along with food pairing notes and more.