Meet the TODAY food stylists uniting people with virtual cooking classes

Watch famous chefs and foodies share recipes and tips on "The Quarantine Collective," a hub for virtual cooking demos.
Food stylists Katie Stilo and Anthony Contrino are bringing food lovers from all over the world together with their latest project, "The Quarantine Collective."
Food stylists Katie Stilo and Anthony Contrino are bringing food lovers from all over the world together with their latest project, "The Quarantine Collective."Courtesy Katie Stilo

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/ Source: TODAY
By Erica Chayes Wida

As millions around the world face varying levels of isolation in their homes, two food stylists who work for TODAY have found an incredible way to bring people together.

Last week, Anthony Contrino, host and star of TODAY Food's original series "Saucy," and Katie Stilo, a TODAY show food stylist, launched an Instagram account called The Quarantine Collective. It serves as a hub for chefs, home cooks, sommeliers and any culinary professionals hungry for a creative outlet to share recipes and tips with followers.

Curious foodies can directly message the account, Contrino or Stilo to request recipes, share ideas and ask questions.

"I knew pretty early on that I was not going to have work for a while, but I always want to share content for my followers," Contrino, a professional chef who also freelances as a culinary producer, told TODAY Food. "I knew that others were looking to do the same."

And he was right.

As the coronavirus pandemic led to rapidly enforced regulations around the country, many of the 80 million Americans told to stay home have been sharing what they're doing, particularly in the kitchen.

Since mid-March, food stars like Ina Garten, Padma Lakshmi and Anthony Porowski have all shared quarantine-friendly dishes on their Instagram accounts, while Joanna Gaines is dishing out her family's favorite recipes in fun videos.

"I got thinking, if everyone's going to be doing this individually, why not connect them to create a roster, calendar and schedule, share it across larger platform (and) introduce people to others?" Contrino said.

Stilo and Contrino sourced help from friends in the culinary world, including regular TODAY guests like Jet Tila and The Grill Dads, and asked if they'd film themselves preparing delicious dishes. Within a few days, they'd curated a schedule with more than 30 people to demonstrate how to make everything from drinks, to desserts and delicious dinners. No frills, no special lighting, just great food cooked in home kitchens and even better company.

For Stilo, being away from her TODAY family has been a difficult adjustment.

"I love my coworkers and really love my job," she said. "This has been a welcome distraction to keep me feeling in touch with my coworkers, friends and family. (I'm) not spiraling into boredom or stress. I'm sharing my talents with people who need it right now."

"It gives people something to look forward to — they're not just aimlessly scrolling," she added.

To get involved with what Stilo and Contrino are cooking up, folks can follow @the_quarantine_collective on Instagram. To view the cooking show schedule for upcoming days, click on "The Line-Up" in the account's story highlights. There, Stilo and Contrino post the contributor's accounts (contributors post the demos on their own Instagram profiles), what they're cooking and what time they'll post the live video or story (most stories will publish between noon and 7 p.m., and are available for 24 hours unless they're saved permanently into the contributor's story highlights).

A photo of every dish demonstrated along with the recipe will be posted on the account's feed so folks can just enjoy the show.

"I think the quarantine collective is a great thing," Jet Tila told TODAY by email. "Millions of folks are sheltering in place stressed with the everyday anxieties of our new realities. Most are also cooking more to feed themselves and their families.

"The collective will give folks a fun way to spend time with their favorite chefs and learning some cooking tips. I’m going to do live interactive classes so I viewers can ask questions real time."

In the coming weeks, when people may have a harder time finding certain ingredients, Tila will offer ideas for simple soups, hummus, other dips and healthy grain bowls. Other at-home hosts cover topics ranging from "How to elevate 7 meals with just one $1 pantry item" to easy dinners made from staples like pasta.

If you're a food lover with something to offer the collective, don't be shy. Contrino said viewers with a recipe they'd love to share can direct message him, Stilo or the account.

Contrino hopes this project will create "a sense of calm, unity and community" among everyone who watches and participates.

"We truly are in this together," he said. "Food has always connected people — this is nothing new for me. When all is said and done, I hope this community lives and continues to grow, to inspire and be a resource for anyone that loves food."