I noticed that local chef Rob Davidson’s Facebook group The Socially Distant Cooking Class had hit 10,000 members over the weekend. When the Bulletin first reported on his group on March 25, the group was at just under 1000 members, so we felt that this milestone warranted a followup.
However, when I reached out for an interview, Davidson quickly informed me that the group had surpassed 20,000, doubling its membership in about a day and a half.
“Oh hell no,” Davidson responded when asked if he ever thought his page would reach such high numbers. “I was losing my brain at 1000. I was thinking it was going to be a couple hundred buddies.”
While writing this story the group nearly hit 21,000 so when asked if he would be surprised if the group manages to hit 50,000 or even 100,000 he said, “I’m just taking it one step at a time, I don’t know what to think anymore.”
One of the biggest appeals of the group, beyond the amazing food, is how positive the community is. Unlike many other online pages, there is zero toxicity and Davidson strives to keep it that way.
“There’s zero,” he said. “That’s getting as much attention from people as the recipes are. People are commenting what a safe place it is, what an awesome group of people it is. And to be honest, I don’t tolerate it, but the weird part is, I’ve only blocked one guy, out of 20,000 people I’ve only removed one guy.”
Davidson has Robyn Ostlund as his main administrator on the page as well as Danielle Eaton, and then a couple of moderators, one of whom was added on Sunday night. He essentially tries to add a moderator or administrator every 5000 new members.
“I just can’t go through all those posts every day,” he explained. “Between posts, comments and reactions, we’re at 270,000. There’s just not enough room in the day to do that.
He said he’s removed the odd post here and there, not because of people being rude, but just due to it being either irrelevant content or people trying to promote something.
“That’s not what it’s about. If anybody’s going to promote it, it’s going to be me and I’m going to promote myself, let’s be honest, I’m not monetizing this, I’m making zero money on this. I don’t want people to use this as a springboard to their own initiative or whatever.”
Davidson is in the process of lining up some sponsors to help offset some costs. So far he has Crestview Farms out of Creston providing his lamb and Rod Duggan of COBS Bread in Cranbrook providing him some dough. So even though the group has members from all over the globe, its foundation is still very much local.
“I want to support our local guys. Honestly there’s probably 4000 people out of that 20,000 that are East Kootenay, so why not support Crestview, why not support COBS?”
One of the initiatives Davidson does through the page is Takeout Tuesday, where he encourages everyone to order food to help support local businesses struggling due to COVID-19, by posting who they’re ordering from and sharing pictures of their meals.
“I’d look like a pretty decent hypocrite if I didn’t friggin support restaurants, I’m a chef! It’s not even the optics about it it’s just what I feel.”
He explained that one of the recent big spikes in membership came from this Friday with a sheet pan pancake recipe that a member posted. As he was approving new members to the group, he started looking at the locations and noticing big hits from places like Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois.
So I put it out on Friday and I went from maybe 35 people an hour to approve to 150, 160 an hour and originally I thought I got hacked.
“So I put it up on the page, saying ‘we’re just getting slammed from Ohio, how did you guys hear of this?’”
He was told that the the group came up as a suggested page for these Americans because of the sheet pan pancake recipe.
With such a huge increase in members from all corners of the planet, Davidson says he doesn’t feel any added pressure when doing his live stream cooking sessions.
“I just go on autopilot when I start cooking,” he explained. “I got some advice from a buddy of mine, he’s like ‘you do you.’ And that’s what I’m trying to keep doing is just doing me. I’m not getting outside of my wheelhouse I’m not trying different things, this is as much therapy for me as it is for everybody else.”
He added that the live streams have gotten way easier and a lot more fun than just a regular video, which is why he has been doing so many lately.
Davidson posts every Friday what the plans are for the upcoming week. Mondays are Meatless Monday and Davidson cooked up roasted cauliflower enchiladas. On Wednesday he’s doing Halifax-style donairs, so he did the meat prep on Monday and posted it so people can stay ahead and cook along with them if they so choose.
He said the project has been “absolutely humbling” and that “I never in my wildest dreams expected any of this.”
Finally, the Bulletin asked, when the coronavirus eventually fades to a distant memory, will the group fade into the ether or keep going?
“I’m okay with either,” Davidson said. “I’m okay with it melting away as a time and a place thing, or I’m okay to keep it going. I’m still working right now so time is kind of precious but I still want to keep it going. Obviously I’m not going to do a live stream every two days like I have been, I’ll go down to once a week or whatever but I still want to keep people interested in it.”