Jenni Field is preparing to teach a cooking class, just as she has done many times before. Known to thousands of social media fans as @PastryChfOnline, the Garner blogger has checked her notes and made sure her mise en place is in place. As she neatly wraps her short auburn hair in a bandana, she takes a deep breath to calm her nerves.
"I always feel like I'm going to vomit before I press the button," she says, taking a quick glance at the small digital cameras and microphones that will relay her voice and video to a waiting group on the Google+ service Hangouts on Air (HoA). Some of their eager faces appear in a row of tiny blocks under the main screen, giving this cutting-edge communications tool the oddly comforting appearance of a Brady Bunch rerun.
"The format creates a real sense of community, and it's growing all the time," says Field, noting she watched President Obama deliver a Valentine's Day HoA message. "There was one from the international space station designed to engage schoolchildren. It could be used to teach surgical procedures. I mean, seriously, how cool is that?"
Field is an innovator in the rapidly expanding new media world of interactive, DIY cooking shows that are broadcast live and can be downloaded on demand. In fact, she was the first in an international group of proactive culinary bloggers recruited by Google+ in December to produce programming to introduce more viewers—and more potential show hosts—to the simple-to-use platform.
"I just up and did it two days after I was asked," she says of her class that featured real time, step-by-step instruction on how to make profiteroles. "I thought, if I don't get into this now, take this dive, I'll just sit on the dock and watch everyone else swim past me."
Field has presented dozens of online how-to's since then and will step out of her kitchen for her first off-site HoA. The class on stovetop puddings will stream live from North Raleigh's Savory Spice Shop, which has invested in gear for this and future programs.
The event's $15 fee, which benefits the Raleigh Rescue Mission, includes tastings of Field's decadent Intense Vanilla and Orange Mocha Spice puddings, recipes for each and a sample of Baker's Brew Coffee Spice. But anyone with a computer or smartphone and a Google+ ID can watch it for free.
"Google wants to drive more people to use their product, but it's good for me, too," Field says. "It helps me to broaden my reach and have an immediate connection with my readers. Once we get started, it feels like I'm in the kitchen with friends."
Despite her pre-show jitters, Field appears very much at home in her HoA presentations, which can be accessed live on her Google+ site or viewed later on her YouTube archive. She doesn't get rattled if something doesn't work perfectly or she has to pause to scoop up and shoo away one of her curious cats. She also sweetly thanks her tester and dishwasher extraordinaire, husband Jeff Riehm—who Twitter followers know as The Beloved.
Field says anyone with a laptop that has a built-in webcam can create HoA content, but the quality may be iffy. She invested about $150 in two small digital cameras and a clip-on wireless microphone to improve audio clarity and give her the option to show close-ups of what she's demonstrating. She already owned tripods and hauls in extra lamps from around the house to brighten her well-lit kitchen.
"I've also learned to wear solid colors and not gesture too much," she says with a laugh. "It's nice that you can go back and edit in titles or do other little tricks to make it easier to follow."
HoA broadcasts typically include an invited moderator who monitors participant comments and shares questions at appropriate breaks in action. David Leite of the popular e-newsletter Leite's Culinaria has served in this role for Field.
"That's one of the amazing things about all this. It doesn't matter that he has a cookbook and all these things, and I'm just me," Field says. "You get to collaborate with culinary superstars who treat you like equals. Whether you're a huge name in food or a casual blogger, it makes it easy to meet folks who you wouldn't have met anywhere else because we're all trying to learn this technology and help each other out."
While there is no limit to the number of people who may view the HoA stream, Field carefully screens the participants who will appear in the "peanut gallery" photos throughout the live presentation. "It's a great way to connect with new people," she says, "but I don't want some drunk naked person to decide this is their moment."
Field encourages folks with a useful message to summon the courage to share it with an online community.
"Trust me: If it was really hard, I'd probably be the under the couch, crying and eating ice cream," she says. "It's worth the initial fear because it's fun and the feedback is great. I feel like Sally Field sometimes because they like me. They really like me."
Correction: David Leite's last name was misspelled.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Go ahead, try this at home."