A Facebook page titled, “Quarantine Cook Off,” not only sets stomachs rumbling, but also builds friendships.
From Wantagh and Seaford to as far afield as Jupiter, Fla., and Kansas City, strangers are sharing what they’re cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a community of food lovers that has led to contests, friendships and potential potlucks (once it’s safer to hold them).
The cooking craze was started by Seaford father and son Vincent and Vincenzo Casha at the beginning of the pandemic, when there were many uncertainties about the future. Vincent was laid off from is construction job and there was a Covid-19 positive in the house.
“We were cooking nonstop and I was bored, because I’m used to being on the run,” Vincent said. “I said [to my son], ‘Why don’t we start a Facebook page, because we can’t be the only ones doing this.’ And that’s how we started it.”
What began as a Facebook group with about 500 members has grown to about 8,500. Some say the group has kept them sane at a time when many people are seeking personal connection as well as a fun and a productive way to pass the time.
“Honestly, I am so grateful to be a part of this group,” Seaford resident Jackie Jo said. “It certainly played a huge part in keeping my cooking mojo going during the most difficult times.”
Melissa Ann Alessi, a member from Wantagh, said that “Quarantine Cook Off” is her “all-time favorite Facebook group.” “There is zero drama,” she said. “I have met tons of new people, and some I can call my friends. I’ve tried so many new dishes that I’ve always wanted to try as well as new ones I didn’t know existed.”
Even small businesses, like Merrick Collision, got involved by donating gift cards to be used as prizes in cooking contests or raffles that the Cashas hold on an almost daily basis. Prizes also include having the winner’s dish displayed on the group’s cover photo, a knife set or cash.
Vincent often goes live on the page to introduce the next contest or host raffles, both of which usually have over 400 entries.
“Vincent welcomes all of us members into his home through choosing a raffle winner every day,” said group member Mary Van Voorhis Manzella, who is known for her blueberry torte. “This page is unlike no other … Vincent gave us all the incentive to show what we know how to cook.”
The group is like a huge family filled with talented people who are not professional chefs, Vincent said, adding, “It’s amazing the dishes they put up and the food they make.”
Asked to name his favorite recipe that he’s learned from the group, he named the French onion chicken [see box.] “It became a huge hit on the page,” Vincent said. “It really is delicious. Another one that came out is bread-making. A lot of people started making bread and learning different recipes. I ordered a bread heater and started making bread, just because I wanted to be involved and see what it’s about.”
Before he and his son created the group, Casha said, he dabbled in cooking. But because of the group, he has learned so much more about the craft. “You start learning and you talk to people, they tell you what spices to use, to put it in an air fryer or the oven, and just everyone was helping each other out,” he said.
While the end of the pandemic may be in sight, Casha said he doesn’t see the group ever coming to an end. In fact, he is hoping that the members can finally taste one another’s dishes in person.
“Our big goal is to get permits from a park when it’s ready and do a potluck, finally see each other face to face and hang out at the park for a couple hours,” he said. “That’s the goal of the group right now.”