We were first introduced to Kelis when she burst onto the scene with her debut single “Caught Out There,” a bold and no-nonsense anthem about confronting a cheating lover. The New York City native, with her hot pink curls and undeniable edge, immediately set herself apart from everything and everyone else in music. But when her record deal went off the rails, she found herself at an impasse.
Speaking exclusively with ESSENCE, Kelis describes the moment she became inspired to pivot from music to cooking.
“Everything sort of fell apart with the 2008 financial crisis. I got transferred over from Arista Records over to Jive Records without really having any control over what was going to happen,” she says. “I was fighting for so long to get off of that label. It took three or four years before I got the call from my lawyer to say that I was released. When I finally got the call, I remember thinking, ‘Oh God, now what?'”
Coincidentally, Kelis saw a commercial pop up on her TV for culinary school, which sparked the idea to apply. She was quickly accepted to the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary institute, and the kitchen has been her new favorite place ever since. After rolling out a slate of successful new food ventures, including her own cookbook My Life On A Plate and perpetually sold-out sauce line Bounty & Full, Kelis is now launching Tell Your Story Through Sauce: a new virtual cooking class that takes you on a journey through the fundamentals of making sauce.
Kelis told us that her passion for food pre-dates her love affair with music. She first learned her way around the kitchen by helping her mother, who owned a catering business. After becoming a professionally trained chef, she quickly realized her knack for making exquisite sauces and dips.
“Sauces can be daunting. People are accustomed to sauces in bottles,” says Kelis. “Especially for us in the [African] diaspora, we’re saucy people. There’s always some sauce. The reality is most cultures stick to the main food groups. You’ve got your poultry, your beef, your fish, your vegetables, grains, etc. That’s the same. What I realized was as similar as we are, the thing that was defining were where the flavor really popped out at you and tells you kind of like where you’re at is the sauce.”
Kelis, who is of Black, Chinese and Puerto Rican descent, draws on her multiracial background as inspiration for her sauce-making techniques that she’ll be teaching in this class. “It’s not as broad as saying, ‘let me teach you how to cook,'” she explains. “Let’s start with what we know and who we are. Why do we do these things? We can both buy the exact same black dress, but how we accessorize it is going to define how we’re different. I think that’s what sauce is on a plate.”
Through her Tell Your Story Through Sauce classes, Kelis is not only helping home cooks to be more experimental with their cuisine. She’s also hoping moms whose children are picky eaters will find some options for spicing things up for dinnertime. It’s a philosophy she practices at home with her own three children.
“The concept of like a kid’s menu is very American,” she says, drawing on her experiences of traveling around the world. “Even before my oldest child was born, I was like, “huh?” Because I didn’t grow up like that. My mom was like, ‘Look, this is what I made. Either you’re hungry or you’re not.’ I have such a love of my heritage and my culture because it was presented to me early on, and my kids are the same way. My five-year-old is just as aware of food as my 11-year-old is because that’s what we eat. Even with my [infant daughter], I make all of her baby food, and I’m like, ‘Okay, well, we’re going to mash up some avocado. We’re going to do some sticky rice and mango with carrots.’ Whatever we’re eating for the week, she’s getting a cleaner version of that.”
Kelis’s cooking classes are available today on Skillshare and can be accessed here.