Union Market classes teach home cooks the ’59 essentials’

The Skillette pop-up is in Union Market’s La Cosecha building with a state-of-the-art kitchen and individual cooking stations.(Courtesy Skillette)

A D.C. entrepreneur who was inspired by Paris’ food culture has created a Union Market pop-up that aims to teach home cooks how to master their own kitchens.

Owner Kelly Singer said she developed a love for food and cooking while living in Paris. That admiration sparked the idea for Skillette.

The pop-up is in Union Market’s La Cosecha building with a state-of-the-art kitchen and individual cooking stations. Owner Kelly Singer has categorized the culinary world into what she calls the 59 cooking skills every home chef needs to know. The weekly 90-minute classes focus on those skills.

“The truth is that not having a skill set is what brings stress,” Singer said. “When you’re capable and confident in the kitchen, that’s when cooking becomes really fun.”

Skillette’s summer classes start on June 9. New students can try out a class for $50 before committing to a series. Registration is online. Instructors include professional chefs with culinary backgrounds at D.C.-area restaurants.

WTOP Business Reporter Jeff Clabaugh spoke with Singer about the ins and outs of her pop-up.

The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity. 

How did you decide what the 59 essential skills for home cooks are?

Kelly Singer: We’ve split the 59 skills into four quarters. Within each quarter, we offer two, six-week series that contain six-to-eight skill classes. The summer series includes knife skills, ice cream and sorbet, hollandaise, aioli and variations, handmade pasta and tomato sauces and tossed summer salads.

I spent the last two years attending cooking classes, researching professional cooking curriculums and online forums like Reddit, NYT Cooking, etc., and conducted 50+ customer interviews to understand what skills are most useful and desirable among home chefs. From an initial list of almost 300 culinary skills and with the help of some chef friends, I was able to boil that number down to 59 skills that would be the most relevant and have the most impact.

It looks like you’re wrapping up spring classes. Was this the first round of classes?

Kelly Singer: Yes, we’re just finishing up our spring series. It was a big experiment, to be honest. I’ve been working on the idea and curriculum for two years so it’s been interesting to see what works and what doesn’t in real life. I wasn’t sure if people would be interested in culinary school-style cooking classes, but so far the response has been positive and we are learning a lot on how to improve.

How many people have joined so far, and how many in a typical class?

Kelly Singer: This spring we just offered drop-in classes, but in the summer we will offer a membership where students can enroll for a six-week course or longer if they want to learn all 59 skills. We will have 12 students in each class and hold classes on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday in the summer. We will still offer drop-in classes, if there is space available in the class.

Tell me a bit more about your background? You spent some time in France. What is your corporate background?

Kelly Singer: My background is in sustainable operations. I worked and lived in Paris as a management consultant, working with Toyota Motor Company EU to coordinate efforts and support for The Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050. I loved the vibrant food culture of Paris and when we moved to the D.C. area in 2021, it was something I missed dearly. It became very clear to me that Americans lack fundamental cooking skills unless formally trained or fortunate enough to receive guidance from a caregiver. I’ve always loved entrepreneurship so I decided to start Skillette. Working with the Toyota Production System taught me to value quality above all else. I’ve tried to apply that to my company, from hiring the best instructors to our class equipment and ingredients.

How did you fund starting up the business? What’s your leasing relationship with Union Market?

Kelly Singer: Skillette is self-funded at the moment from my husband’s and my savings, along with some support from friends and family. I am incredibly grateful to Union Market for allowing us to pop up in La Cosecha in a very low-risk way. We pay a small percentage of sales from each class to use their facility. Starting a business, especially when you’ve poured all your savings, time and energy is already extremely risky, and arrangements like this are so helpful for entrepreneurs as it allows learning from customers and building some brand awareness before taking the next step of a lease or build out.

What is the build out of the space like? How many cooking stations, etc.?

Kelly Singer: The space is located inside La Cosecha and includes a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen. We have 12 cooking stations that feature Made In brand knives, stainless-steel cookware and induction cooktops. We provide aprons for students and all the ingredients they’ll need for class.

Is your goal to expand this business to other locations or other markets?

Kelly Singer: Yes! If this pop-up goes well, my goal is to open our own location in D.C. next year. I’d love to expand our culinary tracks with programs in baking, pastry, wine, kids and more. It would be a dream to see Skillette in other cities one day.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2024 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up