Even if you don’t think you know Kelis, you know Kelis. Her song “Milkshake” brought all of us to the yard in the early aughts, and while she’s had an illustrious singing career, she’s now bringing a new kind of culinary inspiration into her work as a successful chef. 

We recently launched a new Skillshare Original with Kelis—The Creative Kitchen: Simple Sauces to Elevate Every Meal—so wanted to catch you up on why the famous singer is teaching a cooking class, what her impressive creative career has looked like, and why everyone should be inspired by how she’s followed her many passions. 

Kelis on the set of her new Skillshare cooking class. 
Kelis on the set of her new Skillshare cooking class. 

Kelis’ Early Life and Career

Kelis as a young girl. Photo c/o Kelis.
Kelis as a young girl. Photo c/o Kelis.

Kelis’ birthday is August 21, 1979 and she was born in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. Her mom, Eveliss Rogers, was a fashion designer and chef and her dad was a minister and jazz musician, so she grew up surrounded by plenty of creativity. 

Her artistic interests were always encouraged, and she fostered her musical talents at a young age, from singing in the choir at her father’s church to playing violin, piano, and saxophone at her private school. Feeling a calling to performing, Kelis finished out her primary school days at the famous LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. 

Being surrounded by other talented musicians gave her plenty of opportunity for creative growth. During her high school years she formed her first musical group and started to get the attention of folks in the industry, even singing backup on tracks for notable rappers and R&B artists.

But, she also experienced the harder parts of being a working creative. She left her parents’ house at 16 due to some disagreements, and worked at a bar and a clothing store to make ends meet. To say the least, it wasn’t her thing. “I didn’t want to work a 9-to-5 job,” she said in an Entertainment Weekly interview. “So I was like, ‘What can I do? Well, I guess I should do what I’ve been doing all my life and just get paid for it.”

Kelis’ Singing Career

Luckily for Kelis, she was already being courted as a rising star in the R&B industry. As she was finishing school, a friend introduced her to the production duo The Neptunes (comprised of none other than Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), and they helped her sign her first record deal pretty much straight out of high school. Her first album, Kaleidoscope, was written and produced by The Neptunes and released by Virgin Records in 1999. 

Kelis went on to create five more studio albums from 2001-2014—Wanderland, Tasty, Kelis Was Here, Flesh Tone, and Food—and collaborate with many more artists. Plenty of her music made it on the Billboard Hot 100, she earned numerous awards and nominations for her work, and she was able to travel the world as part of her concert tours (something that would certainly come to influence her culinary career later in life).

What are Kelis Songs?

Though Kelis’ “Milkshake” is undoubtedly her most well-known song, her musical style goes far beyond the famous pop song, incorporating influences ranging from R&B and rap to funk and disco. Perhaps the best way to get acquainted with her eclectic and varied style is to listen to her music!

Why Did Kelis Stop Singing?

Around 2006, Kelis found herself at a bit of a career impasse. Some drawn-out record label disputes left her unsigned and a bit worn out with the music industry. And, considering she had sort of fallen into this career, she found herself questioning what she really wanted to do. 

“Being signed so young, life just takes off really fast,” she explains in her Skillshare class. “I remember very distinctly I woke up one day and it was 10 years later, and I’d been signed for my entire adult life. I’d been on this really fast train for such a long time that I didn’t have a chance to stop and think” 

It was around this time she was inspired to explore her culinary interests, which ended up launching an entirely new side of her career (more on that in a minute). However, it’s worth noting that Kelis did not stop singing entirely, and has since released many albums and singles—with more to come. 

Kelis’ Chef Career

Kelis didn’t dream of becoming a chef her whole life, even though she was inspired by her mother’s cooking abilities and always had a love of food (which you can see in plenty of her album and song titles). 

But one day, when she was 27 years old and considering what else she could do with her life, she saw a commercial for a cooking class on TV and was struck by the idea. Immediately she looked up options in her area and before she knew it she was enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu full time. 

Like at the beginning of any new creative pursuit, Kelis was terrified—but also extremely excited about this new potential for her future. “I definitely realized, fear aside, that this was one of the best things I would ever do,” she said to Tastemakers.

At school, she decided to become a saucier, which is a chef that specifically prepares sauces for meals. “Especially for us in the [African] diaspora, we’re saucy people. There’s always some sauce,” she explained to Essence. “Everything is literally better smothered, dipped, or poured,” she added in her Skillshare class.

Kelis holds a copy of the Kelis cookbook, My Life on a Plate. Photo by Nikko LaMere.
Kelis holds a copy of the Kelis cookbook, My Life on a Plate. Photo by Nikko LaMere.

After graduating culinary school in 2008, she used her newfound cooking skills in a myriad of ways. In 2013, she debuted her own custom sauce line, which is now sold under the brand Bounty & Full. In 2014 she starred in a Cooking Channel show called Saucy and Sweet and hosted a food truck as part of SXSW while there promoting her album Food. In 2015, she released the Kelis cookbook, My Life on a Plate. 

Her food is inspired by her Chinese-Puerto Rican-African American descent and by the food Kelis was able to explore during her world tours. “When you eat my food, it is very much my personality,” she says in her Skillshare class. “It’s bold, really colorful, is extremely traveled, it’s spicy, lots of sauce, lots of fire. I think it’s actually way more my personality than anything else I can do.”

What is Kelis Doing Now?

Now Kelis is continuing to look for new ways to live her double creative life and blend these two pieces of herself. 

In 2020 she appeared on both the Netflix cooking show Cooked with Cannabis and the British version of The Masked Singer. She has an upcoming tour planned for her music and is also continuing to develop her food brand, expanding it to include spices, vinegars, oils, and more. She has teased a new single coming out called “Midnight Snack,” and—in case you missed it—also just released a Skillshare class on creating delicious sauces, her first major foray into teaching culinary skills.

Who’s to say what’s coming next for the multi-talented Kelis, but we can bet it’s going to be delicious.

Where to Find More Kelis

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The Creative Kitchen: Simple Sauces to Elevate Every Meal .