When Kate Sonders-Solomon is in the office, there’s a certain magnetism and energy orbiting her that makes the room feels fuller, more active. It must be that energy that keeps the eyes and ears of tiny humans focused on her when she teaches them how to roll sushi, crimp pierogi, or form pretzels.
Kate, a longtime HudCo member, is a cooking instructor who creates casual, interactive cooking experiences—both virtually and IRL—for adults and children of all ages. Prior to teaching cooking classes, Kate worked as a cheesemaking apprentice at Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, and as a researcher on Molly O’Neill’s cookbook One Big Table. In addition to teaching cooking and developing culinary curricula for afterschool programs, Kate co-founded and produced Rivertown Public Market, an open-air food festival in Westchester.
This year, the community spoke up loud and clear about their love for Kate, voting her the Best of Westchester for Best After School Program. We’ve watched over the years as her business has flourished, pivoted, and come out stronger. We connected with this local celebrity to hear more about her experience as a solopreneur, mom, and self-proclaimed luddite.
Tell me about your first ever cooking class. How did it come about? What did you make? Who were you teaching?
When my son was in pre-k, his teacher, who knew I had a background in food, asked me to pop in around various holidays to do mini cooking classes—cornbread for Thanksgiving, latkes for Hanukkah, for example. The kids responded really well to my lessons and while it felt amazing, I never considered making a career of teaching. It just wasn’t on my radar, nor did I consider culinary instruction a skill I possessed! However, my son’s teacher kept nagging me with “I think you should do this for a living.”
My first children’s class series was the following fall at Curious-on-Hudson, and we made classics like dumplings and one-pot pasta. I’m so grateful that the owners of Curious were willing to give me a shot, because I never would have taken the leap without their support.
What was the first sign that teaching was taking off for you?
I realized things were going well when two friends from two totally different circles met for the first time, and they both recommended my classes to each other! It was the first time in my recollection that people were talking about my work.
So we had / are having a pandemic. Tell me how you made the pivot to virtual classes, what ends up being better about them, what’s still difficult, and what changes you’ve made along the way to adjust and grow.
I was terrified to go virtual, partially because of my status as a luddite, and partly because I had always been camera shy. I mustered up the courage, however, and went for it pretty early in our quarantine. My long-time students and my new students responded so well and people consistently signed up for my weekly classes. In spite of my initial fear and hesitation, teaching virtual classes became second nature. I loved the ease of set-up and clean-up, the fact that I could teach twice as many classes, and connect with people all over the country and world. It was also a great opportunity to expand my repertoire, and I became a much better cook.
It has been a bit challenging to pivot back to in-person classes, and I’m afraid of losing those connections I made over the pandemic. I know, sounds really strange, right? While a lot of the world felt a disconnect in the initial months of the pandemic, I felt incredibly connected to so many new people. I developed new relationships with new clients in far away places. I don’t want to lose that magic, despite my love of face-to-face interactions.
Your business just keeps growing. How do you reach new students / grow your business? What’s some of the most interesting clients you’ve had?
I rely a lot on social media to advertise: Facebook, Instagram. So many community pages welcome my weekly posts, thank goodness! Word of mouth has been great for me, and partnerships. Partnerships have helped expand my audience, and tested my abilities to grow and expand as a teacher and a cook.
I’m so fortunate to have covered a wide swath during the more intense moments of the pandemic. I have had clients from London, Newfoundland, Qatar…I worked with a family over the holidays: 10 people in 10 states! They were warm and friendly and really brought me into their world. When their matriarch began singing Christmas carols, I was moved to tears. It is such a privilege to work with and meet so many great families.
How does your work mix with motherhood these days? How do you take care of yourself (mentally and physically)?
I partly started my cooking business to work around my son’s school and activity schedule. I have one son and I don’t want to miss a thing, and my career has allowed me a really great work life balance. I admit I’m not the best at self-care, but I strive to exercise a handful of times per week, stretch my body each morning, drink lots of water and I’m obsessed with dry brushing. My son loves it, as well. I’m also a firm believer in a quiet half hour, each morning, to enjoy a hot beverage.
What’s your vision for your business and work now? What new ideas do you have up your sleeve?
My goal at this juncture is to grow my corporate clientele, while still running kids classes and holiday/summer camps. My weekly family virtual class is extremely important to me in terms of connecting to students far and wide. I have several wonderful partnerships in the works with other really skilled food and beverage folks, and a lot of local in-person adult classes on the books. Basically, I’m dipping my toes into a little bit of everything!
This week, register for Kate’s virtual kids class on mini puff pastry pear tarts with salted caramel, Wednesday, September 29, at 4pm.