THE BEGINNING OF a new year can trigger many emotions; the pressure to change, learn or grow as a person can feel equally exciting, daunting or unrealistic. But growth and learning within a community can be infinitely more fun — just ask Kellie Phelan.
Phelan is the owner of The Works, a studio on First Hill described on the website as “part summer camp, part school, all awesome.” Phelan started The Works in April 2018, while she was taking a break from the corporate world and popping up in small businesses around the city teaching classes in subjects she felt she was an expert in: pickling, canning, making jam and knitting.
“I really thought the business at the time was about sharing these essential skills, and it very much was, but I realized pretty quickly into this journey that actually the business is about community and connection,” Phelan says.
In September 2018, The Works opened shop as a subtenant of Seattle Seed Company in a window-filled corner space, fully taking over the space in April 2019. Phelan now even has a subtenant of her own, a zero-waste grocery store called Scoop Marketplace. She has more than 40 partner teachers in her network in addition to staff, gathering almost daily with students at the massive wooden table with seats for 16, learning how to do everything from making jam and sauerkraut to creating a budget or blending a facial serum.
“We’re The Works; we do a little bit of everything,” she says. “It’s so much more now than my little urban gardening/canning/knitting skill set … We’re not a craft studio, we’re not a cooking school; we do a little bit of everything, and really the thread that runs through all of those classes is getting people together, gathering, learning something new and doing something hands-on.”
She says they have a 41% return rate, but consistently, one of the most popular class topics is fermented foods. It’s The Works, so that can mean anything from sauerkraut to kimchi to fermented hot sauce, or even a class on kraut-chi.
“Specifically within the fermented foods category, we have students who will come to sauerkraut who will come back to kimchi, which is really interesting to me because the technique is not that different, but I think it’s a way for them to do a deeper dive,” she says.
Phelan says January is the perfect time to learn how to make your own fermented foods.
“Heading into the New Year, we have this focus on diet and exercise, and the best you. To me, learning how to make your own and then consume your own fermented foods is one of the best things you can do for yourself from a health perspective. This is health through food without dieting.”
Afraid of words like “botulism,” or never had any experience with canning or creating a fermented food? This is what The Works thrives on.
“Sometimes you just need someone to take you by the hand and show you, ‘This is how you do it, and this is how you troubleshoot it — if this happens, then that’ — or, ‘Here’s what to look for, or here’s when you need to test the flavor of your kraut, and here’s how you would refrigerate it; here’s how you incorporate it into your diet.’ That’s a huge part of what we’re doing in classes.”
Classes are usually capped around 12 people, giving you room to maneuver while you salt your cabbage for sauerkraut or assemble your combination of hot peppers for fermented hot sauce. Classes last anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours, and you leave not only with a sense of accomplishment, but a jar of whatever you’ve made.
Plus, as Phelan says, the magic of the table usually means you’re leaving with a new friend.
“In today’s day and age, you can learn anything you want from a library book, YouTube or Reddit, or your next-door neighbor, but there’s really something magical about gathering around the table with people who are coming together around the same topic with an expert instructor who’s really going to take you by the hand and walk you through it,” she says. “It’s not just what you’re learning; it’s also about the connections that happen around the table when you’re learning.”
Make your own pepper jelly on Jan. 25, or try your hand at fermented hot sauce and pickled jalapeños on Feb. 1. Kraut-chi, a “crazy flavorful fusion where sauerkraut meets kimchi,” is scheduled for Feb. 29. A full list of classes with descriptions can be found at theworksseattle.com.