Despite walking, running, biking and driving down Washington Street hundreds of times, I never really paid much attention to a little storefront across from Perry Park until it got a total makeover. A new sign advertising Shiso Kitchen and a complete gut renovation has transformed 374 Washington St. from a dark, uninviting space into a bright, welcoming kitchen.
Jess Roy, the woman behind Shiso Kitchen, lives right around the corner and knew she wanted to keep her business giving cooking classes, working as a private chef and hosting special events in the neighborhood.
“I wanted to keep it local,” Roy said. “It’s a great foodie neighborhood that’s about to burst. It’s this perfect little bubble to get into.”
Roy came to Somerville by way of Dracut, where she grew up, and Salt Lake City, where she was a sponsored snowboarder and owned a sushi catering business. Roy didn’t attend culinary school, but got her kitchen training during Saturday cooking sessions with her mom, by working as a sushi apprentice and eventually teaching at Le Cordon Bleu in Cambridge.
When Roy moved back to the area two years ago, she knew she didn’t want to open a restaurant, but she wanted to stay in the industry. She found herself wondering, “How could I tailor my business to something for me?”
Eventually Roy settled on creating a space to give cooking classes, host private parties, do private chef work and more. “It incorporated all of my experiences thus far,” Roy said. And so Shiso Kitchen was born.
Knowing that intimidation is a big factor in why people don’t cook, Roy wanted to create a space that allowed her clients to relax and have fun. She had her work cut out for her, as the space she rented needed a total gut renovation.
“This place was a labor of love for me,” Roy said. “I wanted to create a space that was really inviting and welcoming for people.”
Roy had her hand in all aspects of Shiso Kitchen’s renovation, including making the mason jar light fixture and aprons her clients don during classes.
Open since January, Shiso Kitchen offers cooking classes from Wednesday through Saturday nearly every week. Attendees can learn how to cook Italian and French favorites like handmade pasta and coq au vin or master New England classics like clam chowder. Roy also shows off her sushi skills in a class that teaches everything from selecting ingredients to rolling techniques.
The ideas for Shiso’s classes come from “what inspires me, recipes, foods, travels that I’ve loved and techniques that people have a desire to learn,” Roy said. “Anything to make getting into the kitchen easier. I want to inspire them to get into the kitchen and cook.”
So far Shiso’s classes have drawn people from all over the Boston area, with many coming right from the surrounding neighborhood.
“It’s been well-received in this neighborhood,” Roy said. “People are excited that something is in here. People love to get out and explore their neighborhood.”
In addition to the regularly scheduled cooking classes, Shiso Kitchen is also available for private parties or events. Roy encourages people to gather family and friends for a relaxing night of cooking demonstrations or hands-on lessons. She finds that once people are in the kitchen together, they really begin to open up.
“The surprising thing for me has been how happy everyone is when they’re here,” Roy said. “And how happy I get to be when I lock the door at night. It’s a combination of luck and hark work, a perfect balance. I’m doing what I love and that comes across when I teach to create that magical experience when people are in here.”