When I think back on fond memories and experiences I’ve had with my friends and family the one common denominator that always seems to be involved is FOOD. Food is like the magical element you need to keep the conversation going, to enjoy a celebration, to comfort you in times of happiness and sadness, and hey how about just to LIVE! 🙂
This month Chi@Glance visits the food industry again to celebrate a business that has been a part of the culinary fabric of Chicago for a milestone 20 years! Chi@Glance April Spotlight feature highlights The Chopping Block and Owner Chef Shelley Young.
Service/Description: The Chopping Block is a recreational Cooking School, Private Event Venue, and Gourmet retail store offering Fine wine and craft spirits. The Chopping Block is Chicago’s largest recreational cooking school and gourmet retail store, offers guests a large slate of demonstration and hands-on classes, as well as wine classes, private cooking parties and corporate team building events. Classes at our two locations (Merchandise Mart and Lincoln Square) cover cooking skills and techniques as well as seasonal, ethnic, healthy, vegetarian and weeknight cooking. Our Culinary Boot Camp allows students to take cooking to the next level with an intensive week-long taste of professional culinary school-style instruction. The Chopping Block’s retail stores feature professional-quality cookware and kitchen tools, plus an array of gourmet and ethnic ingredients and hand-selected food-friendly wines.
I have been to several events and classes at The Chopping Block and I love that I leave with a new technique I can use in my own home. It was great being able to chat with Chef Shelley Young about her passion for cooking and of course future plans for The Chopping Block. Before starting The Chopping Block in 1997 Chef Young was a private Chef and a head Chef at a French Mediterranean restaurant.
Chef Shelley Young always had a passion for anthropology. Food happens to be a great way to bring people together. So Chef Young took her passion for anthropology and love for food and combined them into The Chopping Block. Since the opening of The Chopping Block to now she’s learned how to adapt with the ever changing needs of the students. One of the biggest differences is how social food has become. Before it was thought only serious cooks take cooking classes, but a lot of people are taking cooking classes as something to do that’s fun and entertaining. Lots of people are just looking to eat, drink, and learn something new.
As much as Chef Young loves the hands on classes she believes if you’re really serious about cooking you should lean more towards the demo classes. In the demo classes you really get to talk and engage with the chef. More of the classes on The Chopping Block calendar now are hands on, but she wants to do more hybrid classes in the future that would include a lecture, demonstration, and hands on.
The Chopping Block also plans to expand their professional classes. Currently they have a certification one week boot camp class and plan to create more. In the distant future they plan to delve into the online instruction arena, but that might be a little ways off.
Why is Chef Shelley Young of The Chopping Block a Chicagoan we should know?
“My mission in founding The Chopping Block is getting the country to cook. We’ve done that through our cooking classes, private events and retail store offerings for the past 20 years. I’ve had to adapt my business to meet the needs of our students over the years, so what we offer today is very different from what we offered 20 years ago. It’s very exciting to think about where we go from here.”
It was a pleasure interviewing Chef Young and the one thing I loved is her passion! The cooking doesn’t just stop at The Chopping Block. She loves to cook at home and if you know Chef Young when she entertains she never makes the same dish twice. Her favorite thing to do is to learn of people’s likes, dislikes, and dietary restrictions. She then takes that information to make a specific menu that ALL can enjoy. For example if someone needs gluten free and she makes a gluten free dish….no one can tell the difference.
I had a few specific questions I wanted to ask Shelley, but I hope this information helps you too.
Chi@Glance Interview with Chef Shelley Young of The Chopping Block
For those of us living in the city and trying to get back to the basics of cooking, what one appliance should we have in our homes?
Either a Vitamix or a Food Processor
What’s the easiest meal we can make for a party/entertaining in our home?
Beef Tenderloins- You just roast the whole thing. Don’t try to cook individual steaks. That can be very problematic.
Last Month we celebrated Woman’s History Month. What advice do you have for aspiring female Chef’s?
I suppose I would say “Do ALL the parts of the job.” Everyone is good at different things, but don’t scurry from parts of the job. Work the hours. Being a chef is a big sacrifice and you shouldn’t be leaving the job early if you want to be taken seriously. Carry the 50 pound pot of meat. Of Course, there are always exceptions for example if you’re pregnant, but that goes for everyone. If a co –worker hurt their leg of course, people would help him/her out. If there is nothing physically wrong with you though do the work.
What advice would you give for Chef’s in general?
Remember the front (waiters and waitresses) of the house is the most important. People will go back to a restaurant if they have an exceptionally happy experience. There served well, it was happy, they felt good – even if the food was just okay. They will not go back if the service was terrible even if the food is really good. Generally speaking, it’s the Chef job to make the front of the house happy.
I had a truly great time speaking to Chef Shelley Young and learning more about The Chopping Block and her passion for people and cooking. We wrapped up the interview with a short conversation on the restaurant industry. I wanted to share with my fellow foodies and restaurant goers something I found interesting. Being a chef or opening up a restaurant is not a lucrative business some may think it is. There’s a simple formula (not that simple to achieve) how money should be divided in order to have a successful restaurant.
- 30% – Food Costs
- 30% – Labor
- 30% – Overhead (Rent, etc…)
- 5% – Taxes
- 5% – Capital Improvements and Investments
Per $1.00 only 1 to 2 cents is profit! This is if you’ve got the “simple formula” down pack, but of course, food and labor usually cost more than 30%. With that said the next time you go to a restaurant and complain about the prices know that it takes a lot more money than you think to operate a restaurant and to provide quality food. If you want people to get paid a decently hourly rate and for the food to taste delicious we have to be willing to fork over a little more dough. Chefs generally aren’t in it for the money. It’s a passion that they are looking to share with us. Just think about how food has attributed to ALL the good times in your life. 🙂
Once again, CONGRATULATIONS Chef Shelley Young and The Chopping Block on 20 years and cheers to more years to come!
Chef Shelly Young is hosting an intimate chef’s dinner class at the Lincoln Square location. $250.00/Ticket
The Chopping Block Merchandise Mart location has a 20th Year anniversary celebration. Free cooking classes, All-Star Chef line up, wine/cocktail samples, retail discounts, games, giveaways, and much more!
FREE! NO RSVP is required