Most chefs are downright intellectual about cutting-edge ingredients, but it’s rare to find talented cooks who also can rock the accounting books. That’s why Shelley Young, who transformed her small, antique cookware shop and cooking school the Chopping Block into a Chicago institution, is like the Donald Trump of cooking. (Though, her pixieish haircut is more stylish than his bouffant comb-over.)
The formula of her success is part Cook’s Illustrated magazine, part Food Network and part uber-marketing. She knows what her customers want to buy — solid equipment and stellar ingredients — and how to walk them through the basics of getting started.
Q. What do you wish you could change/pickle about the Chicago restaurant/food scene?
A. Chicago has almost everything a food scene needs, but the one thing I wish we had more of is really good, healthy, inexpensive, quick-service food. Places where you can get fresh, great food in five minutes for $5.
Q. What would your last meal be?
A. Split pea soup, apple pie, homemade bread, to start.
Q. What Chicago chef would you be most willing to share a kitchen with?
A. Koren Grieveson at Avec. We did a cooking competition together and really had fun working alongside each other. I was really impressed with her no-nonsense, focused cooking style.
Q. What’s the can’t-miss class at the chopping block?
A. Definitely the Boot Camp series because it is the most thought-provoking and life-changing class we have ever offered. (Editor’s note: Boot Camp crams a basic culinary curriculum into five intense days, with lessons in knife skills, butchering, techniques for soups, sauces, vegetables, menu-planning and flavor dynamics.)
Q. What should we know about the Chopping Block that we probably don’t?
A. I never opened the Chopping Block to get out of restaurants and was actually working as a full-time chef and a full-time personal chef when I opened the first location. I really liked working in restaurants and never really realized I would have to give it up. I guess I was just being impulsive.
Check out one of Chopping Block’s two locations:
Merchandise Mart, Suite 107, Chicago (312) 644-6360
4747 N. Lincoln, Chicago (773) 472-6700