The Chopping Block Today Chicago Woman

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					              MARCH 2007
               FEBRUARY 2007
                                            SMART WOMEN.
                                              SMART READ.

       TODAY’ S
       WO M AN


       The Chopping Block’s Shelley Young


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                                                                        Shelley Young

                           An Innovative Entrepreneur Utilizes A Traditional Concept To Dish Up Success
                                                                       By Rachel Clayton | Photography by Jeremy Lawson
                     fter being in the kitchen all day you’d
                       think Shelley Young, founder and
                        owner of Chicago’s acclaimed The
                          Chopping Block cooking school
                           and retail store, would want to
                            come home and do anything but
                             cook. On the contrary, after
                              eight hours showing students
                                how to make everything from
       sushi to ceviche, Shelley, 40, would rather chop, dice
       and sauté than hit up a hot new restaurant. More
       impressive, Shelley claims she’s never made the same
       dish for dinner twice. (Except, she admits, for apple
       pie—her specialty.)
          Shelley opened the rst brightly colored, one-of-
       a-kind Chopping Block in Lincoln Park 10 years
       ago (and later relocated to the current Merchandise
       Mart address), and saw such a huge response that
       she opened a second location in Lincoln Square in
       2003. Since, Shelley’s seen a slew of copycat schools
       pop up in the suburbs and downtown. But none do
       more business than Shelley. Between the two wildly
       successful locations, the gourmet dynamo oversees
         ve classrooms, between 250 and 300 classes and
       events a month (the Mart location can seat up to
       100 people), two gourmet retail stores (where she
       hand-selects every product), and an active database
       of 30,000 students. Her soon-to-be re-launched Web
       site will offer online courses and merchandise—and
       she’s publishing a cookbook. It’s clear Shelley has
       quite, ahem, a lot on her plate.
          And she plans to keep coming back for seconds…

       Before we get to your career, tell us about your childhood.
       I grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on a small acreage until I
       was seven years old. I’m the youngest child of four, and
       my older siblings didn’t really want to play with me, so
       I pretty much grew up on that acreage by myself. It was
       in an era where I could just roam, and that really fostered
       my sense of imagination. Those are some of my fondest
       memories, it was just fantastic; and we spent lots of time
       together as a family.

       What was that like? We were pretty poor, so we basically
       grew everything that we ate. Then, we’d have to prepare
       it, and can it, and freeze it to have food for the wintertime.
       All the kids had to be an active part of the household. My
       mom needed me to help her in her chores, in the kitchen
       and cleaning the house from the time I was really little. And
       I enjoyed that. I liked feeling like a productive, important
       person when I was ve years old.

       Who was your greatest role model? Certainly my mom.
       There are two things about my mother I admire. Number
       one, she doesn’t worry a lot about things. She never worried
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     if I was going to get to school OK or if I was
     going to be warm enough. She was concerned,
     don’t get me wrong, and made sure I was taken
     care of—but she never worries about things that
     she can’t help. Sometimes people might think I’m             Balance is something
     on the callous side because I don’t worry either.
     But I just think not worrying is a great way to               that everybody talks
     live your life.
        The other thing is, my mom has an uncanny                 about nowadays and
     sense of knowing how to prioritize family, her
     home and her work—all the different facets of
                                                                 I think it’s a complete
     her life—much better than myself. I think I’ve
     gotten some of that, but I wish I could’ve gotten
                                                                  illusion. I don’t think
     a little bit more because I think I prioritize work       balance is possible, and
     a whole lot.
                                                                once you know it’s not
     Did she teach you how to cook? When I was
     young, I would watch my mother. I’d help her               possible, it really frees
     out, snap the beans or pit cherries, grease pans,
     or clean carrots, or things like that, but I didn’t                    your mind.”
     really get to cook. I wanted to, and kept saying,
     ‘Will you teach me how to cook, will you teach
     me how to cook?’ And they all just kept replying,
     ‘Grease the pan, clean the carrots!’
        So I remember one day, when I was 9 years
                                                            weren’t interested, so I negotiated the lease and      How do you balance it all? I don’t! I don’t try to
     old, I asked my sister if she could show me how
                                                            created The Chopping Block.                            balance it. Balance is something that everybody
     to make brownies. And she said, ‘Maybe later.’
                                                                                                                   talks about nowadays and I think it’s a complete
     And I thought, ‘Well forget it, I’m tired of this,
                                                            Did anyone ever doubt the idea would work?             illusion. I don’t think balance is possible, and
     I’m going to gure out how to do it.’ She’s like,
                                                            No…but I don’t think I ever asked anybody!             once you know it’s not possible, it really frees
     ‘You can’t do that, you don’t even know how to
                                                            [Laughs]                                               your mind. Instead, it’s about prioritizing—at
     measure anything.’ Well, of course that’s all it
                                                                                                                   periods of times I have to prioritize work, other
     took and I was in the kitchen making brownies
                                                            Were you surprised at your success? Yes! The           periods of times I have to prioritize my family or
     and thinking, ‘This is really simple.’ That was the
                                                            demand for classes took off right away, and I have     my health, or exercise. Your energy—how you
       rst thing I ever made on my own.
                                                            to say, I think that came from me personally. I have   feel about yourself—is what’s important. !
     How did it feel? I remember the amazing                an amazing group of instructors now, but at the
     satisfaction I got when people ate them. I liked       beginning, I taught all the classes, and I formed an   Shelley’s Stats
     the creative aspect of it, but more, I liked that it   amazing relationship with my customers. I think           Born
     made people happy. And that’s really what got          they saw the joy that I had for what I did, and I’ve      Fort Dodge, Iowa, 1967
     me cooking and in the kitchen—just making              always been very humble. I’m not there to show            Education
     people happy. That’s still what I love about it        you what a great cook I am, I’m trying to show            Culinary Arts degree from Des Moines Area Community College.
     today. Helping someone make something they             you that you can do this too.
                                                                                                                      Culinary idol
     otherwise couldn’t or showing them how to do                                                                     Julia Childs.
     it…people just seem to light up when they cook         How have you dealt with the increase in
                                                                                                                      Guilty pleasure
     or when they’re around food.                           competition? There’s a lot of competition that’s
                                                                                                                      Cheeseburgers. I try to have one at least once a week.
                                                            popped up in the suburbs, and de nitely some
     Did you always want to open a cooking school?          in the city too. But I guess, to me, that’s a great       Best kitchen tool
     It’s kind of an unconventional story; I never          form of attery, right? I encourage and love to            A ten-inch knife, because that’s really the foundation of cooking.
     had any sort of grand plan. Basically, I moved         see other schools because I can’t teach everyone          Favorite person to cook for
     to Chicago [after spending six years working in        to cook! Plus, competition keeps us on our toes;          My partner. She’s the most fun person to cook for because …she
     the San Diego restaurant business] to work as a        it gives me a challenge to always strive to be            likes everything! So I don’t have to hold back, I can do whatever I
     private chef. While I was interviewing, I took a       better in my offerings. We’re always ahead of the         want every night and she’ll love it.
     job at a restaurant to make a little extra money       pack in terms of giving people something new,             Surprising fact
     and meet people, and I ended up becoming head          something fresh. Night Skills is our most popular         I don’t really like to go out to eat. I enjoy restaurants but I would
     chef there. While I was working both full-time         class, but if all we did were Night Skills classes        always prefer to cook.
     jobs, I was trying to get my parents to open up        that would get really old really quickly.
     an antique store in Chicago because they had
                                                                                                                      Reading; painting and drawing; hiking and cycling.
     an antique business that wasn’t doing so well          So what’s next? Any thoughts on a third location?
     in my little town in Iowa. They weren’t at all         That’s a good question! We’re going to create             In my next life I’ll be
     interested, but I started looking at properties        a strategic plan for the future because I don’t           A rock star! Or a rock star/artist. Because I think if you’re a rock star
     in my spare time anyway and ended up nding             really have one right now. Then, we’ll work               you can do art and people will just buy it whether it’s good or not.
     the original location of The Chopping Block, on        on expanding the business without expanding               You can pretty much do rock star-slash-anything these days.
     Webster Avenue—I loved it. I thought, “What a          locations. Perhaps we’ll add locations later, but         Personal mantra
     great building, good foot traf c, good visibility,     the big thing right now is our cookbook and I’m           You don’t ask, you don’t get. I’m of the mindset that people want
     I’ve got to do something here.’ My parents still       also doing a complete revamp of the Web site.             to help you, all you have to do is ask. !
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