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Celebrating our Executive Chef

Dara
Posted by Dara on Apr 28, 2021

 

April is a special month at The Chopping Block because we celebrate our birthday (24 this year!) as well as our Executive Chef Lisa Counts’ work anniversary. With nearly 20 years in the culinary industry, Chef Lisa is celebrating six years at TCB, and it was just two years ago that she was promoted to executive chef. You name it, she can make it, and she can get you to cook it!

0001-02LISAPANOI remember my first interaction with Chef Lisa when I attended one of her first Knife Skills classes. The class had lots of energy from start to finish. Chef Lisa had this positive energy as she worked her way around the kitchen and her teaching was at the right pace. There was lots of fun and of course, lots of learning too.

I recently sat down with Chef Lisa to learn more about her culinary journey. We talked about what it is like to work at TCB along with her life outside of the kitchen. We chatted about music interests, gardening, and of course, she had to answer my self-care question.

How It Began

"Before joining The Chopping Block, I worked all over the city working in various restaurants. Usually, I would work at a restaurant for one to three years, gain the experience and leave. I was a workaholic and rarely took vacations. Then I took nearly a year off to think about what I wanted to do next in my career.

I knew some of the chefs who were working at TCB at the time, but still wasn’t sure if I wanted to apply for the chef instructor role because I had never taught a cooking class before. However, my husband convinced me to apply."

What was the interviewing process like?

"I had to do a demo as part of the interview process where I had to show my knife skills, how I could engage the class, and more in front of a panel including our Owner/Chef Shelley Young. All eyes were on me as I baked one of my favorite family recipes.

I remember after the demo, Shelley asked me if I was nervous and I told her of course, I was nervous. I even thought I was going to cut myself! She said no one could tell and from that moment I realized that this is something I can do and here I am."

Lisa Scoop

 

How it's Going

How do you keep that positive energy going even on long days?

"I just want my guests to have a great time. My goal is to give them a dinner and a show. I have a genuine passion for providing the best experience to our guests. It is important that I use sound bites so guests remember what they are learning, take that information and transfer those skills to their home kitchens. I have to make cooking resonate with people."

What changes have been challenging for you in the pandemic?

"Since the beginning of the pandemic, we've made changes to how we do things and now we offer virtual classes. I will be honest; I am not big on the technology. However, I have managed to get through the pain of it all, and now I am a master at the solo setup of my equipment for virtual classes. I love connecting with my loyal guests. So, it's been nice to see them support TCB, especially when we were closed for in-person classes. Now that we are slowly re-opening for in-person classes, I am excited about seeing some familiar and new faces."

Favorite Recipe 

"My favorite recipe is Eggplant Involtini. I have added this dish to the menu at every restaurant I have ever worked throughout my career, Also, its part of our curriculum library as a private event selection here at TCB. 

Since we are talking about faves, my favorite class to teach is Culinary Boot Camp because there is enough time to share more in-depth information. I have the opportunity to spend lots of time with my guests and connect with them."

Do you have new favorite kitchen tools?

"My favorites remain the same. The Le Creuset braiser pot, for one. I love our TCB essential tools list like the tongs, Microplane, bench scraper, etc. All are needed at some point in the kitchen and are easy to use."

What is your favorite spice?

"I have several, but I especially like black pepper and chili powder. Also, I love, love ginger. It is not only so good, but it has so many healthy properties. I think ginger is an underrated spice."

LisaCountsParty-903124-edited 

Outside of the Kitchen

Let’s talk about you being a music genius from the past.

"I like to keep busy, so I played a few instruments. I took band class since the sixth grade and played the saxophone, clarinet and the flute. For fun, I played the drums. At one point, I wanted to be a rock star! I was a drum player in a band. More like garage punk rock is what I was in to, but then I wanted to pursue my new passion which was culinary. I sold my drum set to pay for culinary school. My parents wanted me to attend traditional college, but my interest was cooking. Though I received scholarships including a soccer scholarship to traditional four-year colleges, I still made the choice to start my career in culinary.

The passion for music is still in me, but I don’t have much interest in playing an instrument; however, my husband and I attend concerts from time to time."

How did you meet your husband?

"I met my husband who is also a chef while working together at a restaurant. He worked the morning shift, and I worked the night shift. After crossing paths, we started hanging out. He taught me how to play poker. We dated for nearly a year before anyone knew. We kept it professional. Eleven years of marriage, and we are still cooking, and we have our bulldog babies, Diamond and Elsa to complete our family. Diamond is chill while Elsa is really smart with loads of energy. My dogs truly act like siblings: they love but dislike the other."  

Do you find quality time in the kitchen with your husband?

"Absolutely. When we were working together in the restaurant, not so much. However, now that we have somewhat of a work/life balance, we do find time to cook together. When we cook together, he loves taking care of the protein, and I love making the side dishes."

What do you do for self-care?

"I love gardening and going to the spa. Tranquil Waters Float is my favorite place to go when I have my me time. I truly feel re-energized leaving that place.

During the pandemic, my husband and I have done some landscaping around the house. I would say gardening is therapeutic for me. I am thinking about volunteering at Gardeneers, which is a non-profit organization committed to giving Chicago students access to healthy foods in food-insecure neighborhoods."

lisawineOn behalf of the TCB team, we would like to take a moment to express how much we appreciate Chef Lisa. She brings so much flavor to the team with her creativity, cooking style, dedication and support. We are thankful for her commitment to getting the country to cook and for being a member of our family.

If you haven't taken a virtual or in-person class with Chef Lisa yet, you have lots of upcoming opportunities! She's teaching Double Date Night: Hands-on Paris in the Spring this Friday, April 30 at 6:30pm at our Lincoln Square location. Learn to make:

  • Trout Almondine with Green Beans (Sautéed Trout with Toasted Almonds, Lemon and Chives)
  • Roasted New Potatoes with Truffle-Parsley Butter
  • Strawberry Financier (Strawberry-Almond Cake) with Chantilly Cream

She'll be on the patio for our first grilling class of the season next Wednesday, May 5 at 6pm for our Cinco de Mayo class Hands-on Fiesta on the Grill featuring:

  • Grilled Flank Steak Fajitas with Peppers, Onions, Smoked Tomatillo Salsa and Chipotle Guacamole
  • Grilled Corn Salad with Tomato, Lime and Queso Fresco
  • Grilled Pineapple with Ice Cream and Citrus Caramel Sauce

Lisa SushiAnd one of Lisa's favorite classes to teach is sushi. Join us this Saturday night for a virtual Sushi Workshop on Saturday, May 1 at 6pm CST. With her help, you'll become a master at:

  • Maki Rolls
  • Inside-out Maki Rolls
  • Spicy Tuna
  • Nigiri

See our class calendar

 

Topics: chefs, The Chopping Block, chef, lisa counts

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