One of my favorite classes at The Chopping Block is our Sushi Workshop because I absolutely have loved sushi for as long as I can remember. In fifth grade, I brought sushi to school for lunch, and my fourth grade friend didn’t know what wasabi was and asked if it was avocado and if he could have it. I said yes. To my surprise, he put the whole green glob in his mouth. He hated me for about 5 minutes until I also tricked him into trying unagi and changed his life with its saucy appeal.
Fifth grade was a big year for me and sushi. Thanks to one of my middle school girl squadettes, it was also the first year I ever tried making sushi, emphasis on the trying part. It was New Year’s Eve, and her cool dad had some cool friends with a cool house and we were having the coolest sleepover weekend ever. Sushi making time for dinner one night came up right at a critical moment in a very intense game of Monopoly--so I gave it a go between a couple turns, but ultimately I gave it a pass because mama wanted to focus on collecting her two hundy. Regardless, I will always associate Emily Sher, service manager co-owner at Cellar Door Provisions, with one of my first, most memorable food adventures.
Coincidentally, serendipitously, whatever, the first time I ever went to CDP was about a year and a half ago for coffee with a friend for advice and mentorship on being restaurant leadership/management. At the time, I knew nothing about the cozy space made airy with big windows and earthy, minimalist decor, other than I’d heard buzz that was nothing but buzzing with accolades. I don’t think he could have picked a more suitable setting, intentional or not. Since we spent most of the time deep in conversation, we didn’t eat much--maybe a pastry or 2, I don’t remember--but I do remember the coffee and the service was great. I was so struck when I recognized shift lead Jennifer Sher, Emily's younger sister, running the room with chill but focused and intentional energy--which kind of describes the vibe of the whole place, e.g. ever-changing based on interest in and availability of ingredients, waste and community-conscious, vegetable-driven and incredibly inspired menu, handwritten on butcher paper at the ordering counter. I said hi and we exchanged pleasantries, and I wasn’t entirely convinced she remembered me or cared all that much, I mean it had been over a decade since we’d seen each other. But then a short bit later, much to my very pleasant surprise, Emily popped over and right down on to the seat next to me with such a striking energy of warmth and looked right at me and I felt like we were in fifth grade again.
It was exciting to run into someone from a completely different part of my life, but on the same-ish career path and absolutely killing it. And not just killing it, but doing so at a place that honestly I appreciate more for its integrity and ethics than the food because the food is a manifestation of the consciousness of the people behind it. I’m glad another culture conscious industry friend recommended CDP as a Crossroads Diner feature. Sure the bread and butter is insanely delicious, like, I didn’t know bread could be that good, but you know what makes it taste better? Knowing that stopping in for just that and a coffee I’d be contributing towards employee healthcare and local businesses besides them. Yeah ok, the steamed chicken liver dumplings were beautifully delicate and pinched into little meaty roses that I could eat a million of, but I love knowing that CDP invests back into their employees as best they can for all their hard work putting out such incredible food and hospitality. And alright the beet braised (?) sesame duck heart dish we had was outrageous, as are the many iterations of beet I’ve seen on the menu which goes with the flow of the local farming community.
One of my favorite things on the CDP website that really resonates with me as a hospitality professional, and a person that believes in the power of change, is this part of their events page in the description regarding Global Climate Strike Friday: “The workers of Cellar Door Provisions have by consensus unanimously decided to join the Global Climate Strike on Friday September 20... We are reaching out to local community organizations, like-minded independent businesses, Illinois Youth Climate Strike (one of the main organizers of the Chicago demonstration), and others to let them know that we are participating, to invite them to coordinate with us, to use our space in the morning for gathering, discussing, organizing, and art-making, and to urge anyone not already participating to join in whatever way they can and in whatever way that makes sense for their own organization. Please feel free to come by our art-making party between 8am and 10am Friday morning and to join us in expressing our shared sense of urgency around climate change by disrupting business as usual in whatever ways make sense to you and the people you live and work with.”
Do you, CDP. You’re doing great. Fifth grade me says she wants to be like you when she grows up. Another fun fact? Executive chef co-owner Ethan Pikas is an alumni chef instructor of The Chopping Block!