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  • The Chopping Blog

Mart Memories

Kate A
Posted by Kate A on Apr 27, 2022


It all started seven years ago at a bar. That’s how all good stories start, right? I had just finished a softball game, and I started chatting with one of my teammates, Gina. Somehow (not surprising at all, if you know me) we got on the topic of being foodies, and she told me that her job was to plan events for a cooking school called The Chopping Block. Turns out, I’d been to The Chopping Block just a few months earlier when I purchased my then-boyfriend-now-husband a gift card for a Steakhouse DIY class for Valentine’s Day. We’d had a great time, especially because our partners hadn’t shown up, and we had lots of leftovers to enjoy! Gina mentioned that The Chopping Block was looking for a General Manager, and I was interested immediately. To this day, I’m so thankful to Gina for connecting me to The Chopping Block. Working together gave us the opportunity to become coworkers and friends.

After several interviews, I found myself sitting in front of Shelley Young, the owner of The Chopping Block. I was already impressed that the owner of the company was taking the time to interview me. I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember being struck by Shelley saying “I want this to be the best place you ever work, and I want your help in making this the best place to work for the people you manage”. No one had ever said that to me before. I was all in!

Kate and ShelleyShelley at my wedding

My first day at the Merchandise Mart was September 28, 2015. Not only was it my first day, but it was also my first time ever taking the “L” to work so I made sure to arrive plenty early. I think I did two full laps around the Mart before finding the store, so I’d gotten in all my steps for the day. I quickly learned that the best way for me to get to know the ins and outs of what we do, and to better know our chefs and class assistants would be to take classes with them, so I was taking a class every week for quite a while! I quickly realized that someone should have warned me that The Chopping Block has its own version of the Freshman 15, and I’d have to slow down on the addictively delicious truffle salt popcorn if I wanted to fit in my same pants.

kate and kimMy friend Kim and I learn how to cook lobsters

I was a good cook (thanks to my mom, grandmothers, and The Hotel School at Cornell) but I really became a great cook by taking classes here. The Chopping Block diversified my repertoire and made me confident in not even needing a recipe to make delicious tasting food. I’ve never officially counted, but I’d venture to guess to that I’ve taken at least 75 classes in the past seven years! I’m always asked by guests for my favorites, and it’s just so hard to choose but some of the most memorable classes have been with my mom. I thought I’d convince her to visit me and take our week-long Culinary Boot Camp, and I figured that the best way to do that would be to ease her in with a day-long Boot Camp... Chocolate Bootcamp to be exact. I thought I could order a bottle of Prosecco, have her eat every iteration of chocolate possible, and that she’d be ready to sign up. After the six-hour class, I excitedly asked her if she was ready for Culinary Boot Camp (which is five, 8-hour days), but she was ready for a nap instead!

kate and momMe and my mom at a cooking class

I also remember that I when I first started, I was amazed at how many people we could get in our space at once in the Mart. We were doing events of well over a hundred people pre-pandemic! Once I had gotten the hang of things, I decided to shake things up and suggested we try some full-venue classes. That’s how Passport to Paris, Mardi Gras Madness, Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, Holiday Cookie Exchanges, and New Year’s Eve Extravaganza were born. These classes were fun for our guests, but also fun for our team who don’t often get to work together all at the same time!

kate passport to parisGetting ready for Passport to Paris

We had live music and guests would explore the space tasting food in each kitchen. I’ll never forget for Passport to Paris flipping crepes on our retail floor, and the victorious fist pump of joy when I nailed it, and learning that my boss, Liz, was an expert at florals. She took me to a wholesale flower shop and taught me how to arrange them!

kate flipping crepesFlipping crepes at Passport to Paris

passport to parisI’m grateful for the fun we had, the delicious food we served, the guests that joined us, and that everyone went along with my crazy ideas along the way! (Trust me, I’ve had plenty of ideas that didn’t work, too!)

crawfish boilCrawfish boil at Mardi Gras Madness

mardi gras kateAll decked out for Mardi Gras Madness

The last memory that I must share involves the summer we were selling fruit-shaped pool floats. My boss, Liz Songer, asked me to have them blown up and hung in the store window. I said it would be done by the end of the day. Then I asked where the pump was. “What pump?” And so, I blew up gigantic pool shaped floats by mouth, I laughed a whole lot, and survived to tell the tale.

kate float

blair float

The dreaded pool float inflation and one of the finished products

When we close the Mart doors at the end of the week on Saturday, April 30, I’ll leave with so many fond memories of the best job I’ve ever had. I’ve made so many friends along the way. Help us say goodbye with an epic party including chef demos, food samples, wine tastings, free Le Creuset cookbooks while supplies last and up to 75% off retail products. Help us give the Mart a fond farewell! 

MM_Closure_Celebration-1We have the best employees and the best customers, and I can’t wait to see you all soon at Lincoln Square! Join us for:

See our class calendar

Topics: chicago, Mardi Gras, Merchandise Mart, anniversary, passport to paris

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