Chicago’s Chopping Block Gets People Cooking for Common Threads

By Common Threads | Aug 28, 2020

Earlier this month, Common Threads’ Chicago board and long time Common Threads supporting partner, The Chopping Block, co-hosted a live stream, interactive cooking class in support of Common Threads’ Back to School Campaign. Common Threads was able to raise nearly $1,300 from donations made at the event and the proceeds (half of the $30 ticket price).

The Chopping Block has partnered with Common Threads over the years in several culinary fundraising events like the Chicago board’s annual Cook-Off.

Chopping Block Owner and Chef, Shelley Young, shares “I have been honored to support Common Threads in some capacity since its inception. Our mission at The Chopping Block is to ‘get people cooking,’ and this relates so closely with Common Threads’ mission that I feel as though we are business cousins.”

At a time when people cannot meet in person due to the pandemic, virtual events help Common Threads raise money and generate visibility. A total of 50 hungry participants learned how to make Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Panzanella, a hearty play on the Italian salad.

“A traditional panzanella’s central ingredients include bread, tomatoes and basil. The version we are making today is more substantial, adding herb-marinated grilled chicken and grilled vegetables,” Chef Young explained.

Jared Scharen is a recent addition to the Common Threads Chicago board. As senior director of product marketing for FoodSmart, Jared is a passionate advocate for curbing the obesity trend by teaching kids what it means to eat healthy. He participated in the virtual cooking class with several friends and family and adds, “Hosting a virtual cooking class is more cost-effective for people to join, has no limits on the number of participants and you can plan your own event around it like having friends join you at home to cook and share the meal after.”

Another benefit of hosting a virtual cooking class is that people from different parts of the country can join in on the fun. Friends and foodies from Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, to name a few, attended the hour-long cooking workshop.

One of the participants outside of Chicago was Amanda Nuñez, a human resources program manager for Google and member of the Los Angeles board. Nuñez is a regular participant in cooking classes, having attended an in-person cooking class with her family before COVID-19, and a series of virtual classes this summer.

“I actually prefer the virtual cooking classes because I feel most comfortable in my own kitchen,” Nuñez said. “Also, I find that it’s easier to go back and recreate the recipes and techniques I learned as I am using tools I already have.”

Participants from Chicago had the option of purchasing the groceries from the class from Top Box Foods, who delivered ingredients to their homes so they could cook along with Chef Young. Both The Chopping Block and Top Box Foods also supported Common Threads’ COVID-19 relief program, Family Meal Initiative. The Chopping Block and other Chicago businesses created special chef-prepared meals for Chicago residents who had been impacted by the pandemic. The meals were delivered with grocery boxes from Top Box Foods, and in some weeks, meals were donated to hospitality employees who faced unemployment, health care workers from Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, and outpatients from Rush University Medical Center who faced food insecurity.

Chef Young shared tips and tricks of the trade like how to make croutons healthier by “adding olive oil after the bread is toasted so that it absorbs less oil than it would if added beforehand.”

Scharen, who cooked along with chef, learned a new skill. He says, “I never knew you could just put portobello mushrooms on the grill whole like that!”

Whether fundraising virtually or in person, Common Threads’ mission to provide children and families cooking and nutrition education to encourage healthy habits that contribute to wellness, is always the end goal.

“I am a big fan of the emphasis on healthy ingredients, easy cooking techniques and diverse foods highlighting cuisine from various cultures,” Nuñez said. “This was something I was able to connect with on a personal level as I have lived a very healthy lifestyle the last 10 years but I always wish I would have learned more about healthy and whole food options at a younger age.”

Together with The Chopping Block, the recent virtual cooking class helped spread the message Chef Young eloquently describes, “We understand that when people cook, they tend to eat healthier and when people are healthier, they have the ability to lead full lives. Who wouldn’t want to support that?”

Common Threads plans to host additional classes with The Chopping Block in the future. The Chopping Block offers several virtual programs each week, including an upcoming demo class on Thursday, Sept. 3 where participants can learn to make Sautéed Salmon with Kale-Walnut Pesto. Common Threads is the designated charity partner for this class, and participants can add a donation to the organization as part of their registration.

A special thank you for the continued support by our friends at The Chopping Block for helping us create this engaging fundraising event.