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Alisha Elenz knows the exact moment she decided to become a chef. One night while working as a cashier at her uncle’s pizza place, the prep cook called in sick. Elenz jumped in, making sandwiches and tossing salads. She loved the intensity of the work, the multi-tasking involved and the immediate sense of accomplishment she got out of it. From then forward, she knew exactly the direction she wanted her life to take.
Once Elenz decided on a career as a professional chef, she headed to Roger Park’s bopNgrill, known for its unusual Asian-inspired burgers, where she had a variety of responsibilities, including working the hot line service and helping to make the restaurant’s signature kimchi. In December 2013, Elenz moved to Maude’s Liquor Bar. There, she took on the role of garde manger cook, where she got the opportunity to further her ingredient knowledge through the seasonal changes to the West Loop restaurant’s menu. In addition, Elenz was also responsible for preparing staff meals for 15-plus employees.
In 2014, Elenz followed the chef from Maude’s and went to work at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago hotel where she was line/prep cook. That role put her in charge of the prep list and gave her the opportunity to work for a much larger operation. It was while working at the Waldorf that Elenz found a culinary mentor in a fellow female chef. “She taught me how to find my voice in this industry and to show my strength through my work,” Elenz says. While Elenz appreciated the experience she received working at such a bustling hotel, it wasn’t the exact work environment she felt best suited her culinary style and personality.
That revelation led her to mfk. in May 2015, where she started first as a prep cook before moving on to full-time line cook and, as of December 2017, executive chef. “I appreciate that mfk. is small, relaxed and has a purpose,” says Elenz. Her responsibilities at the seafood-focused restaurant over the years have ranged from staff training and working service to food costing and inventory. Creating new dishes is also a big part of her role at the intimate Lakeview restaurant and one that she thoroughly enjoys. “The food changes every day at mfk. so it’s always a new challenge,” says Elenz. “I’ve gotten very lucky.”