Chicago Athletic Association Hotel has hired Kaleena Bliss, 35, as executive chef, overseeing Cindy’s and the hotel banquet program for the storied property on Chicago’s Cultural Mile. Chef Bliss will join Sasha Suboc, chef de cuisine; Yami Mercado, pastry chef; and banquet chef Juan Hernandez on the majority female-led culinary leadership team at the former men’s club, starting March 1st, 2023.
Reopened as a boutique hotel in 2015, Chicago Athletic Association is one of the local’s favorite getaway spots for a staycation or a date night out. Set within the iconic 130-year-old Venetian Gothic Tower on the doorstep of Millennium Park, Chicago Athletic Association offers 17,000 square feet of iconic spaces that effortlessly meld past with present where restorers and designers married 19th-century glamour with contemporary sophistication at every corner to create some of Chicago’s finest rooms and event experiences.
Transformed from the former men’s club, CAA now pioneers Chicago’s culinary scene with a majority female-led culinary team, showcasing each member’s unique talent, aesthetics, and feminine beauty through an innovative food and beverage menu. Now, the team is ready to explore new possibilities with Chef Bliss joining as the new Executive Chef on March 1, 2023.
“I came to the Chicago Athletic Association for what was supposed to be a short residency in the fall and had what I’d describe as a once-in-a-lifetime feeling about the team,” said Chef Bliss. “The Chicago Athletic Association shares my belief in the importance of fostering mentorship in the kitchen, while celebrating and encouraging diverse backgrounds and positive change in our industry. In this, I see an opportunity to help cultivate and support these young chefs and cooks to become the leaders of the next generation. And I’m told I’ll fall for Chicago eventually, too…in the spring.”
Chef Bliss plans to translate her Pacific Northwest sensibilities through a Chicago lens. Her menu will highlight local wild produce, an array of spring vegetables and, of course, fresh seafood. Her cooking is inspired by her time outdoors, and her food focuses on balancing familiarity while implementing her unique twist.
Chef Bliss earned a degree in Culinary Arts Management from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in 2009. After stints in Portland, Oregon and Bainbridge Island, Washington, Chef Bliss served as chef de cuisine for Seattle’s Mistral Kitchen until 2016 before becoming executive sous chef at the iconic Edgewater Hotel in Seattle.
In 2019, Chef Bliss joined Thompson Seattle as executive chef, where she oversaw Conversation Kitchen and Bar and The Nest Rooftop Lounge. She became known for her commitment to locally sourced ingredients, an affinity for foraging, and her mission to connect people to the outdoors through food. She left the Thompson in fall 2022 to launch a series of pop-ups with local chefs, including Forage and Feast, where she highlighted wild foods of the Pacific Northwest.
In 2022, Chef Bliss won Food Network’s “Chopped: Casino Royale” tournament along with Food Network’s “Beachside Brawl” series. She was also selected to be a recipient of the ’40 under 40’ Award by The Puget Sound Business Journal for her work and outreach in her community.
A mental health advocate, Chef Bliss has been transparent about her struggles with anxiety and how they inspired her to pursue a forward-thinking perspective of promoting positive change and shifts within the kitchen and with her team. Therefore, if you’re looking for somewhere new and meaningful to dine this Women’s History Month, plan a trip to Cindy’s Rooftop at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.