Chef Jackie Shen
Some are born to take, others are born to give. Jackie Shen uses her amazing vitality and energy to keep on giving to Chicago. She was among the first breed of new chefs to introduce diners to food that could look as good as it tastes. Aside from her creativity in the kitchen, Jackie extends her specialty to those hungry and in need here in Chicago.
Since arriving in the United States at the age of 17 from her native Hong Kong, Jackie Shen knows only one attitude- "can do." After graduating from the University of Houston, Hilton Hotel School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, her first proprietary venture was owning "Uncle Pete's," a hot dog stand/ snack shop where she ran the show - short order cook, waitress and dishwasher. Although Shen made money, her creativity had little outlet; so she apprenticed herself to star Chef Jean Banchet, and proved a quick study. From 1982-1995, she realized her dream of running her own elegant restaurant, "Jackie's" in Lincoln Park. She became accustomed to rising in the early hours and working incredibly long stretches of time without complaint. Currently she is executive Chef of Red Light Restaurant, a KDK Management venture in the West Loop area of Chicago.
Quietly going her way, Shen has quite often been in the limelight, receiving recognition from both peers and public for her professional and charitable accomplishments. Among her honors are inclusion in the Crain's Chicago business list of "40 under 40", the 1994 Bread and Roses Individual Advocacy Award and DiRoNa award. She was inducted into the Nation's Restaurant News Hall of Fame in 1989, and was the only Chicago chef included in the book, Cooking With The New American Chefs. Jackie was one of the chefs featured in the PBS series, Great Chefs of Chicago, and has been seen on a variety of TV shows along with being featured in the Washington Post.
Anyone familiar with the restaurant field knows the amount of hours demanded, but somehow Jackie Shen always finds time to give back to the community that has given her so much opportunity. Among her many philanthropic activities are the following:
- Organized the Chicago "Taste of the Nation' for Share Our Strength, the largest nationwide restaurant fund to benefit the country's hungry and homeless. During her chairmanship from 1989-1993, over $350.000 was raised.
- Created the Fall Feast of the Golden Harvest Family Festival, supporting Quigley Preparatory Seminary.
- Persuaded seven chefs to join her in preparing the 100th and 101st anniversary lunches for La Rabidia Children's Hospital. (Raised $240,000)
- Supported the work of the Rainbow House, a shelter for women and children facing domestic violence, by working with seven female chefs over the past seven years. (Raised $300,000)
- Organizing with 20 chefs, the Governor's Office and the Chicago City Treasure's office the Downstate Illinois Food Relief fund in 1993 (raising over $100,000 for flood victims).
- Organized more than 50 chefs to participate in "Chicago chefs United for Disaster Relief," an event that raised more than $125,000 for the Chicago Remembers and the Windows of Hope funds.
- Supported Esperanza Community Colridge program and helped raise over $200,000 for the nutrition program.
Jackie Shen seldom says, "no" when she hears of a need. She helps out at the Esparanza Community Service for mentally retarded children and adults, and she always has a project or two under way. She is currently working with the University of Chicago Professor, Paul Sereno, to build an atrium to house dinosaurs.
Chicago, a city of immigrants, a city of hard workers and a caring community, was the right place for that shy girl who arrived from Hong Kong to make her way in the land of her dreams. As much as has been given to her, as much as she earned, so many times over has she given back. If you look at the life of Jackie Shen, you will see the best of Chicago reflected in her inspiring story. Because of her, life is better for the least among us, and because of her, no one can say that Chicago is not a place where you can aim high and hit the target.