After eight years, Jackie Shen has had enough. “I want to be creative again,” an exasperated Shen told me last night, just before working the line during service at Red Light. A recent spate of 80-hour weeks has taken its toll on the Chicago veteran, and while she hinted at other issues within the restaurant, she says the decision to move on didn’t come easily. She’ll stay in place through the next month while the restaurant figures out which direction it wants to go.
“I’m not sure what I want to do, but I do want to travel,” said Shen, who has been making due with fewer staff over the past few months.
Shen earned her stripes in Chicago at her eponymous Lincoln Park restaurant on Lincoln Avenue, which was ahead of its time, fusing Asian ingredients and French technique. She learned the business of running a staff and a budget while at Lawry’s the Prime Rib, then was lured by Jerry Kleiner and Howard Davis to take the helm at Red Light eight years ago, after Michael Kornick departed. One thing that has always been a constant for Shen has been her signature dessert - the Chocolate Bag. A trick she taught herself after watching the late Julia Child demonstrate a similar technique, she creates a dark chocolate shell, resembling a mini-shopping bag, then fills it with fresh whipped cream and berries. Despite the pan-Asian menu at Red Light, it’s been a staple since she took over.
I, for one, will miss seeing her expediting orders and chatting amiably with her staff; always teaching and always pushing to be better. An advocate for more charity causes than one can count on two hands, she has been a tireless advocate for animal rights as well as local hunger relief. No word yet on where she’ll end up in the new year, but here’s wishing her success.