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The Chicago Athletic Association hotel has announced the hiring of Kaleena Bliss, 35, as executive chef, overseeing Cindy’s and the hotel banquet program for the property on Chicago’s Cultural Mile. Chef Bliss joins 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, which reopened as a boutique hotel in 2015.

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Chef Bliss is relocating to Chicago from Seattle and will officially join the Chicago Athletic Association 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, 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 fresh seafood. Her cooking is inspired by her time outdoors, and her food focuses on balancing familiarity while implementing her 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 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 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. That’s inspired her to pursue a forward-thinking perspective of promoting positive change and shifts within the kitchen and with her team.


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