Earlier this month when James Beard Foundation Award-winning chefs Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim reopened Wherewithall for this first time since 2020, there was a big change: neither chef was leading the kitchen. New chef du cuisine Tayler Ploshehanski is running the show in Avondale while Clark and Kim focus on raising their three children and preparing to reopen Parachute, their Michelin-starred restaurant.
Ploshehanski comes over from Elske in West Loop, but she and Kim go back to Kendall College where Ploshehanski was a student and Kim was a teacher in 2011. Kim says Ploshehanski impressed and she’s since kept an eye on her, watching as she moved through the ranks starting with a stint at Blackbird. Clark says his wife often spoke about Ploshehanski, making it feel as though he knew her. In fact, they didn’t met until November 2020 when Ploshehanski joined the team to help with the couple’s Community Canteen charitable efforts to provide meals to the needy.
Wherewithall’s prix-fixe menu format that debuted when the restaurant opened in 2019 isn’t changing. Clark says bringing Ploshehanski on board is just the next step — she develops the menus and Clark and Kim trust her to execute. A roasted pork collar with a sweet and sour-glazed radicchio has already impressed diners.
“I feel very grateful and honored,” says Ploshehanski, adding she’s thankful for Kim and Clark’s trust. It’s often difficult for established chefs to let go and to allow for new ideas; some chefs don’t take suggestions very kindly.
Kim is excited to give a woman a chance to lead a kitchen, quickly reciting that less than 7 percent of independent restaurants have a woman in charge. Kim says the pandemic gave restaurant workers a chance to reflect on their jobs and the environments, how there’s a need for real change within the industry. Kim has set up a non-profit, the Abundance Setting, to help women who want to have a family while working at restaurants. The grueling nature of the job is an obstacle as workers are taught that success only comes if they’re first one to show up and last one to leave to find success. “We just can’t go back,” Kim says, referring to pre-pandemic working conditions where toxic chefs and back-breaking work schedules were commonplace. Kim says it’s no wonder workers aren’t returning to their jobs given the stressful nature of the industry, adding how restaurants are short staffed and rolling back hours.
“The one saving grace is learning: we have to look back and see where can we do better,” Kim adds.
Clark relishes the chance to set an example for other couples in the industry who want to grow their families. The stress of raising young children and running two restaurants means they needed to find someone to trust. Enter Ploshehanski.
“It’s really nice to have someone to lean on,” Clark says.
Ploshehanski grew up in Hampshire, 60 miles west of the city. Teenage angst brought her to the big city and she says she respects Clark and Kim’s commitment to the community (a four-course dinner costs $85, which represents a strong value considering the caliber of chefs and sourcing of ingredients). Wherewithall is meant to give locals an elevated experience without the fine dining prices. Ploshehanski points out how the couple has kept their business alive, even utilizing Gold Belly to sell bing bread and fried chicken across the country.
“I think I wouldn’t work for someone I’m not inspired by,” Ploshehanski says.
There’s no update on Parachute except that Clark says the seven-year-old restaurant needed some renovations: “it just took a lot of abuse” through the years.
Parachute is part of a bigger picture. For Kim, it was important to establish a path toward “sustainability.” She’s seen stressed out colleagues leave the industry without having a chance to grow. She also notes how famous chef Rick Bayless has taken care of himself with yoga and other means. Seeing Bayless thrive while working alongside his daughter, Lanie, provides a goal to work toward. Kim also points to struggles with mental health within the restaurant industry. Bringing in Ploshehanski is a means to avoid burnout.
“Life is kind of short in that way,” she says. “... You have to look at your priorities. Every day is a gift.”