Soup's on: A new arts and culinary center opens for classes next month in River Forest. Ashley Nelson, a former restaurant employee, and her mom, Kris, a former art teacher, created the concept for ages 5 to 18.J. GEIL/Photo Editor

A mother-daughter team setting up shop on Ashland Avenue in River Forest plans to open a center next month that will combine their two passions—art and food.

Kris Nelson had done a lot of supplemental art teaching in the western suburbs during her 23 years as a stay-at-home mom, and she continued to see a decline in arts programs in schools. Nelson, 45, had always thought she’d do something in the arts after her four children got older, and originally planned to open a “hole in the wall art school.”

So Nelson went to business school at Kendall College during the same time her daughter, Ashley, was working on a degree in hospitality administration at Boston University. Ashley, 23, was planning to open a restaurant, but reconsidered after she had worked in a few and didn’t really enjoy it. A big part of Ashley’s coursework was culinary training, though, and she spent some time as a teaching assistant in the kitchen.

The two thought they could broaden the art school idea into something that combined both of their strengths and they began to do market research. They discovered there were a lot of arts facilities in Chicagoland for toddlers and younger kids, but not many for older kids, Kris Nelson said. There were almost no culinary arts schools for the 5 to 18-year-old age group they were targeting.

In the spring of 2010, the Nelsons entered a business plan competition at Kendall College, and their plan for what would become Constructive Chaos was chosen as the winner. They got some scholarship money and help from marketing and finance professors and bought the property at 349 Ashland Ave. in November of that year. Demolition of the former property management company building on the site started in early 2011.

Kris and Ashley liked the location because it was surrounded by an artsy community. Since it’s near the city and suburbs, it will hopefully attract kids from both places.

When classes start March 6, each month will celebrate a different theme, Ashley Nelson said. In April, for example, students will be learning painting and drawing techniques used by French artists. In the kitchen that month, they’ll make French bread and croissants. They’ll also get a visit from a professional cheese maker one Saturday, who is part of a whole lineup of guest chefs and artists.

Kris Nelson called the classes a “sneaky way” for kids to learn about concepts and skills, like the science behind why bread rises, in a setting more fun than school.

Kids are “so used to rules,” and finding concrete answers in a set amount of time, Kris said. The center will provide more freedom for them to use the other side of their brains.

She’ll teach about 20 kids in each art class, and Ashley will teach about 12 in cooking. Ashley estimated the center would have room for about 60 kids at a time in art, cooking and summer camp.

The 2,400-square-foot space is made up of an open studio, a lounge with a snack window that connects to a kitchen, a private party room and an added-on teaching kitchen, Ashley said. A green house will be located in a side yard, where kids will learn to grow produce.

An open house will be held March 2 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the center. Parents interested in signing their kids up for one or a series of classes can do so at

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