It’s not every day that Chicago Public Schools students find an entree made by a renowned chef in their cafeterias.
But on Tuesday, Chef Josephine “Mother” Wade, of Chatham’s iconic Josephine’s Southern Cooking restaurant, will be serving her famous chicken stew at Deneen Elementary in Greater Grand Crossing with CPS CEO Janice Jackson at her side.
Tuesday’s event marks the launch of CPS’ brand new Chicago Chef Council — a panel of celebrated chefs who will contribute their culinary passion and creativity toward developing the daily breakfasts, lunches and after-school meals served by CPS’ Nutrition Support Services. They will also promote the CPS Farm to School program and engaging students and staff through demonstrations, in-café sampling and take-home recipes.
In addition to Wade, the 12-member council includes stars like Beverly Kim, a 2019 James Beard Award winner and co-owner of Avondale’s Michelin-starred Parachute restaurant; and Bill Kim, the James Beard-nominated cookbook author of BellyQ, formerly in the West Loop.
“It’s awesome that the chef community in this great food city is coming together to give ideas on how CPS can improve the quality and wholesomeness and add more exciting flavor profiles to the school menu, drawing on our diversity and experiences with being creative on a budget,” said Beverly Kim, who with husband Johnny Clark won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes.
“My recipe is so simple, because I understand children,” Beverly Kim said of her CPS contribution, a pulogi beef dish with brown rice, fresh kimchi and miso soup.
“Their palettes are still developing, so I just drew on my experience of what my own kids like. The whole idea is giving them something you would find in a school cafeteria in Seoul, Korea. Food is a language. And it’s good to give kids that exposure at an early age, expanding their knowledge beyond pizza and hamburgers.”
Wade, 77, and Jackson, will also be honoring Black History Month in announcing the new initiative.
Wade’s restaurant — opened as Captain’s Hard Times in 1986 — has been a fixture in Chicago’s black community for more than three decades, the walls of her East 79th Street eatery filled with photos of heads of state, politicians and celebrities for whom the soul food restaurant is a must-visit. The late Aretha Franklin never missed coming by for the gumbo.
“I’m excited about the council, because our kids are going to school with improper diets, what with working single parents and eating on the run,” said Wade, who was honored by the city with a street sign at 79th & Vernon in 2017.
“Now when I was a girl, my mother and grandmother made sure we got a wholesome balanced breakfast, then light food for lunch in our lunch boxes. When kids don’t get proper nutrition, it changes their behavior and they can’t stay focused,” said Wade, who last June opened her eatery’s first satellite for McCormick Place convention-goers.
“We need someone to step up to save our African American food culture, because if you go back in history, we ate mostly homegrown food from the garden, lots of vegetables, and our generation lived longer,” Wade continued.
“I hear all the time, ‘Josephine, I’m on a diet.’ That doesn’t mean you can’t still eat at my restaurant. I know how to cook. I don’t cook with grease in my meat to clog your arteries. My macaroni doesn’t have a lot of dairy in it. We use 2% milk and chicken broth, so it doesn’t have a lot of cholesterol. I think the kids are going to love my chicken stew.”
Others on the council include Chef Clifford Rome, of Rome’s Joy Companies in Bronzeville; Chef Mario Santiago, of May St. Café in Pilsen; Chef Ken Polk of Batter & Berries in Lincoln Park; Chef Matthew Jost of PureCircle Food & Beverages; Chef Monica Hayes Jones of Tasteful Manners in Edgewater; and Chef Danielle Murray of Da Real Foodie.
Also on the council are several chefs from food advocacy organizations: Chef Art Smith, whose nonprofit, Common Threads, promotes cooking and nutrition education; Chef Melissa Graham, whose nonprofit Purple Asparagus, promotes access to healthy eating; and Green City Market, the city’s largest year-round sustainable farmers market.
“Bringing the flavors of Chicago into our schools gives students the opportunity to celebrate local culture while learning about the importance of nutrition and the culinary arts,” Jackson said. “I want to thank the Chef Council ... for this bold, new undertaking that will shape how students experience food and nutrition while in school.”