Last month, we met Eddie and Carmen, two Bon Appétit dining hall workers who shared two things with us: their vision for a more sustainable future, and a delicious family recipe. Today, we feature a worker from Chicago Public Schools, whose lunchroom workers fought for four months this Spring to make their vision of freshly-cooked food for Chicago’s children a reality.
Though Kimberly Penson — affectionately known as Ms. Kim — is a lifelong Chicago resident, her cooking has decidedly Southern roots. Growing up, she spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her Mississippi-raised grandmother, watching and learning as she prepared favorites like macaroni and cheese and sweet potatoes from memory, no recipe required! Today, Ms. Kim cooks in much the same way as her grandmother did — adding in a dash of this and a spoonful of that — and her family wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, her cooking is so popular that no one else is allowed to prepare any of her signature dishes for family gatherings.
Fortunately, Ms. Kim’s three children, two grandchildren, and the rest of her extended family aren’t the only ones to have the opportunity to taste her cooking. For the past seven years she has worked in the lunchroom at one of Chicago’s over 600 public schools, where she works hard to ensure that the children enjoy their meals each day. “If you don’t season the food and prepare it the right way, then they won’t eat it,” she explained, “I put a little special seasoning on [the chicken]… the way they’d eat it at home.” And it’s not always easy to satisfy large groups of hungry grade schoolers, but for Ms. Kim it’s a labor of love. “Sometimes you have your bad days,” she said, “But when the kids come in and they give you a hug… I don’t know about everybody else, but I do love my children.”
Given the popularity of her recipes, it was understandable that Ms. Kim was a little hesitant to reveal any of her secrets. The macaroni and cheese is still off-limits, but after a little bit of convincing she agreed to share the recipe for one of her children’s favorites: sweet potatoes, which would be the perfect addition to any holiday meal. It may not be the healthiest option on the table, but no one ever said that real food couldn’t also include a sweet option or two! Enjoy, and stay tuned for more profiles and recipes from workers across the country!
Ms. Kim’s Sweet Potatoes
- 5-6 medium sweet potatoes, diced
- 1 stick butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
In a large pot, heat butter over medium heat until melted. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add sweet potatoes, both sugars, nutmeg, cinnamon, and 1/2 cup of water and slow cook until tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir to combine and serve.