Francie Comer Culinary Arts Center

Zion Kinnison and Chef M.C. Williams

Guests gathered to honor Mrs. Comer's legacy and celebrate the Gary Comer Youth Center. Appetizers and boxed lunches were designed and prepared by young people from the Culinary Team with produce grown by Comer Crops.

Zion Kinnison and Chef M.C. Williams of the Comer Culinary Team provided a cooking demonstration of one of Mrs. Comer's favorite recipes, Italian Sausage & Peppers.

The new culinary center will serve as a functional and inviting space for the Culinary Arts department to continue to grow. As a community hub in a USDA classified food desert, our initiatives provide healthy meals, lead nutritional cooking instruction, train culinary apprentices for the workforce, and provide quality catering services which are paramount to building a healthier GCYC community.

An upcoming kitchen redesign will offer more out-of-school time programs; grow our catering business while offsetting programming costs, feed more youth and families as part of our USDA meal service programs, and increase the efficiency of our shared kitchen concept for our campus partners.

Francie Comer, 1935–2020

Often described as a “force of nature,” Francie had an innate ability to bring people together, inspire collaboration and effect positive change.

Food was my mom’s love language

The other day, my 21-year-old daughter Siena, asked me to name my love language. Apparently, this is a thing, and we all are in possession of one, our preference for how we express and receive love.

Food was my mom’s love language. Comfort food, leftovers, farmers’ markets, crispy, salty, sweet, whipped, the hot new place, anything on a bone, anything someone recently arrived in America made, many fancy, multi-course meals, a hole in the wall restaurant...in fact the divier the dive, the better. When she died, she did so with a file cabinet full of clipped newspaper recipes and yellowed restaurant reviews. I’ve kept them. If you wanted to know where and what to eat, just ask Francie.

For her food was a way to explore cultures, to travel even in your own city, to connect with strangers and friends (many of you here shared meals together). It brought her joy, and it brought her family together.

Her parents came from Sicily and on Sundays all the siblings would gather to cook (and gossip), her Aunts in an Orland Park kitchen making red sauce, dicing tomatoes, adding oregano, her small self, plopped on the linoleum floor looking up at their stocking legs and spatulas.

Titles of some of her cookbooks:

  • 250 True Italian Pasta Dishes
  • The Mafia Cookbook
  • Pasta Grannies
  • La Cucina Siciliana
  • Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef

At some point, she discovered “health food” and banned all chocolate switching to carob. Those were dark years.

She hated when anyone or country went hungry. She never wasted a morsel. Once, I could see smokestacks coming out of her ears when the restaurant didn’t have a doggy bag. After that, there was always a Ziploc in her purse. She fed her local firemen dinner on the anniversary of 9/11.

In fact, the moment we moved back to Chicago, my mom started to feed us.

This took the form of frequent food drop-offs most often accompanied with an explanatory post-it note. Sidebar, post-it notes were like DMs for her. When I was cleaning out her apartment, there was an entire 12 by 12-inch cubby packed with them.

Sometimes her drop-offs were run of the mill staples:

  • Parmesan cheese
  • or Greek bread (makes good toast)
  • Somewhere along the way, I decided to keep these notes
  • Designer Veggies from Richard
  • Freaking spicy poblanos
  • Eataly (pasta with black truffles…you be the judge!)

Sometimes these packages arrived from places near… Snacks from WAC (need to be reheated) or from afar… lemon meringue dessert from PARIS (all in caps)

  • whatever this was it was decidedly not salty.
  • Luca Ham smiley face (feeding Luca was a category in and of itself, especially if he was sick!)
  • One of my personal favorites: Afrin and Chips because…why not

And sometimes, they were so good, they deserved a frame:

Ripe peaches. Love, Mom
Ripe peaches. Love, Mom

Because food is love

On behalf of our family, thank you GCYC and the entire culinary team - for this lovely dedication.

Each year, you serve 20,000 meals to young people and their families, cull 3200 pounds of produce from your gardens and educate and nurture 175 young culinary artists and truly, that couldn’t be a more perfect way to honor her. We are grateful all of you are here to celebrate with us.

—Stephanie Comer