By Rena Gray
Welcome to Ina’s Kitchen, the backdrop against which Ina Pinkney spent over 30 years feeding the people of Chicago heart, mind and stomach.
The last of Pinkney’s entrepreneurial enterprises, Ina’s Kitchen closed in 2013, but not without consolation: The “Breakfast Queen” left her beloved patrons a little piece of herself and her unbeatable cooking in the form of her book, “Ina’s Kitchen: Memories and Recipes From the Breakfast Queen.”
Featuring vibrant, larger-than-life photographs of her signature dishes, “Ina’s Kitchen” is more cookbook than narrative. Sprinkled among 39 of her popular recipes are snippets from Pinkney’s memories as well as life advice.
Also spotlighted are her iconic salt and pepper shakers and glimpses of the restaurant’s interior.
Pinkney has been quoted as equating the cycle of life to baking a cake, and the format of her book is no different. Chapters are titled “Ingredients,” “Cooking,” “Clean Up” and so on as she weaves in stories of her difficulties with polio as a child, the opposition she faced in choosing a marriage partner, her ambition to run an eating establishment on her own terms and the challenges of doing so.
“Every restaurant owner’s dream is to open the door and have people walk through it,” she writes. “My dream came true every day.”
Pinkney — whose story is told in the documentary “Breakfast at Ina’s,” which won the Audience Award for best documentary at the 2016 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and will show before her appearance at the Book Festival — has fed celebrities and appeared on television, working hard to create and maintain her establishment’s good image.
“I created a recipe for living that dream,” she writes. “Mine was more than counting money, schmoozing the customers, or having my name on the door. It was about creating an experience that respected the customer, the staff, the food, and me.”
One emotion missing from Pinkney’s accounts is regret. She offers no apologies and incorporates roadblocks into her arsenal of life experience. She provides a list of “Plan B’s,” a few glimpses into the reality of the restaurant business.
Pinkney’s warmth and genuine care for her audience ooze through the pages like her signature hot fudge sauce, down to the heart-shaped bullet points. Pinkney speaks to her readers with wisdom and wit, honesty and gratitude.
If you like food and reminiscence, this book is a win-win. By the time you reach the end, you’ll feel what each and every customer felt when walking through the kitchen’s doors in Chicago — like one of Pinkney’s own.
Ina Pinkney will appear at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, after a screening of “Breakfast at Ina’s” at 10.