Apronomics: Cathy Jenkins

Looking at the menu at Cathy’s Kitchen, you’ll find recipes from all over the U.S. Despite the cross-country cuisine, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant with stronger local ties. Cathy Jenkins started feeding the people of Ferguson out of her own kitchen, and as the business has grown, the community has returned the favor with continued support.

Originally from Gary, Indiana, Jenkins says her cooking skills weren’t exercised much during her childhood. “I’m the youngest of four and the only girl; I was spoiled,” she recalls. “When I went to college, I didn’t know how to do my own cooking or laundry. When I got married, I had to learn as
I went. I was terrible when I first started.” After finishing college, she and her husband, Jerome, decided to move to Ferguson at the urging of her brother and his sister—who also are married.

Jenkins’ first entrepreneurial pursuit was more sartorial than culinary. In the 1990s, She started C. Jenkins Company, which produced hand-sewn silk neckties. Her inspiration came from Jerome’s management job, which required him to wear a tie everyday. After buying a sewing machine and practicing, she presented him with a completed product, initially claiming to have bought it. “When I told him I’d actually made it, we knew we had something,” she says. Jerome started selling her ties at work, and she moved to a mall kiosk, which later grew into a storefront.

Eventually, Jenkins felt it was time to pursue something new. While she hadn’t been much of a domestic engineer at the start of her marriage, she had discovered a knack for cooking. After a vacation organized around restaurants featured on Food Network and Travel Channel, inspiration struck. “I hate coming home from a trip and not being able to get the same food,” she says. “I wanted to take the concept of the road trip and make it a restaurant.”

What would become Cathy’s Kitchen started in an unlikely place: Facebook. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Jenkins would develop a menu and post it to her page. “I could not believe how many people would come to my home for dinner,” she says. She hired another cook and a driver for delivery, but it was clear she would need a restaurant. She decided on the first locations she looked at. “The owner gave it to me on a handshake,” she recalls. “He wanted to help make sure we could succeed.”

Jenkins recalls opening the restaurant as a whirlwind, especially the transition to an industrial kitchen. “It was totally different from cooking at home,” she says. “I used YouTube, and a lot of great chefs gave me information. It was a sink or swim situation, but thankfully, we swam.” That ability to adapt quickly has served Cathy’s Kitchen well, especially in 2020. The restaurant was one of the first in Ferguson to work with food delivery apps, giving them an advantage when the city shut down. “When the pandemic hit, most restaurants didn’t have systems in place,” she notes. “But I could easily make the transition to carryout and delivery.”

The pandemic hasn’t been the only thing to impact Cathy’s Kitchen this year. Following protests after the killing of George Floyd, the restaurant’s windows were broken, but the community stepped up. “Protesters helped protect the interior with garbage bags and stopped vandals,” Jenkins explains. Thanks to these efforts, the restaurant was one of the few able to reopen the following day. Located across the street from the Ferguson police station, it had faced a similar situation after Michael Brown’s death in 2014. “Nobody wants to be vandalized, but I understand the rights being fought for are important,” Jenkins notes. “It’s a loss I’m willing to take.”

After a difficult spring and summer, Jenkins recently has had some exciting new opportunities. Two of her recipes will be featured in the Missouri Governor’s Mansion cookbook, A Spoonful of History, and Schnucks approached her about carrying Cathy’s Kitchen products. “Schnucks has given me the opportunity of a lifetime, and I’m so excited,” she says. She started with selling sauces at five locations but hopes to expand. Naturally, she began with stores closest to her home. “Ferguson has supported Cathy’s Kitchen 100%,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the community.”

shrimp stuffed chicken breast & asparagus

Cook time 40 min
Makes 2 servings

4 (4 oz.) boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets 
2 tbsp. seasoning salt 
4 tbsp. olive oil 
½ lb. raw shrimp (size 41-50), thawed and tails removed 
3 tbsp. minced garlic 
1 tbsp. chicken stock base paste 
1 qt. heavy cream 
¼ c. Parmesan cheese 
4 slices Muenster cheese 
8 asparagus 
¼ c. Italian dressing 
Parsley flakes (garnish)

1. Season chicken breast with seasoning salt.

2. Pre-heat pan on medium-high heat. Add olive oil and chicken breasts. Sear breasts on one side for 3 minutes, then flip. Turn heat to low and continue cooking until juices run clear (approximately 6 minutes).

3. In a medium saucepan on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and garlic. Saute for 2 minutes. Add shrimp. When they are almost opaque in color, add heavy cream and chicken stock paste. Mix well.

4. Cook on medium heat until sauce begins to thicken.

5. Add Parmesan cheese and mix well. Reduce heat to a simmer until a creamy, rich consistency is reached.

6. Heat a small saute pan, add asparagus and Italian dressing. Saute asparagus until tender, for approximately 5 minutes.

7. Place 1 slice of Muenster cheese on top of each breast. Layer two breasts in a large pasta bowl, and top with shrimp and cream sauce and fourasparagus. Garnish with parsley flakes. 

Photos: Bill Barrett