Josephine Wade began cooking when she was 13. The daughter of sharecroppers, Wade was babysitting her siblings one day as her parents worked when she realized she needed to make them dinner. She went out to their garden, picked some vegetables and went inside to whip up a gourmet cabbage dish.
By the time she was 19, Wade knew she wanted to open her own restaurant. In 1986, Wade opened Captain’s Hard Times in Chatham, although she eventually changed the name to Josephine’s Southern Cooking.
Over the years, Wade amassed a huge following, with celebrities like Aretha Franklin showing up for her soul food. She became a staple on Chicago’s South Side and was seen with community leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and part of 79th Street, near her restaurant, now has an official, if honorary, designation: “Mother Josephine Wade Way.”
On Thursday, Wade was honored again, this time by having two of her recipes featured in the “Savor Our World” cookbook. The cookbook, with recipes from chefs around the world, will be used by Savor, the company handling food operations at McCormick Place.
“I soon will be 80 years old,” Wade said Thursday as she accepted a copy of the book at McCormick Place. “I waited a lifetime to be known in a book.”
In compiling the book, Savor looked for the “best chefs, the ones that are really doing great food in their areas,” said Doug Bradley, the company’s vice president of culinary.
Despite the impact she had on the Chicago community, Wade said it was hard moving through life and seeing those who came after her make it before she did.
“I was cooking long before they were born,” she said. “But when you don’t have the tools and the vehicle to do the things that need you to be pushed forward to get your name in a world book such as this, when those avenues are not open for us, then we don’t have those opportunities.”
Wade said she hopes the cookbook and her story will be an inspiration for other young women cooking in their mothers kitchens.
Wade’s recipes in the cookbook are for shrimp etouffee and hush puppies. Bradley said company employees spent two days in the kitchen to figure out how to replicate those recipes.
Although for now, it is used only by Savor at its operations around the world, a digital copy of the book may be made available to the public online, Bradley said.
Josephine’s Southern Cooking, 436 E. 79th St., is open Tuesday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.