From fast food to food service for Itawamba County man

Kenny Coker proudly displays the fruits … or in this case, cookies … of his labor. Coker has been cooking since he was a kid. (Photo by Adam Armour)

Kenny Coker proudly displays the fruits … or in this case, cookies … of his labor. Coker has been cooking since he was a kid. (Photo by Adam Armour)

Gaynell Jackson/The Itawamba County Times

“I first knew I liked cooking when I was about 12 years old,” said Kenny Coker, August’s Cook of the Month. “When I would visit my grandmothers, I would watch them prepare meals for their families. I just loved it.”

That interest mushroomed, and Coker took a job in the fast food business when he was only 15 years old. His first job was at Sonic in Fulton where he cooked burgers and did prep work. This position lasted throughout his high school career, with him working as many as 20 hours a week.

Although working fast food is sometimes backbreaking work, it didn’t deter Coker from a career in the food industry. He spent a stint as manager of Jacks and then moved on to Holiday Inn in Tupelo where he was director of the restaurant/bar/lounge, a position he held for three years.

These jobs provided bread for his table, but his real love is the catering business.

“I vividly remember the first event I catered,” Coker said. “Rubye Del Harden had won a dinner for six to be catered to her home, and she gave me the opportunity to cook and serve it.

“I was nervous as heck,” he continued, “but they all said I did a great job. I didn’t think so myself, so it was great to hear.”

Although that happened in 1982, Coker still remembers what he cooked: bacon wrapped chicken breast with cream sauce, green bean casserole, rolls and Italian cheese cake.

His catering abilities have escalated since then, and now he and wife Patricia often cater weddings right down to and including the wedding cake. Most events, Coker said, run smoothly. What he remembers most, of course, are the ones that don’t. For example, sometimes wedding parties misjudge the number of guests and food runs short.

Coker was speaking from experience.

“That is always my biggest fear,” he said. “I always try to have extra. If you have a problem, that is what guests always remember, not what went right.”

In addition to his catering opportunities, Coker holds a full-time position as food services director for the county school district. With this position comes some 45 cafeteria staff members.

“I enjoy making food the kids like,” Coker said.

 

Easy Fruit Dip

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

1 small jar marshmallow creme

1 cup powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, mix together cream cheese and marshmallow cream until well blended. Gradually add powdered sugar. Place in covered bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. Great with fruit or just with a spoon for a little something sweet.

 

Cream Cheese Pineapple Sandwiches

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

1 small can crushed pineapple, drained

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, cream together cream cheese and crushed pineapple, using electric mixer. Add powdered sugar. You may add more sugar if needed. Put in covered bowl and refrigerate 1 1/2 to 2 hours until chilled. Take out and put between bread and cut into triangles or squares.