NewKira’s Grill owner cooks with southern flair

Published on Thu, Aug 11, 2005
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New Kira’s Grill owner cooks with southern flair

by Tara Nelson

Jean Luke, the new owner of Kira’s Grill in the Blaine International Mall could be the authority of southern food.

She has served her style of southern cuisine to such well-known individuals as Colin Powell, Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson, Ted Turner, Senator Sam Nunn, Janet Jackson’s band members, and various professional athletes from the Atlanta Braves to the Atlanta Falcons. In 1996, she fed the crew of the Atlanta Olympics.

Luke, who began cooking with her mother and sisters, said she knows how to feed people. At the age of seven, she and her family would cook and sell fried catfish from the front porch of her home on Friday and Saturday nights to earn extra money.

“Everyone knew my mama cooked,” she said. “People would buy our fish sandwiches all night long.”

Cooking then became a life-long career for Luke. After helping establish a poultry company in 1972, which provided chicken to various restaurants in the area, she opened her first restaurant – then called The Chicken Man Restaurant. The restaurant fit 130 people at a time and turned over three times a day, she said.

She moved to Washington after “retiring” and a short-lived stint in Hawaii that left her with $25 in her pocket and a suitcase in her hand. When asked why she moved to the Blaine area, she said something just told her she needed to go north.

Luke said she passed up several contracts to sell her baked goods such as the Pike Place Market before opening her first restaurant in Whatcom County. Ms. Jean’s Kitchen opened in 2001 on the Guide Meridian but she said she had difficulty getting county approval for a caterer’s license to sell her baked goods. She then opened a second restaurant in Ferndale but the reception was limited to mostly people from out of town.

It wasn’t until she met her business partner, Barry Poore, of Blaine, at a church meeting in Bellingham that she decided to try opening the business again – this time in the Blaine area.

“He is the reason I’m still in business,” she said. “It was Barry that said ‘We’re gonna make it.’”

Customers can expect the same Greek-style menu items as before but with the addition of southern deep-fried delights that may be otherwise difficult to find in Whatcom County. Those include hush puppies ($1), which were perfectly fried and non-greasy, southern fried chicken with French fries and two sides dishes ($5.99), or a fried catfish basket ($5.99), a generous-sized piece of the fish dipped in a Luke’s own cornmeal batter that, when cooked, had an unexpectedly firm crunch.
Luke said she tries to cut out some of the fat and sugar that is typically associated with southern food. Her sweet potato pie, for example ($1.99 per slice and $10 per pie), is made with whole milk instead of evaporated milk and her pecan pie is made with no white sugar, making it less sweet. At home, she makes collard greens with chicken instead of the traditional fatty piece of bacon.

“I try to cook as healthy as I can so people can enjoy the food and not feel bad about it,” she said.

When asked if she plans to expand the menu in the future to include other southern staples such as collard greens, black-eyed peas and fried okra, she said she will have to think about it.

“I’ve gotten a couple of calls about it already,” she said. “If the demand is there, then I guess I would.”

Kira’s Grill is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays except on Wednesday when it closes at 4 p.m. and can be reached at 332-2040. The restaurant is also available for special breakfast meetings.