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The dining room of Quaker Kitchen, located at Gutmann College House, on Nov. 5. Credit: Sean Fang

Since its inception in 2021, Penn Dining’s Quaker Kitchen has increased in popularity, a result that staff members largely attribute to the 2023 hiring of chef manager Clara Park.

Park boasts a longtime background in fine dining and recipe development, having trained and worked at restaurants, including New York’s Momofuku Ko, Philadelphia’s Osteria, and Le Moulin Bregeon in France. She won an episode of Food Network’s “Chopped,” competed in Netflix’s “Snack vs. Chef,” and was awarded “Best Burger in Philly” during her time as the Executive Chef at Korean fusion restaurant Southgate

“Clara just took [Quaker Kitchen] off to that whole other level,” Penn Dining Director of Business Services Pam Lampitt said. “I don't really have to be concerned about whether or not the intention behind Quaker Kitchen is being implemented.”

Park developed limited weekly dinner menus for Quaker Kitchen, inspired by seasonal ingredients and diverse cuisines. The menus feature a vegan or non-vegan main, an appetizer, an array of vegetable sides, and a featured dessert and drink.

“I think Chef Clara doesn't do herself enough justice in how much work and effort goes into the menu writing,” Bon Appetit Director of Residential Dining Steven Green said.

Park has focused on creating menus that highlight cuisines from around the world.  

“I've really kind of pushed for more ethnic menus. I don't ever say it's authentic, but we try to be as authentic as possible," Park said. "We'll make our own garam masala when we make tikka masala, and we don't shy away from more pronounced ingredients like fish sauce and Thai curry paste.”

Working with Quaker Kitchen’s culinary team is a central aspect of Park’s position. The dining hall employs a small six-person staff of two cooks, two food service workers, one cashier, and four part-time dishwashers.

“It's been really great to see the team get excited about the different menus, the different techniques, and the different ingredients,” Park said. 

In addition to working with staff members, Park spearheads Quaker Kitchen’s weekly Wednesday Culinary Sessions, during which local chefs host cooking classes open to the Penn community.

“For Clara, it's not, who does she know? It's like, if you're not known by Clara, then you're not known. You're not somebody, in Philadelphia, in terms of the restaurant world,” Lampitt said.

Recent guests have included Crunchikn’s Jen Choi, The Curry Blossom’s Chetna Macwan, Baba's Brew's Olga Sorzano, and Autana’s Maria Hernandez. In choosing speakers, Park said she tries to bring in friends who can offer diverse perspectives on cuisine and experience.

Aside from the Wednesday demonstrations, weekly menus remain fixed. Quaker Kitchen uses a daily reservation system, unlike other Penn dining halls, operated through the Penn Eats app. The café is open to walk-ins from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

According to Park, overall attendance at Quaker Kitchen is up 15-20% from last year. 

“Reservations are pretty much filled up. A lot of times, we'll do more walk-ins than reservations just because of the efficiency of service. We can do 160 people in the first hour if we're really cranking,” Park said.

Park credits much of Quaker Kitchen’s success to local outreach efforts. Stimulating relationships across the Penn and Philadelphia communities has been a primary initiative since her leadership began.

“We've been able to establish relationships with other groups across campus, which we didn't have when it first opened,” Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger said.

Quaker Kitchen’s partners have included the Netter Center and Penn Park Farm. On Wednesdays, Park also hosts classes for students at the Perelman School of Medicine on creating balanced and nutritious meals.

Looking towards the future, Park hopes to continue this outreach, expanding Quaker Kitchen’s culinary capabilities and community reception.

“I want to serve more people at mealtime. I want more people to come to events. I want as many countries and cuisines represented in these demos as possible,” Park said. “I dream about having stuff in-house … and then, develop more relationships with local farms and things like that so that we can bring in really local produce.”