Saehee Cho is a writer and cook. She co-owns TENZO, a kitchenware webstore and culinary resource with friends Jaimie...
Saehee Cho is a writer and cook. She co-owns TENZO, a kitchenware webstore and culinary resource with friends Jaimie Lewis and Jeffrey Ozawa.
In 2015 she founded SOO N, a food concept grounded in an on-going artistic engagement with all things culinary. We've been fans of Saehee's work since then and even served up her delicious dishes at our parties in our old Silver Lake shop. We caught back up with her to chat about what it means to be a cook in California, how she got started, and all the best late night pasta dishes.
Saehee wears the Spice Slip in Cayenne
Tell us a little about how you got started cooking:
SC: Cooking has always been a part of my life. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t. I think it’s always been the primary way I express my care for other people. Some of my earliest memories are of cooking after-school snacks for my little sister or bringing baked goods to school for my friends. I’m sure I learned this from my mother. She has a hard time articulating her love verbally but she used to say she could get full from just watching her daughters eat well. Feeding was the way she loved us.
You studied creative writing in school, do you see any parallels in the two disciplines? Does your background in writing and art impact the way you cook and present your dishes?
SC: I did my MFA in Creative Writing at Calarts specifically because the program envisions writing as an expansive, interdisciplinary practice. It’s such a special and permissive program that asked us to think about writing as a process of articulation that can then manifest into other forms.
We were encouraged to study and appreciate the literary canon but then get messy with prescribed modes of narrative and ultimately expand our text-based practices into something more...
A large percentage of my classmates ended up taking their writing “off the page” and working in visual practices or performance practices. In my case, I went towards my other love: food.
I approach food similarly. I think we’ve been trained to value food from a utilitarian standpoint. We ask food to taste good and to be nutritious. These requirements are important, to be sure. But it’s so much more fun to think about food as a vehicle for storytelling or as sculptural or even performative; on top of being plainly delicious.
Saehee wears the Reversible Silk Dress in Natural
What is your creative process when crafting a new dish? What inspires you?
SC: My food inspirations are fluid and always changing with a few constants. Recently I found an Alsatian cookbook from the 80s at a used bookstore. It’s full of beautiful recipes for creamed fish, meat pies, and wine sauces. I can’t wait to have friends over for a heavy Alsatian choucroute and Pinot gris all around.
My constant food inspirations are my family, my culture (both Korean and American), and the desire to bring people to the table. I love that food is often the reason/excuse to commune or come together. Most good things in my life have happened over a meal and in the company of others.
I’m rarely deliberate about crafting a new dish. I cook everyday--for myself, for friends, for catering. It’s a constant and on-going experiment. Sometimes I’ll make something that I really love and it’ll make it onto our Tenzo catering menu or gets filed away in my catalog of favorite recipes but basically I’m always playing with food.
How does living in California impact your work?
SC: It’s almost cheating to be a cook in California. Farmer-direct produce is so readily available that it’s easy to develop a deeper relationship with your food. It also helps that people in California are thoughtful about what they are putting in their bodies, not just from a nutritional point of view, but also a more holistic perspective with nods to how the food was made, the hands that made it, and what kind of energy was imbibed in the process.
We love your ig stories of cooking moments with your mom, was food a big deal in your household growing up?
SC: Absolutely. I come from a long line of excellent cooks and everyone thinks they are the best in the family! My mom will always be the Head Cook in our family, no matter how much I learn or improve. Growing up, my mother was going to dental school, starting her own business from the ground up, and raising two kids--all on her own. I don’t know how she did it but somehow she always found time to cook a nutritious meal. More importantly, my mom taught me how to enjoy the process of cooking, to treat it like play rather than a task.
My most sentimental memories are that of cooking with my mom and sister. We have a tradition of cooking massive (almost grotesque) amounts of food every Thanksgiving. The 3 of us cook for almost 48 hours and we love every minute of it. In the kitchen, we’re all in-sync. Everyone has their jobs. I’m good at presentation, my sister is good at precision (chopping, mincing, slicing), and my mom is basically good at everything. It’s almost a dance. I always feel the most myself when I’m cooking with my mom and sister.
What’s your favorite late night / quick and easy / throw-it-together meal?
SC: Pasta. You’d be terrified if you knew how much pasta I went through in a month. I’m usually up very late working and often don’t get to dinner until past 9 pm. At that hour I want something fast and filling. Pasta is so easy because I can throw in whatever leftover ingredients I happen to have and make something within 15-20 minutes. It’s also a great option when you’re cooking for one--it’s very easy to portion. My favorite lately has been to a little uncased pork sausage with rigatoni. I use the pasta water and a little cheese to bind the whole thing together and add an egg yolk at the end. Another easy favorite is linguine with anchovies and red pepper. Any combination works.
What’s next for TENZO and SOON FOOD?
SC: TENZO is going to be at Echo Park Craft Fair in May and at the LA Design Fair in June! We also have a few food pop-ups lined up for the Summer and we’re starting a Moveable Feast series of dinner parties so stay tuned! TENZO is also catering now, which is such a fun addition to the business. I love cooking with my partners Jaimie and Jeff.
With SOO N, I’ve been focusing more on food styling which satisfies both my obsession with food and my desire to tell stories through food. Styling allows me to engage with food in a way that makes no sense in the cooking world. It’s an exciting vehicle and feels like a natural extension of my background and interest in food.