Q & A with Chef Annabelle Choi

“For a kid who never ate ANY sort of vegetable unless it was blended in a pizza sauce, it’s pretty crazy to think that I am now almost 100% plant-based in my diet.”

Annabelle is one of these people that when you first meet them, you just wish you could be best friends. Naturally funny, super easy to talk to and exudes one of those energy’s that just makes you feel positive about everything. We met on a sunny afternoon at Elysian Coffee in Mount Pleasant, where she uses their commissary kitchen to bake her famous charcoal sourdough, and chatted over tea and coffee before heading to the kitchen to make some Lacto-Fermented Beet and Radish.

She’s had a pretty amazing few years… From studying at the famous Ballymalloe Cookery School in Ireland, going on to work with some of the most famous bakeries in San Francisco (Tartine Bakery and Craftsman & Wolves), then back to Vancouver, where she grew up, to head the bread program at Matchstick Coffee before setting up on her own to collaborate with the likes of Kinfolk and The Juice Truck as well as teaching the Forgotten Skills of sourdough and fermentation.

Her upcoming Fermentation Class is sure to be a hit, the menu alone has my stomach rumbling just thinking about it again! There are just a couple of spots left for her Mondayclass (if you’re quick you can get in! If not, don’t fret, there’s another in June). But for now, enjoy getting to know Annabelle a little better with a sneak peak into her journey with food, what she’s excited about this season and her ultimate kitchen must haves!

What sorts of food did you eat growing up?
It was either traditional Korean soups, side dishes, various kimchis… or the polar opposite of fast food, microwavable products from Costco, and take-out.  It really depended on my mom’s busy work schedule who worked as a pharmacist and owned her own Pharmasave.  There wasn’t a lot of down time for her to cook for us, and my dad was a bit absent minded with his artwork that sometimes it was just me and my older sister and putting together whatever we could, but not having any prior instructions on how to cook it ended up being fried egg on rice or some microwavable bagel bite.
Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are today?
I don’t think I had the traditional or ideal upbringing one might imagine from a now full-time chef and caterer, but in a round about way it all influenced where I am today.  From being raised in a Korean-Canadian household and trying comfort foods of both worlds (all of which was meat, meat, some spam, and more meat), to having a best friend growing up who was Dutch and had a mother who was pretty much Martha Stewart and taught me how to make my first round of crepes.
I think I was just lucky where there were tons of people in my life that celebrated their culture and identity through food, including an ex-boyfriend who’s gay uncles introduced me to the world of fine cuisine in my early years of college (they enjoyed the finer things in life), and in someway inspired me that there were different ways of making a simple carrot taste amazing depending on where it was from and how it was harvested, instead of the soggy sad limpy bits of carrots I would find in my fried rice that came from a frozen packet.
My education as an industrial designer really brought on my philosophy for understanding the whole picture, and it was such a natural progression into food and living/learning on an Irish 100 acre farm, because food is a platform for all things that inspire me culturally, socially, politically, emotionally, and ultimately physically as a medicine. For a kid who never ate ANY sort of vegetable unless it was blended in a pizza sauce, it’s pretty crazy to think that I am now almost 100% plant-based in my diet.
If you could pick one meal to eat over and over again, what would it be?
A Korean dish called DangJang Jigae (Soybean Paste Stew). Think of miso soup fit for a football player. It’s not refined like the Japanese Miso soup, but hardy, packed with vegetables and tofu, all supported by this insanely flavourful broth that has fermented for at least a year.
What food are you most excited about this season?
All the fresh local fruit, greens, TOMATOES!!!
What one ingredient and kitchen tool could you not live without?
Ingredient  Time? I’m an advocate of slow food. Preparing sauces, ferments, doughs in advance to give them their ultimate time in the lime light is something that I think is an absolute necessary ingredient to cooking full, nourishing and flavourful dishes.
Tool  A good sharp knife is a must. Take any knife and make it sharp and you can’t go wrong.
Favourite food blog or cookbook?
Book  Bar Tartine and The Art of Fermentation (more informational than recipes)
Favourite place to eat, anywhere in the world?
Bar Tartine San Francisco  I once had an 11 course plant based meal there and it completely blew my socks off! The flavours and the intention were outstanding.
Pilgrimme, Galiano Island  They really respect the philosophy behind food here, and it shows.
Turin, Italy  In fact anywhere in Italy for that matter!
To find out more about what Annabelle is up to, keep an eye out for her classes with us here, her events over on her website, and what she’s baking and fermenting over on her Instagram.

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