Kristine M. Kierzek
Jenny Lee’s kitchen will always have soy sauce, garlic and ginger. The building blocks of her Korean cuisine were also the main ingredients in the first recipe her mother taught her when she moved away from her home in La Crosse.
While working as a journalist in upstate New York, Lee started a food blog. Eventually she switched gears, went to culinary school and started working in restaurants. She gained experience with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Tom Colicchio and in Milwaukee with Sanford’s Justin Aprahamian.
When she became a mother herself, her cooking took a new direction. In 2019, she founded Perilla Kitchen, teaching Korean cooking and doing pop-ups in the Milwaukee area. Her classes are currently scheduled through local recreation departments at Nicolet High School in May and June and at Franklin’s Forest Park Middle School in June, July and August.
I lived in upstate New York and started a food blog while I was a news reporter. … I was always thinking about food and what I would cook.
My husband worked as a paralegal in New York City. One day he said, “Why don’t you just go to cooking school?” For real? It would be a pay cut. He was so supportive. “You talk about food all the time. … I went to the International Culinary Center, then called the French Culinary Institute. … They had a good internship program. I ended up at Roberta’s in Brooklyn. I was totally green. I was super slow, the kitchen was small. …
I ended up getting a test kitchen internship at Saveur magazine and working completely for free. … I thought, I really need to learn my craft. I have to work in restaurants. My first job was at Jean-Georges’ The Mark Restaurant. … I did that for a year and then moved to Colicchio & Sons with Tom Colicchio.
I’ve learned so much. Jean-Georges Vongerichten, his cooking was precise. Each station had a main folder full of recipes and everything was sorted by weight.
Move to Milwaukee
I was born and raised in La Crosse. My husband applied to law school and eventually ended up at Marquette University. We retired in 2013. … Dan Jacobs (when he was) at Wolf Peach, I owe him a lot. I made a stage there. …. At the end Dan said I wish I could hire you but I just hired someone else.
Days later I was sitting at my computer. He had emailed. “Hey, I met Justin Aprahamian from Sanford, he’s looking for a chef. May I send you your information?” I worked with Justin from 2013 to 2016 when I got pregnant.
Justin has always been a mentor. He’s one of the calmest, coolest people I know. Sanford is very meticulous. My New York training when I went to Sanford felt familiar with that high standard. In 2014 he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Midwest. He held the medal in front of me and said, “You were a part of it.”
Find their food roots
When I was growing up, my mother was a housewife. She cooked for us every day. My main task as a child was to do well in school. I wasn’t exactly in the kitchen with my mother. Occasionally I would help her prepare dumplings and gimbap.
When I got into college, I asked her to teach me the basic marinade for meat, and in my dorm she showed me how. One cup of soy sauce to one cup of sugar, add garlic and ginger and use to marinate your meat. That was the basis…
Over time, I just got hold of a lot of Korean cookbooks and cooked. I used the memory of my mother cooking.
memories of mom
My mother died in 2012 when I was still in New York City. I had to fly back to La Crosse. She was already in a medical coma. I managed to fly back in time to say goodbye. That’s why I taught myself Korean cooking away from my mother…
I always make the spiced spinach because that was always on the table growing up. Seasoned spinach is basically blanched spinach, squeeze out all the water and add soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil.
I remember my mother’s oxtail soup and how you sank your teeth into the meat. It would fall off the bone, so tender. When I started making the oxtail soup myself, I thought, OK, this is going to be just like Mom’s. no The same goes for kimchi. I emailed her and said can you share your recipe with me? It was just an ingredient list. I make my kimchi very differently from them now.
As a child, I watched my mother. She made quick kimchi, cut the cabbage into 2-inch pieces, salted it and did it by feel, letting it sit overnight. In the morning it would be wilted and she would flush. It was perfect, tasted so fresh. When I tried using their email recipe it was awful. OK, she doesn’t know how much salt she uses.
Create your kimchi
I buy every Korean cookbook. This is my advice to anyone who has parents who don’t measure their wonderful recipes. I would just try the different kimchi from various cookbooks. From then on, I knew my mom would rather use salted fermented shrimp than anchovy sauce. I would find a similar recipe and tweak it. I would record what I changed.
I keep my posted recipes in a Word file on my computer. I prepared it for my son.
cooking and community
After having my child in 2016, I joined a mothers group. I would sign up for food trains and cook meals for families. It was so gratifying. I’ve done it so many times that I’ve made a name for myself…
I opted for a small pop up dinner. … It was a success. OK, I’m going to call whatever this thing is Perilla Kitchen. That was 2019.
I did a pop up dinner at Amilinda’s. Greg Leon was fantastic. It was sold out. It was a high. Then the pandemic struck…
The Perilla Kitchen thing, I have Instagram and Facebook. People are trying to get in touch with their Korean culture, or it’s someone who just really cares about Korean culture. There was a sense of community.
I was 13 years old when I first visited Korea. I went to Seoul with my mother to visit my grandparents. I really remember the food.
My grandmother lived in a condo outside of Seoul. There was a grocery store downstairs. I don’t speak fluent Korean. I’m working on learning. I love Kimbap. I loved the fact that they laid it out on a styrofoam sheet and wrapped it and it would look so pretty, that perfect bite. I would practice my Korean diligently to get it right. Kimbap has a special place in my heart.
behind the shop
I chose the name Perilla Kitchen because my mother used to grow Perilla on the back steps. She would just preserve it in soy sauce. I love it with rice. Now I grow perilla in my garden. My dad finally got me her pot of perilla. It’s just hibernating. It only flowers in July. The Perilla Kitchen name is a symbol of who I am, where I come from and the care my mother takes in preparing Korean food.
Visit perillakitchen.com for more information on courses and events.
Fork. Spoon. Life. examines the everyday relationship that local figures (inside and outside the food community) have with food. To suggest future personalities for a profile, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from Fork. Spoon. Life.:How one girl’s 4-H project became Two Guernsey Girls Creamery, a micro-dairy in Freedom
More from Fork. Spoon. Life.:Fresh cinnamon rolls lead the pastry parade at Ginger Ovens in Oconomowoc