Have you been watching Jinhee on Top Chef Canada? She’s killing it. She always does.
I met Jinhee years ago, when she was cooking over at Raw Bar, and everything she made was magic. She’s brilliant and humble and generous and kind, and I love that she secretly switched from accounting to cooking but didn’t tell her mom (back home in Korea) until she made it to the helm in one of the best kitchens in Calgary.
While they were building Foreign Concept, she won the Gold Medal Plates semi-finals (which she went on to win, by the way), by cooking out of her apartment kitchen. (The restaurant was still under construction.) She has brought home the gold two years in a row, and silver the year before.
Traveling through Vietnam last year, she fell in love with this Hanoi street dish – Cha Cá Lã Vong – cooked in a well used tin skillet over a small burner. It’s the only thing this particular restaurant made, and it blew her away. So she came back to Calgary and made it her own way – using local rainbow trout. Traditionally it’s made with whitefish, so really – whatever you come across that looks fresh and good. Anything goes.
Cha Cá Lã Vong is one of those dishes everyone assembles themselves at the table – which makes it perfect for our current new patio situation. You pile up rice noodles and quickly pickled carrots, radish, cucumber – whatever is light and crunchy – along with lime wedges, fresh mint, store-bought shrimp crackers, little dishes of sauces (which can be done in advance) and chopped peanuts. The fish is cooked quickly in a small skillet over a hot stove – it took her about five minutes, first getting the skin nice and crisp, then adding a blob of butter and handful of fresh herbs and basting the fish with the bubbling butter to help it finish cooking.
We all had small bowls and chopsticks, and tossed small amounts of everything in our bowls to pile on shrimp crackers and eat. I realize it’s not traditional to cook yourself on Mother’s Day, but I may just whip this up to nibble on the patio – something interesting to share, and exactly the kind of food I’ve been craving these days. And I love the kind of food that could work as an appetizer or count as the main event. (I ran this in last Friday’s Swerve!)