Lauryn Chun runs small-batch food business Mother-in-Law's Kimchi and is the author of The Kimchi Cookbook. Chun revolutionized kimchi by bringing it out from the margins of traditional side dish-dom to center stage as a main course.
What hooked you on cooking?My earliest childhood memories in Seoul, Korea – foraging for wild herbs and plants on walks with my grandmother, watching my grandmother and mother cooking in the kitchen gave me a sense of comfort in the kitchen. I loved all the aromas and witnessing how ingredients transformed into a meal and an event. It felt like magic for me as little kid. Creating a dish to feed the entire (extended) family formed a deep appreciation for food as a gift, nourishment and an event.The coolest example of science in your food?Watching the initial state of lactic fermentation while making my first kimchi batch, witnessing the continuous state of change as kimchi ferments. The ‘exposion’ and bubbling of kimchi’s anaerobic state and pressure inside lids in jars that causes kimchi to expand with oxygen when opening – kind of like a fake toy snake poping out of a can. Watching the live active lactic bacteria fermentation in action. It is magical and there’s a reverence for nature’s ability to make food safe through lactic bacteria at its simplest state which is essentially salt (brine) and vegetable.The food you find most fascinating?I like simple foods and flavors with texture and taste that is balanced. I do think that kimchi is absolutely fascinating the way I think about balance of flavors and textures. By taking process of vegetable’s natural fermented state of acid (making its own vinegar) and flavors, it is akin to ‘cooking’ a dish to achieve a balance of flavors and textures. The latin word ‘fevere’ which is root of word ‘fermentation’ means to boil with foam – a perfect description of how live bacterias are working to break down the natural state without heat. When we are creating a dish in the kitchen, it is the flavors of adding acids and flavors to achieve a balance of taste that is pleasant in our mouth when we taste.What scientific concept–food related or otherwise–do you find most fascinating?Chemistry of taste and physiology of what we taste, our connectivity in brain that tells us something tastes delicious, balance of flavors, texture and desirability. I think my truly taking the time to taste foods is the best way to nurture ourselves and future generations eating foods for good health and ethics.Your best example of a food that is better because of science?Kimchi fermentation, soy sauce, cheese making, wines.How do you think science will impact your world of food in the next 5 years?I think it can go either direction of good, using science to have better understanding of natural unprocessed foods or bad with corporate profit and industrial scaling of production to manipulate nature through bio-engineered foods and seeds.One kitchen tool you could not live without?Cusinart Mini hand blender-chopper, takes up no space in the cabinets and so versatile, 15 years and counting…Five things most likely to be found in your fridge?Kimchi, kimchi and kimchi…. And variety of cheeses, chile flakes, soy bean paste, mustard…Your all-time favorite ingredient?My all time favorite ingredient would be yellow onions as they create such a base of flavor in every type of cooking.Favorite cookbook?Favorite cookbook would be Marcella Hazan’s Essential Italian Cooking.Your standard breakfast?Usually something savory like a poached egg and toast or healthy museli and definitely coffee.