Dubbed by her peers as "the silent assassin," Chef Jinhee Lee may be quiet but she's proven her cooking speaks volumes. Originally from South Korea, Chef Jinhee worked as a kindergarten teacher before moving to Canada 11 years ago. Knowing her parents would disapprove, she secretly enrolled in the Professional Cooking program at the renowned Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).
Today, Chef Jinhee is the Executive Chef at Calgary Pan-Asian restaurant Foreign Concept alongside award-winning chef and mentor Chef Ly, named one of Avenue Calgary's "top 5 people to watch in Calgary's food scene," Chef Jinhee has earned the reputation as being a fierce competitor in several Canadian culinary competitions as the only female chef competing in the 2015 Gold Medal Plates. She won a silver medal, then came back to claim gold medals in both 2016 and 2017. In 2017 she competed and won the Garland Canada International Chef Challenge.
And, most recently, was one of the 11 chefs to compete in Top Chef Canada season six. It was during the eight-week series where #teamjinhee became a movement with fans across the country cheering her on to the finale where she tied for third place.
1. We really enjoyed following your journey this season on Top Chef Canada! What was your proudest moment on the show?
Thank you! It was exciting to discover how many people across Canada are fans of the show. My proudest moments were: showcasing the food and flavours I love to eat using Canadian ingredients and being able to share my story. I left my family in Korea 12 years ago to start a new life in Canada. It was nice to have the opportunity to share my story and acknowledge two important inspirations in my life: my boss and mentor Chef Duncan Ly (of Calgary’s Foreign Concept) and, of course, my Mom.
2. You are a very accomplished chef, winning culinary competitions and being named one of the “Top 5 people to watch in Calgary’s food scene” in 2016 by Avenue Calgary. Was there a moment in particular that inspired this lifelong passion? What drives you to succeed?
I originally came to Canada to study accounting at SAIT and, during that time, I was given a tour of campus and stopped in the Culinary Arts Department to watch a chef demonstrate how to make a hollandaise sauce. He finished it with a squeeze of lemon and, when I tasted it, it was incredible to me how the little bit of lemon changed the whole flavour of the sauce. That’s when I decided that I would pursue cooking as a career. I’m driven to succeed by my team; leading a team means that you have to lead by example. I have a great mentor in Chef Duncan Ly and I want to inspire my team the way he inspires me :).
3. Who do you admire within the chef community and why? What would you love to make them?
I cooked for Chef Susur Lee while I was on Top Chef Canada. That was a big thrill for me because he was the first to bring high-profile attention to Asian cuisine in Canada. He loved my maple lime glazed chicken thigh with lemongrass curry in episode #1 and that was very rewarding to win the first challenge of the season.
Photo Credit: BONAFIDE Media & PR
4. As a Pan-Asian specialist from your time as Executive Chef at Foreign Concept, what is your favourite late-night snack to make at home?
To be honest with you--cooking is the last thing most chefs want to do at home, hahaha. I always keep a variety of Korean snacks and munchies around like shrimp chips and nori crackers. My #1 go-to if I’m really hungry is instant ramen noodles.
5. You’re preparing brunch for your best buds; what’s on the menu?
My go-to for a perfect brunch is trout cha cha va long. It’s a signature dish on our menu at Foreign Concept and it’s light, fresh and super easy to make. Use salmon if trout isn’t handy.
Photo Credit: BONAFIDE Media & PR
Here is the recipe:
Alberta Trout Cha Ca La Vong
- 2 lbs Alberta Rainbow Trout fillets skin on
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
- 1 cup of yogurt
- 3 tablespoons of vegetable (oil for frying)
- Rice flour for coating the fish before frying
Nouc Cham sauce (Vietnamese dipping sauce)
- 1 cup fish sauce
- 2 cups of sugar
- 3 cups of water
- 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
- ¼ cup, of lime juice
- 1 Thai chilli peppers sliced thinly (optional)
- 1 bunch fresh dill
- 1 bunch green onions cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- Rice vermicelli (cook per package instructions)
- Chopped peanuts (optional)
- Shrimp crackers (optional, available at any supermarket, can be bought pre-fried or you can buy then un-fried and fried them yourself which will be better)
- Cut the trout fillets into 3-inch pieces. Combine all the marinate ingredients into a large mixing bowl except the rice flour and the oil and mix well. Add the trout and toss well to coat the trout with the marinade. Allow the trout to marinate for at least 1 hour but best to marinate over-night.
- Preheat a large skillet heat on high heat. Coat the trout fillet with rice flour, dust off excess rice flour. Add about the three tablespoons of vegetable oil to the pan. Place the trout skin side down into the pan and cook for about 2 minutes or until the skin is golden in colour and crispy. Flip the fish over add the butter, garlic, dill and green onions. Baste the fish in the butter and continue to cook for about 1 min. Remove the fish from the pan onto a plate and pour the remaining butter from the pan over the fish.
- Prepare the nouc cham sauce. Combine the fish sauce, sugar, garlic and water into a small sauce pot and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and add the chopped chillies (optional) and the lime juice. Chill before serving.
- To serve, place the noodles onto a plate and top the noodles with the fish fillets, garnish with some fresh dill and scallions. Serve with shrimp crackers (optional) peanuts (optional) and nouc cham dressing.
6. If you could share one piece of expert advice with those of us who really enjoy cooking but would classify ourselves in the amateur-weekend-chef category, what would it be?
Taste food while you’re cooking, not just at the very end. Great food has layers of flavour. If you’re tasting throughout the cooking process, you can make adjustments so the end results is well balanced.
7. We are so excited to continue to follow your career, what’s next for you?
I’m excited to reunite with some of my fellow Top Chef competitors for a fundraiser in Saskatoon this fall. I am also heading back to PEI to defend my title at the Garland Canada International Chef Challenge. After that, a busy holiday season with my team at Foreign Concept in Calgary. I hope to cook for Top Chef Canada fans who come in to visit us.
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