Our food tells our story. What we eat, how we cook, the ingredients we use are all influenced by our heritage and experiences. Meet Lis, developer of delicious food and blogger behind The Subversive Table. Through her food, Lis is sharing stories and bringing people together around the dinner table.
I met Lis at the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference last year and was immediately struck by her sense of family and her passion for creating bold flavours. A quick glance through her Instagram feed and I knew I had met a fellow spice fiend. Lis’ bold use of flavour, experience with cross-cultural cuisines and flair for telling the story of her heritage and her family, all offer warmth and welcome that I am glad to share with you today.
This interview is part of the series #MyFoodMemory through which I am encouraging people to share their favourite food memories.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! My name is Lis. I grew up in Seattle, WA. My family immigrated from South Korea (via Argentina) when I was 4. Like most immigrants, my parents hustled to put food on the table. They worked at the family business and I rarely saw them during weekdays. Fortunately, my Korean grandmother (Halmoni) took care of me after school. She was an amazing cook and my favourite person in the world. As a child, I spent all my time in the kitchen with her. That’s when I fell in love with cooking.
I never thought to make a career out of food. But my love for cooking was always there, driving me to experiment, cook, and host. I’d take recipes and tweak them to suit my palate. Then when people started to ask me for the recipes, I realized that people wanted to cook the food that I loved, the food that represented ME: my immigrant roots and American upbringing, and most recently my expat life in Canada. That’s how my food blog came to be.
What has your journey been like getting where you are?
I am a former NYC public school teacher. When the kids were born, I felt I was being pulled in many different directions, and I decided to stay at home for a little while. When I started blogging, I knew my writing about food could bridge the distance between people. The polarized political climate makes it far too easy to distance ourselves from people who are different from us. I’m trying to make a statement with the food I write about and cook.
What does a family meal look like in your home?
We eat together almost every night. Dinner is (almost always) homemade. We eat Korean one night, Thai or Indian or Mexican the next, and lots of pizza, tacos, and pasta in between. I think the food we eat represents the modern family. We host quite a bit so there are always people over. A family meal can be just the five of us. Or it can be a casual, larger meal with neighbours and friends. Not a week goes by without someone dropping by for a meal.
Is there a particular dish that you make for your family that reminds you of your roots?
Whenever I cook a Korean dish that my Halmoni cooked for me, I feel like I am coming home. There are too many of these dishes to count! But if there’s one meal that takes me back, it’s perfect white rice with banchan (side dishes) and soup on the side.
How does your heritage impact your food?
I am Korean-American so I grew up eating rice and kimchi every single day. Nowadays, rice is still my preferred carb. And I love, love spicy food. A meal isn’t complete without some kind of spicy and/or acidic, crunchy element. I also love strongly flavored food. I grew up eating raw garlic, fermented bean paste, kimchi, anchovy stock, gochujang, etc. These are all pungent, fantastically flavoured foods. Fermented food, in particular, forms the base of Korean cooking. I once heard Anthony Bourdain describe it as stinky, half-rotten deliciousness.
What is most important to you right now?
My biggest priority is to tell my story in a way that is modern, relevant, and reflective of my experience as an immigrant. My story is told through my love of food and the table.
We all come from different backgrounds and we all grew up eating different kinds of food. And that different is good. We all want to do our part in making the world a better place. My mission is at the table. That might not seem like much, but the table is more powerful than we think. Through my writing and my photos, I hope to inspire people to cook more at home and invite more people to their table. It’s not that easy. Everyone’s busy and there’s less value placed on the role of the home cook. No one has time much less the desire to cook for others. And yet, food brings people together in such a beautiful way. At the table, we are all human.