New Columbus Chefs: Laura Lee
Over the next few weeks, Columbus Underground is taking a look at some of the amazing young talent in the kitchens of your favorite local restaurants, food trucks and other dining establishments in the relaunch of our series known as “New Columbus Chefs“.
When we launched this series way back in 2009, none of the chefs featured worked in the realm of mobile dining. The fact that we’re including food trucks in this year’s edition speaks highly to the quality of food served at trucks such as Ajumama. Owned and operated by Chef Laura Lee, Ajumama is a recent addition to the mobile dining scene that serves up authentic Korean recipes at festivals, events and food pods around town.
Name: Laura Lee
Current Job: Chef and owner of Ajumama food truck
Can you tell us about your training/educational experience?
I have an AAS in Culinary Arts from the Art Institute of Phoenix and a Bachelors in Hospitality Management from Kent State. I’ve also attended classes at the Institute of Royal Korean Cuisine, O’ngo Culinary School in Seoul and L’ecole Ferrandi in Paris.
Can you tell us about your professional kitchen experience?
Before starting Ajumama I was the sous chef for Arterra at the Marriott Del Mar in San Diego and before that I worked here in Columbus for the Renaissance for five years as well as Zen-Cha in the Short North. In school I worked for Vincent’s on Camelback in Phoenix and the West Pointe Market in Akron.
What is your favorite cuisine to cook?
That is like asking someone if they have a favorite child, I don’t think I could ever pick just one cuisine. I prefer to let the ingredient tell me what it would be the best in and then I work from there. I certainly have no problems with being a little eclectic.
What is your favorite cuisine to eat?
Depends on my mood, I get into phases where all I want is Indian or Mexican or whatever pops into my head and it usually drives me nuts until I satisfy that urge. Top four would likely be Korean, Mexican, Vietnamese and Indian.
What one kitchen utensil/tool could you never live without?
Benriner slicer. You can do just about anything with one so long as you don’t lose the shredding teeth.
What’s your favorite cookbook?
I got Radically Simple by Roxanne Gold last year for Christmas and I really love the style of food as well as the way things were presented. Very simply but elegantly plated dishes with clear flavors and not a lot of fuss. I also love The Kimchi Chronicles cookbook because the photography is stunning both for the food and non food pictures.
What is your favorite Columbus restaurant (besides your own)?
Okay, this really is the favorite child question! Top four in no particular order, Indochine Cafe, El Arepezo, Deepwood, and Mazah.
Who are your inspirational figures in the culinary world?
David Chang of Momofuku for taking Asian and turning it on its head. Jeni Britton-Bauer for the same reason — taking seemingly random and strange flavors and making them work beautifully together.
What is your dream job?
Besides what I’m doing? Food buyer for a specialty upscale market. Give me an excuse to travel, taste stuff, shop, and get paid for it? Sold!
What do you think about the culinary scene in Columbus?
Ever since I came back from San Diego I have been saying that the culinary scene in Columbus is one that values content over the superficial. We love places like Nancy’s in Clintonville and Jonnie’s Tavern on Trabue for the amazing food they put out, not because they are “the place to be seen”. We also embrace the concept of local and seasonal a lot more since we are landlocked and get to experience all the seasons. When you have no seasons and Mexico really is considered “local” it tends to mess with a person’s perception of food as well as when and how to best enjoy it.
What do you think about the “foodie” scene in Columbus?
It’s strong and growing, even a lot of people who are meat and potato types are still discerning enough to want their potatoes to be from Wayward Farm and their meat to be from Bluescreek. Again, very concerned with content above all and that makes for a great environment particularly for us food trucks.
Tell us one food-related fact about yourself that few people know.
I hate beets. Much like the people who taste soap when they eat cilantro, beets (and English peas) always taste like dirt to me. Sarah at Blu Olive is the only person that has ever gotten me to eat and enjoy beets.
To sample some of Chef Laura Lee’s cuisine, head to www.ajumama.com.
Photo by Chris Walker Photography.