Are You Ready for Some Soup?
“Chopping vegetables after work is my form of meditation,” Kristina Cho writes.
A designer at O+A who, like all designers here, has way more on her plate than the day has hours to accommodate, Kristina somehow manages to produce a lively food blog, Eat Cho Food, during those hours she’s not doing floor plans and elevations. “I technically started this when I was in college,” she says. “On Tumblr, if you know what that is. It was very casual. I would take a few pictures while I was making dinner and it was sort of like just for my mom or my grandma to show, ‘Hey, I can cook!’”
Being able to cook is kind of important in the Cho family. Growing up around her grandfather’s restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, she was in and out of that busy commercial kitchen all through childhood. She brought her homework there after school. The restaurant, Tai Pan, sold when Kristina was twelve so she never got to work for her grandpa as her father, aunts and uncles had done, but the culture of food was so deeply ingrained that it stuck with Kristina even when she went off to study architecture. Earlier this year, after several years of apartment hopping around San Francisco, she found herself with a sunny, southward-facing kitchen in a place she and her boyfriend were likely to stay for a while and realized it was time to resume documenting her scrumptious life.
The first thing that strikes you about Kristina’s blog is how delicious the food looks. This is the result of two separate skills that do not often come together in one person: the ability to cook and the ability to take beautiful photographs. We’ll come back to the cooking part, but about the photography Kristina says this:
“It’s really just having good light and knowing your angles and figuring out ahead of time—will this recipe actually look good? I have a step stool. If I was taller I probably wouldn’t need it, but I have a step stool to get my aerial shots.” For most people whipping up a layer cake or a platter of Sambal shrimp would be challenging enough without adding the extra complication of climbing on a step stool every few minutes to take a picture of it. “This is something I’m kind of working on,” Kristina says, “how to be a better visual storyteller. I try to take a photo of each step. I like to show the process of how people do stuff because I hate seeing a recipe that’s based on just verbal text. And you’re like, ‘What is this supposed to look like?’”
It’s supposed to look like this: green onion bread with a crust like something out of Downton Abbey; bok choy floating in a noodle broth so rich and brown you wish there was a rainstorm to come in from; home-frozen popsicles; home-concocted soda. It all looks so appetizing the text that follows could be bland as applesauce and you’d still feel hungry. But here’s the extra treat: in addition to being a skilled chef and photographer, Kristina is a witty and expressive writer. About that bread she writes, “I put green onions in it obviously because they make everything better.” About those popsicles (Hong Kong Milk Tea Popsicles made during San Francisco’s record heat wave), “They were air conditioning on a stick, basically.”
As a writer Kristina has the gift of transferring her personality directly into the text. Writing about her neighborhood in San Francisco she catches both the spirit of the place and her own spirit:
Inner Richmond is by far the best neighborhood in San Francisco. I’ll debate you if you disagree… However, I will admit that there could be some improvements. I wonder if there is a community board or council I could join. Issue #1 is the poor access to cheese. This neighborhood is predominately Asian and Asian people have a precedent of not liking cheese. That’s fine. But would it be soooooo terrible for us to get one (just one!) cheese shop?! For the Asian girl that loves cheese?!
Eat Cho Food demonstrates yet again that writing about eating is an ideal vehicle for writing about life. When we read Calvin Trillin or watch Anthony Bourdain, we’re interested, sure, in the burnt-end barbecue tips and the crusty mac and cheese, but what keeps us reading and watching is the quirky character of the eater and his flavorful interactions with the kitchens, food carts, local dives and tribal campfires from which these feasts are struck. Kristina’s blog really delivers on that score.
Though most of her posts originate in her small kitchen, each one bursts with the ever-simmering ingredients of her life—her family, her boyfriend Reuben, what’s going on at work or over the weekend, what’s going on in the world. Here is how she begins a post about beef and onion pies:
Hi Hi Hi! How are your eye balls? I hope you’re not blind from staring too hard at the Sun during the Solar Eclipse. We had a few pairs of the NASA-rated sunglasses to share in the office, but I got a little impatient and sneaked in a peak through my fingers… which I probably should not have done. But I’m okay! I can still see! Good thing too, because my eye balls need to be ready to watch Game of Thrones this Sunday!
And what better way to cope with the stress of dragon wars and astronomical anomalies than with comforting meat pies? Kristina’s pivots from “what’s going on” to “what’s on the stove” are always deft and usually seamless, though she claims the writing is the hardest part of every blog post: “It’s not that I hate writing, but it does not come naturally to me. I do about one blog post a week. The cooking and photography is really easy; writing the recipe, that’s easy. But the text—I always wait for my narrative until the end. My process is to write it and see what comes out and then cut and rewrite. I definitely try to sound like myself.”
The result is a kitchen diary that combines good cooking, luscious photography and spicy writing to tell the story of a young woman living with her sweetheart in one of San Francisco’s great neighborhoods and spreading love to friends and family in the form of mouthwatering meals and snacks. “Of all my passions that’s probably the front runner,” Kristina says of her blog. And then lifting her shoulders and ducking her head, she adds, “Like even more than my job?”
Eat Cho Food is an on-going journal of happiness. Even when the post is about a grumpy mood or a stress-filled day, these dispatches from a kitchen in the inner-Richmond—what extraordinary smells Kristina’s neighbors must endure!—convey a bright philosophy and a joyful way of life. She spelled it out in a post on the occasion of her 26th birthday:
My food coma is hitting me hard now. So I’m going to leave you with this cake recipe and 5 pieces of advice from a 26 year old. Oof, I need to eat some fruit. Tips from a 26 Year Old: Call your mom, Call your (girl)friends, Don’t waste money on a lackluster lunch, Remember to drink lots of water, Be kind.