By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
Grace Sunu, founder of the new Web site www.NotJustRice.com, grew up in a Manoa family that built its celebrations and gatherings around food. Her mother is an excellent Korean cook.
Sunu, who is in the Islands now on one of her frequent visits, graduated from Roosevelt High School, went to the Mainland for school, and became a certified public accountant. Then she married, and she and her businessman husband, Paul, moved to North Carolina where they raised two children, now grown, a son and a daughter.
But Sunu, like most Islanders, missed the tastes of home. And you can't find kim chee or most Asian foods in North Carolina.
She searched for recipes so she could reproduce those beloved family flavors. But most recipes for kim chee (fermented, spicy vegetables essential to the Korean table) were not specific, the results were inconsistent and the cooking process designed for a large family of women to make in immense portions. And large batches didn't work for her small family.
Like most cooks of the elder generation, Sunu's mother doesn't use recipes, so it wasn't as simple as picking up the phone and saying "Mom, can you give me your recipes for this or that."
She felt sure there could be an easier way. And that easier way, which she developed in trial and error in consultation with family members, gave birth to the Web site, which specializes in simplified and streamlined Asian recipes, particularly Korean.
With the help of her mom, she experimented and succeeded in creating a three-step kim chee-making process. She reproduced an Asian poached salmon that is a favorite of her son. She plans to share her mother's Korean noodles (chap chae) and a number of other favorites.
Sunu said one key to Korean-style cooking is that, while the actual techniques are quite straightforward, each component is cooked separately, then combined, so it looks complicated although it's not.
The Web site launched in late July. The site is focused on videos, so she had to learn to shoot and edit videos of herself. "Two months ago," she said in a self-deprecating note, "I knew nothing." Her son became her coach. Now, she said, "I'm the whole production staff."
Already, from the response to the site, it's clear that Sunu has struck a chord: her formula of traditional foods made simple appeals to many in her generation and that of her children.
Sunu, who divides her time between Manoa and North Carolina, created a master sauce that can be used for making several kinds of hot pepper kim chee, as a meat marinade, even dressing for a quick salad. The red pepper-based sauce can be frozen for up to three months. The site includes recipes for making cucumber, turnip and cabbage kim chee.
She's working on a feature now that will discuss 10 ways to use this basic sauce.
"I improvised a lot and added a little honey and a few enhancements," said Sunu. "I've been able to put my thoughts and concepts into the recipe but the core flavor is my mother's."
Sunu said she thought of doing a book but believes that the Internet is a better medium for sharing information because recipes can be demonstrated visually, which is the most effective way to teach cooking, especially for beginners or when new techniques are involved.
"I feel what this is all about is to share the things we enjoy with our friends and family," she said.
She said her initial motivation was to record her family's recipes so they wouldn't be lost. "I want to pass on the family tradition and history to my children and their children and, at the same time, to be able to share with friends."
She has not only streamlined the recipes but worked to make them more healthy, reducing fat, salt and sugar as much as possible.
Said Sunu: "What I've done is morphed the flavors of Asian cooking with the healthy elements and fresh taste we enjoy today, using the ingredients available now."
One of her happiest moments was recently when her son was able to reproduce his favorite Asian poached salmon dish all by himself. It was what www.NotJustRice.com is all about.