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Dinner With Jenna Choe: It Feels Like Home

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Restaurateur and Tso Chinese Delivery chief culinary officer Jenna Choe cooks Drunken Noodles for a touch of nostalgia.

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By Jenna Choe, Photos courtesy of Tso Chinese Delivery

When I was 16, I left everything I knew in South Korea including my family, and came to Austin. I attended high school in San Antonio and eventually earned a degree in interior design at Texas State University. A few years later, I married my now husband, Min Choe, and we began our journey together as entrepreneurs. I’ve always had a passion for cooking and entertaining guests. My husband’s favorite story is that I am incapable of cooking small portions, so it was an easy decision for us to try our luck in the restaurant world. As many restaurateurs would agree, it takes an incredible amount of dedication and is very hard work, but it can also be extremely rewarding.

Several restaurant concepts and three amazing children later, we started Tso Chinese Delivery with our dear friends, husband and wife, Angell and Eunice Tsang. Angell is Tso’s chief technology officer, while Eunice is our chief marketing and people officer. I hold the title as chief culinary officer, and Min is our CEO. In its most basic form, Tso Chinese Delivery is a delivery- and takeout-only restaurant that serves Chinese-American food.

We Take Pride in Cook Fresh Food

But we are also a full-stack technology company with proprietary software that combines our e-commerce platform with our own delivery logistics. We take pride in cooking fresh food, which is delivered for free, all while maintaining a strict no-tipping policy. Tso is also proudly registered as a Public Benefit Company, or B-Corp, which means that it is written in our corporate bylaws that our company must also commit to having a positive social and environmental impact

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the relationships I have developed. The most dear to me is the relationship I have with Eunice, who has become a sister to me. We speak daily, both about work and our personal lives, and we draw inspiration from each other to continue to develop and improve as businesswomen. We are very fortunate to have extremely supportive husbands who walk beside us as we all continue to carve and refine our roles as Tso founders.

Could you please introduce us to the dish?

One of my favorite dishes on our menu at Tso Chinese Delivery is our Drunken Noodles. Full disclosure, Drunken Noodles is a Thai-inspired dish but holds many similarities to its Chinese counterpart, chow fun noodles. The Thai version traditionally includes basil, which I absolutely love, and also, it’s just fun to say “drunken noodles.”

When did you first learn to make this dish?

I first created this dish in my old full-service restaurant called Jenna’s Asian Kitchen. It was a big hit then, and after we eventually sold that restaurant, we continued to make the dish at Tso. It’s still one of our bestsellers and is a fan favorite on our menu.

What makes this dish special for you? What does the phrase “comfort food” mean to you?

I love the texture of the wide, flat rice noodles, with the crunchiness of the gai lan (Chinese broccoli) stems, the slightly sweet and savory flavors of the sauce, the heat from the Thai chilis and chili oil, all brought together by the great aroma from the basil leaves. It is the perfect comfort food for me. It reminds me of my past at Jenna’s Asian Kitchen, and it hits all of my favorite flavor profiles. It’s so easy to stop thinking about work or whatever else life throws at me, while eating this dish. It feels like home.

When you were younger, what foods made you feel the best?

As a kid growing up in South Korea, my favorite meat was always pork belly. I recall when I was about 10 years old, I would often go to the meat shop near my home, where the butcher knew me by my name and my order—thinly sliced pork belly. My parents were often working, so I just threw some pork belly on the stove, stir fried it with some sesame oil, salt and pepper and veggies, and my younger brother and I would have this for lunch and/or dinner. It was my favorite meal growing up, so when I make Drunken Noodles at home, pork belly is my preferred meat choice.

Is there a certain ingredient that makes your version of this dish different than other versions?

In this recipe, I substitute hot chili oil with a Korean pepper paste, called gochujang. On our menu, we make this dish with flank steak as the protein, but for this recipe, I will include pork belly instead.

austin-woman-drunken-noodles

Drunken Noodles

Serves 6-8 people

Sauce

3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
(or mushroom-based oyster sauce)
1 tbsp cooking wine
1 ½ tbsp sugar
1 tbsp chopped green onion
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
(or ginger powder)
1 tsp fresh garlic, minced
(or garlic powder)
1 tsp gochujang
(Korean pepper paste for heat)
1 ½ tbsp water

Noodle

8 oz. wide, flat rice noodles
(packaged rice noodles work just fine)

Stir Fry

4 tbsp avocado oil
8 oz. pork belly, thinly sliced
¼ cup medium-sized yellow onion, cut lengthwise
¼ cup red bell pepper, cut lengthwise
1 cup Chinese broccoli, trimmed
½ cup fresh Asian basil
2 Thai chilis (or bird’s eye chilis)

Directions

  1. Combine all sauce ingredients into a bowl and mix.
  2. Prepare noodles according to packaging and make sure noodles are separated.
  3. Preheat wok or large skillet with oil on medium heat.
  4. Stir-fry pork belly, yellow onion, red bell pepper and Chinese broccoli until vegetables are slightly cooked (1-2 minutes).
  5. Add rice noodles and sauce. Stir-fry until noodles and vegetables are cooked through (1-2 minutes).
  6. Add fresh basil and Thai chili peppers. Stir-fry until basil and peppers are fully incorporated (2-3 minutes).
  7. Enjoy!

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