Grace Choi has food on the brain. Whether she’s daydreaming about her next meal of oysters and cava, planning an intimate dinner party of chanterelles and smoked duck, delving into an unfamiliar cuisine, or writing a paper on cross-cultural dinnertime conversation patterns, food is what gets her out of bed and occupies her thoughts throughout the day.
Grace and her brother were raised in Northern Virginia by Korean immigrant parents who approached food with reverence and gusto. The stories they shared with their kids of post-war Korea were often about what and how they ate: street vendors selling puffed rice snacks, classroom furnaces that doubled as lunch warmers, Korean mothers buying cans of Spam on the black-market to the delight of their families. From a young age, Grace fixated on the unique ability that food has to conjure up strong emotions, from comfort and nostalgia to even embarrassment and longing. She observed these sentiments in novels by Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and her own school cafeteria. She spent much of her childhood mentally cataloging which foods would allow her to blend in at school (bologna sandwiches) or stand out (Korean garlic chive pancakes). This was the beginning of her lifelong fascination with the relationship between food and identity.
After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, Grace realized that the idea of not pursuing a lifelong career in food was unimaginable, so she enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Following an externship at Thomas Keller’s per se, she moved to Italy to work as a sous chef and cookbook co-writer for the award-winning vegetarian restaurant The Country House Montali. (The cookbook, titled Vegeterranean: Italian Vegetarian Cooking, was released in London in 2008, and in the U.S. in 2012.)
She then returned to New York and enrolled in the Food Studies doctoral program at New York University, studying under the psychologist Carol Gilligan, to study the intersections of food and ethnic identity among second-generation minorities in America. She is receiving her PhD in 2014.
Grace also teaches undergraduate and graduate Food Studies courses at NYU, is a voiceover actor for SpokenLayer, teaches cooking classes, and has appeared on howcast.com, Inside Edition, The Katie Brown Workshop, and the CBS NY morning program The Couch. In her spare time, she practices yoga and tries to convince herself that she likes to run.