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Monica Lee, owner of Beverly Soon Tofu, pens 37 years of secret recipes into a book

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Monica Lee (center), CEO of Beverly Soon Tofu , cuts a cake with congratulations from guests gathered to celebrate the publication of her cookbook, “Sohn-mat” (Taste of Hand in Korean) at The Dragon Restaurant in Koreatown, Los Angeles, on September 28. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]

“I’m going to share 37 years of flavor secrets with you.”

Monica Lee, the pioneer behind Beverly Soon Tofu, the first Soon Tofu restaurant in Koreatown Los Angeles, which opened in 1986, is set to release an English-language cookbook titled “Sohn-mat,” containing her closely guarded recipes.

During a press conference held in LA Koreatown on September 28 to celebrate the book’s upcoming publication, Monica Lee shared that her publisher had approached her at a time when she was heartbroken after closing her restaurant in September 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reflecting on that challenging period, she stated, “Beverly Soon Tofu, which I started when I was thirty-four, couldn’t withstand the pandemic.” “It’s been three years since the closure, and when I was grappling with sadness over shutting down the restaurant, Hardie Grant Publishing got in touch with me, inquiring about my interest in publishing a cookbook,” Lee explained.

While Lee was confident in her ability to craft authentic Korean dishes using fresh ingredients daily, she initially had reservations about writing a book. However, with unwavering support and encouragement from her family and publisher, she managed to complete the cookbook, featuring her secret recipes, after two years of hard work.

“I wanted to share not only my memories but also those of my loyal customers that I had gathered over my 30 years of running the restaurant,” said Lee. “I penned this book in the hope that even if readers can’t dine at Beverly Soon Tofu, they can still savor the flavors of Beverly Soon Tofu in their own homes.”

“Sohn-mat” comprises recipes for various types of Soon Tofu dishes offered at Beverly Soon Tofu, along with side dishes like Mak Kimchi, Egg Rolls, and Braised Fish Cakes. All of Lee’s recipes are designed to be straightforward and can be prepared in 30 minutes to an hour or less.

Lee remarked, “The book is primarily geared towards non-Korean readers rather than Korean Americans. I wanted to introduce the essence of Korean cuisine and demonstrate that it’s not as complex as it may seem, emphasizing its ease of preparation. Everything in the book can be made using ingredients readily available at home.”

The cookbook also includes a historical account of Beverly Soon Tofu and Lee’s personal insights on Soon Tofu stew ingredients, in addition to the recipes and an overview.

Lee’s daughter, JJ, assisted in translating the book for her mother, who has limited proficiency in English. During the press conference, JJ commented, “My mom may not often say ‘I love you,’ but we can always feel her love in her cooking. I will continue to actively support her in pursuing her dreams.”

The cookbook “Sohn-mat” is scheduled for release on October 3 and will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at other bookstores.

In 2024, Lee plans to launch her Soon Tofu starter. “These days, I’m even busier than when I was running a restaurant,” Lee added, “but I’m delighted because I’m filled with passion to share more recipes with even more people.”

BY YEJIN KIM    [kim.yejin3@koreadaily.com]

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