Mama Pak’s Kitchen does it with style

April 10, 2015

(Mama Pak’s Kitchen Instagram photo)

Hanna Pak (Courtesy of Hanna Pak)

Hanna Pak (Courtesy of Hanna Pak)

By Tae Hong

Hanna Pak is a do-it-yourself kind of cook.

The relative food-world newbie may not have a culinary degree or the fancy tools of professional chefs, but she gets it done just fine with a smartphone and everyday household items for her food service, Mama Pak’s Kitchen.

Started as a hobby on Instagram, Pak’s eye-poppingly styled photos of homemade food — reds and yellows and greens and oranges on a signature black background — have taken her talents to a recently launched catering company and the attention of online food enthusiasts.

From her home in Toronto, the 1.5-generation Korean Canadian uploads near-daily images on social networking sites, each delectably crafted and arranged. You’d have trouble believing the cooking and the food styling are all self-taught.

Always a foodie, she spent seven years working as an operations manager with a fashion distributing company before diving into food full-time, spending time with various chefs, learning their craft, picking up skills.

“There’s so many world-renowned chefs who didn’t go to culinary school,” she said. “It’s about how much you want to push and how much passion you have for cooking, your love for it.”

Success via Instagram in the way of people’s reactions to her shots of meals made for her and her husband, including attention from prominent accounts like Crate & Barrel, convinced her that this was the right route.

In January, after months of posting food pictures, Pak begun her first business, an on-site catering service available to Toronto-area food lovers.

Pak’s approach to cooking reflects her own space-challenged kitchen, where she makes everything using chopsticks, toothpicks and Ziploc bags. All photos are taken with her Samsung Galaxy; the background remains one black tablecloth draped on her coffee table.

Imagination goes a long way in her limited-resources world of home cooking.

“I want people to know that you can make these dishes without extravagant tools. I can teach them how to cook with what they have in their home,” she said.

As an 8-year-old, Pak was no different. She and her family had immigrated from Seoul just a year prior. Her mother had brought a Korean cookbook with her. Enamored by its photos and recipes, she made her first dish (a colorful kimchi bokkeumbap using raisins and ketchup) for her family.

“How good can it have tasted with raisins and ketchup, right?” Pak laughed. “My family enjoyed it. It would make me so happy to see their reaction, to see how much the food made them happy. I wanted to do it all the time.”

Decades later, that excitement has yet to abate. The entire process, from picking ingredients to combining them for others to visibly enjoy, is at the heart of what she does, she said.

Mama Pak’s Kitchen is an ongoing project.

“I really want to see where my passion comes out for now, whether it’s in catering or teaching people or focusing on food styling,” she said. “The biggest thing is, when you start to go toward just making money, it becomes another nine-to-five. I want to make sure my passion and love for food stays.”

(Screen capture from Mama Pak's Kitchen)

(Screen capture from Mama Pak’s Kitchen)