Living 5,000 miles away from the place where you grew up and where your family ran a restaurant means one thing you are going to miss for sure is the food. And when the place was Seoul and the food Korean, then finding that authentic taste of home cooking was never going to be easy. For Gina Heo, the answer was obvious; using the recipes her mother taught her, she started Onnuri, her own Korean food home catering business in November 2015 and has never looked back.
Gina says: “I missed Korean food so much and I wanted to share my love and passion for it. My parents ran a traditional Korean food restaurant in Seoul and it inspired my own interest in cooking.
“My mum taught me her recipes and I soon learnt how to cook my own delicious Korean food. Having grown up around a food business I felt confident I could start my own.”
After university in Sydney, Gina worked as airline cabin crew and moved to Dubai where the international food scene was vibrant. She was often asked by passengers to recommend Korean restaurants and this got her thinking. By the time she moved to London and then on to Harrogate, it struck her that Korean food was not so well known in the UK.
She says: “It was difficult outside London to find any Korean restaurants or even the ingredients for cooking. That inspired me to look at how I could bring Korean food to the UK.”
Onnuri works by customers choosing dishes from the menu which Gina then cooks in her own kitchen – which has the required hygiene standards – and brings to their home. More excitingly, she can also bring the ingredients and equipment to the customer and cook in front of them.
Not surprisingly, cooking at a customer’s home is popular and often requested to mark a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary. Gina says: “They are very interested because it is totally different and they are always very impressed with the taste.” And she never charges for doing the cooking herself. “It’s a labour of love,” she adds.
One of her customers is the US base at Menwith Hill where she has catered for conferences. She says with a smile: “They told me they wanted something different from sandwiches.”
A popular dish – and her own favourite – is Beef Bulgogi (thinly-sliced beef marinated in a homemade sweet soy sauce). Other dishes on the menu include Korean Pork Barbecue, Tofu Bento (tofu seasoned with chilli powder and served with rice and sautéed spinach), Japchae (noodles with vegetables) and Jeyuk Bokkeum (spicy stir-fried pork).
Korean food uses a lot of fermented ingredients, including Kimchi which is fermented lettuce and cabbage. These foods are authentic and take a long time to prepare but that’s not a bad thing as Gina explains: “Because we take our time to create kimchi and sauces from scratch, they are much fresher, healthier and taste delicious. That is why authenticity is so important to me.”
Over time she has introduced more dishes, such as Korean Chicken with a spicy sauce. She recently returned to Korea and came back with ideas for some new dishes. The Beef Bulgogi uses a unique homemade sauce which she learnt from her mum. “Gina says: “She would be surprised and pleased that it has been brought to the UK and is now enjoyed by the people of Harrogate.”
The response since launching Onnuri has delighted her. She admits she was nervous when she set out on her mission to share her love and passion for Korean food. She says: “People were not really aware of Korean food and I wondered what they would think of it. They have really embraced it and we have had some wonderful feedback. I have felt privileged to be able to introduce some people to Korean food for the first time.”
For someone living 5,000 miles from where she was born, Gina is well and truly at home in Harrogate with her family. The business has helped that process in a way that only food and meals can. “I love cooking food and interacting with my customers and this has also allowed me to develop lots of friendships and settle in Harrogate,” she says happily.
Find Onnuri on Facebook: www.facebook.com/OnnuriUK
This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we highlight some of the best independent businesses in Yorkshire. To read more of our Spotlight posts, click here.