The Korean Vegan Interview: Joanne Molinaro about her new cookbook and TikTok

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When Joanne Lee Molinaro speaks, her presence is imperative. It’s not repulsive – her voice is soothing, her words thoughtful, her stories unique, yet undeniably relatable. That partially made her a successful lawyer in Chicago and helped her build a TikTok episode of the nickname of more than 2.5 million enthusiastic viewers The Korean vegan.

Although Molinaro’s videos show her hands at work making kimbap rolls, glittery jjajangmyun, or vegan fried chicken, her voice weaves stories of family, difficult challenges she has overcome, and hope.

“I wanted people to hear my voice. I want to share something, if not instructions for the recipe, ”explains Molinaro. “There is a popular phrase people use: ‘Love my food, love my people.’ And that was really the organic idea behind it, namely my food is wonderful – but I also want you to know the people behind my food. That is really the idea of ​​The Korean Vegan. “

Though Molinaro has been on TikTok for a little over a year, The Korean Vegan started out as a creative outlet in 2016, separate from her high-profile career as a lawyer. “I was told by a couple of my colleagues, ‘Hey, Joanne, you have to have something outside of work. You have to have a hobby, ‘”she explains. “When I went vegan, I was so nervous that I couldn’t eat Korean food and I couldn’t find any other real blogs that did what I needed. So I thought, ‘This is an opportunity for me to understand Korean cuisine better, to make sure I keep eating the way I want to.’ “

It feels like so much Korean food is rooted in animal products: Korean grill restaurants have brisket and short rib spreads, pork shoulder is often the heart of Ssam, and even kimchi is made from fermented anchovies.

“I missed that emotional connection I had with food, that was Korean barbecues, my uncle on the grill, my father made the marinade and so on – like I couldn’t be part of it anymore,” admits Molinaro. “But there’s this whole world of cuisine out there in Korea that I didn’t know before. I don’t think Buddhists think, ‘Oh, this is vegan food’ but [temple food] is certainly a rich and vegetable tradition in Korea. “

With this in mind, and after deliberation, Molinaro found that although a large part of the food she grew up in included meat, most of her family’s spreads were made up of vegetables. “I just make sure that my whole table looks the same as it did when I was a kid,” she says. “Yes, there was meat from time to time, but 80% of the table consists of vegetables.”

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