by Len Lear
Hundreds of area residents have learned to cook great dishes in some of the 38 classes taught over the last six years at the Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT) by punster Yoon Lee, who will be teaching “On Tapa the World” on Feb. 22 and “Korean Side Dishes” on March 22, both at the Unitarian Society, 6511 Lincoln Drive in Mt. Airy. Some of the local punster’s other classes have been “Claw & Order,” “Thai Something New,” “Don’t Go Bacon My Heart” and “Keep Calm & Curry On.”
Just in case the MALT classes do not keep Lee busy enough, she also teaches at other community-based schools such as Abington Adult School, Cheltenham Adult School, Haverford Adult School and Main Line School Night. And the company Lee founded in 2012, Let’s Cultivate Food, offers approximately 100 classes a year carried out in students’ homes. “Last year, we picked up a property in Manayunk to emulate the ‘in-home’ cooking experience,” she said.
“We had learned (from feedback over the years) that a commercial setting sometimes lacks that ‘in-home’ feel. The Manayunk location is great in that is offers a cool yet warm feel, has free off street parking, and we can use the kitchen, large table space and even outside for larger events.”
Lee was born in South Korea and moved to America with her family when she was two years old. She grew up in Doylestown and earned a B.A. in Art and Education from Edinboro University. When asked her age, the Conshohocken resident replied, “I’m not sure why this is relevant.”
Since her degree was in art and education, how did Lee get into cooking professionally? “I’ve always had a gift for creatively making food, so I naturally found myself eventually running kitchens. From there, after about five years of doing that, things evolved into menu consulting/restaurant repair, which got me out and around and was much more enjoyable for me.
“One of the last restaurants where I did that requested that I come to their home and teach their family (and it was a big family) this new/updated menu. They had been using great grandma’s recipes, and after awhile that menu become unexciting for their community. That was technically my first in-home cooking class.”
For the past six years Lee has given her in-home classes all over the tri-state area. For the Manayunk facility, students have come from as far away as Syracuse, New York. The dishes that students want to learn the most have been sushi, dumplings, Korean barbecue, Thai cuisine, Pho noodles, seafood, gluten-free and vegetarian dishes.
“The in-home cooking classes have been fun,” Lee told us in an earlier interview. “From walking down the sidewalks of South Philly in the freezing cold with my sous chef and forgetting where we parked the car once or twice to driving to New Jersey for some classes to participating in silent auctions to charity dinners to personal chef dinners to bridal showers to kids’ birthday parties …
“Meeting different people is always cool, but to meet them in their homes for the first time and then to cook with them is clearly something different that most people will never get to experience.”
There is no chance that Lee will be opening her own restaurant any time soon. “You can have amazing food or an amazing atmosphere (in a restaurant),” she commented, “and still struggle to break even, but what I like about Let’s Cultivate Food is that it’s an agile business, and I have better control of the business and my time.”
If Lee could have any job in the world, what would it be? “I have my dream job now. I cater events and am invited to cook four-course dinners, which allows me to use my creativity while having a blast meeting new/interesting people everyday. And then I also plan, create and throw 100 cooking parties a year, which is actually more exhausting that you’d imagine but worth it!”
For more information, visit www.LetsCultivateFood.com or call 215-843-6333.