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Saehee Cho

How food creates communities.
Words by George Upton. Photography by Justin Chung.

For Saehee Cho, a cook, writer and food stylist, food offers a unique way to bring people together—whether youre reconciling generational divides, helping your community, or just making time to connect with friends over dinner.There’s something so communicative about cooking for someone and having them eat your food,” she says.

Cho started cooking professionally while studying creative writing at the California Institute of the Arts, baking cakes for her classmates as a way to unwind. When you come from an immigrant family in the U.S., you tend to bridge cultural gaps and language gaps with food,” she adds, referring to her own experience growing up within a Korean household in California. Her cakes led to her being hired by the university as a caterer, and to Cho subsequently spending more than a decade as a cook, catering for large groups of people as part of her artistic culinary project, Soo N.

When California was placed under lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cho drew from her experiences to launch an initiative called Soon Mini. At the start of the pandemic, Cho had been delivering meals to friends, but noticed that everyone had time on their hands to cook; what they were struggling with was sourcing good quality ingredients. Using her relationships with local farms, she began buying produce in bulk and distributing it herself.

What started as a simple way to help friends during the pandemic has quickly grown to become a pioneering non-profit organization. Cho now coordinates around 50 orders a week that are delivered by a network of volunteers. Very little money has been exchanged,” Cho says of the generosity and the system of skill-sharing at the heart of the enterprise. Instead, weve exchanged time, food, care and love. We created this small community based in food that feels very genuine and special. Its like a family thats just grown and grown.”

As well as making good quality produce accessible to consumers, Soon Mini has, in turn, established a platform for small businesses that humanizes supply chains. Its a model that enables farms to sell direct to consumers and to grow crops that suit the climate and calendar, rather than be dictated to by restaurant groups. The projects success owes much to the technology thats available today. Its been a critical point for Soon Mini. We would never have been able to scale the operations without understanding how to build these different systems,” she says.

Unsurprisingly, running a non-profit food subscription service, on top of catering and food styling work, leaves Cho little time for herself. Still, she always makes time to cook for herself when she returns home—even if its 11 p.m. Ill come back from a styling gig and I wont even want to look at food,” says Cho. But being able to transform those materials into something for myself becomes a meditative practice, which is magical.”

When youre cooking for 40 people, and 40 plates have to come out hot at the same time, inevitably the love gets diffused,” she continues. If its small group, though, Im very intentional. Im thinking about them as I cook, wishing them luck, and I guarantee its better than anything I make when Im catering.”

This story was created in partnership with Samsung as part of Slow Systems—a new series offering simple ideas for transforming everyday moments into more meaningful experiences.

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