When “The Great British Baking Show” mania hit the US, fans of TV cooking contests found themselves wondering everything they thought they knew about the genre.
Why did British audiences get a tent in the country, with quirky hosts, hilarious, fun music, and crews from all walks of life who all seemed to swell, while American shows like “Top Chef” were all about high back-stabbing drama and sweet-speaking?
Leave it for PBS to fill in the blank.
The new show “The Great American Recipe,” which premieres June 24 at 8 p.m., appears to be taking a more subtle approach to the cooking contest. (He hasn’t even announced how much cash the winner will receive. Only that their dish will appear on the cover of a cookbook.) Rather than fierce competition, “The Great American Recipe” brings together a multicultural and geographically diverse team of home chefs for an upscale, supportive show. for dishes that represent their identities.
One such contestant is Tony Sherber of St. Louis Park. Sherber was born in South Korea and adopted by an American family when he was just over a year old. The 30-year-old social media manager loves to cook. (He even has a side job making chili oil, which he sells at the Mill City Farmers Market in downtown Minneapolis.) Many of his favorite recipes incorporate his Korean heritage and the tastes of the Midwest he grew up with. Expect to see his gochujang chicken tacos (see recipe) on display—and among the recipes in “The Great American Recipe” cookbook coming out in August.
The Star Tribune spoke to Scherber before the premiere about how he made it to television, where he loves to eat in the Twin Cities and what he hopes to convey to viewers about cross-cultural adoption.
This interview has been shortened and edited for length and clarity.
s: Start from the beginning: How did you find out about the show and why did you want to participate in it?
a: I first discovered the opportunity through a friend of mine. He texted me on social media, saying, Hey, this looks like a really great opportunity. And I thought, yeah, that sounds like really cool that they’re looking for people who love to cook. I thought, maybe I’ll throw my name into the ring. And a day later, I got a call from the producer saying, “Hey, you have a really unique story.”
s: What was going through your head when you were cast on the show?
a: It was surreal. It was definitely an opportunity I never thought I would get. But I was so excited to be part of the opening cast, to share my story and interact with other members of the Korean immigrant, Korean adopted, Asian, and Midwesterner cast, who represent Minneapolis and Minnesota.
s: The clip I saw reminded me of “The Great British Baking Show”. Seems to be a lot of fun, a celebration of people and what they had to bring. How do you explain the offer?
a: This show celebrates multiculturalism. We all focus on one thing and that is how food has affected our lives, and how it tells a story of creativity and passion. It is very suitable for family, there are a lot of happy feeling moments. And the people who are part of the team, we all have similar and unique backgrounds. This is what we are as America as a melting pot of culture.
s: None of you are professional chefs, right?
a: No, we’re all just home cooks. Some of us have separate jobs that don’t even involve food. We have a BBQ sauce seller and we have someone who delivers the meals to the house. Then there’s me who’s a social media guy and comedian. But we all have food at the center of our lives in some way.
s: How big a role did food play in your life as you grew up?
a: I was adopted from South Korea, and my brother was also adopted. My mom wanted to make sure we were still aware of our culture and background. The way some families celebrate “I got caught day,” we called it “arrival day,” the date we arrived in the US, so at least once a year, she would take out her little Korean cookbook and she’d make us Korean food. Everything from the classics you might think of, from bulgogi rice and fried kimchi to japchi, mandu. As I grew up, I learned more not only about my culture and heritage, but about others around me and around the world, and how food is the focus of how we care for each other, how we tell stories and how we show affection.
s: How much do you cook at home?
a: Dedicate a little. Some people say maybe too much. I make chili oil, a little side business that I sell at the farmers market [called TonzKitchen]. This is my first year. My hobby started making chili oil near the start of the epidemic. Obviously the level of spice in Minnesota no one really knows how to balance it out, so for me this chili oil is something you can use not only in Asian foods, but in your everyday breakfast as well. We put it on the pizza, we put it on the goat cheese with crackers. It’s a really good transition for those who really like to have that kind of spice and flavor that can also handle a little bit of heat.
s: What are some of your favorite local restaurants?
a: I love to support a lot of different restaurants and chefs, whether from Union Hmong Kitchen, Yia Vang, Ann Kim, Young Joni, Sooki & Mimi and Ann Ahmed with Khaluna, I love going to Hai Hai. Then the more famous restaurants like Gavin Kaysen, Spoon and Stable and everything else in between. There is never a shortage of great restaurants here in the Twin Cities that go well beyond what the state of Minnesota is. Apparently a lot of people think we’re juicy lucy or hot tot tater tots. But I love being able to show people that we have great local chefs here who are doing some really good work to make sure that isn’t the case.
s: What kinds of dishes will we see you cook on the show?
a: I definitely have a lot of Korean influence. Some say fusion. I just take my Midwest upbringing, the meat and potatoes mentality, but I’ve added a Korean twist to it. When I cook for other people, I like to suggest the Korean chicken tacos first, as this is usually a fan favorite. This is the combination of my heritage and culture with Korean ingredients like gochujang and gochugaru as well as my love for tacos, but also my admiration for the way I got into cooking, through Roy Choi and his Korean fusion taco movement that day. . It has been a huge inspiration to me.
s: What do you look forward to most about seeing yourself on TV?
a: Oh, I don’t know if I’m really looking forward to it. I’m a person whenever you see yourself on TV, I get a little shy and embarrassed. But honestly, this is just a really cool show that people can tune into. I hope I can really connect with people based on my own story and experience. I know there are a lot of adopted Koreans and Korean immigrants here in the US and in Minnesota, and maybe I can be that cornerstone and be able to resonate with them. OR FOR INDIVIDUALS CONSIDERING adobe outside the US: Please take the time to realize how much you impact the child’s life to make sure their culture and identity remain intact.
s: Want to share anything else about the show?
a: Just be prepared to share some really fun experiences. You’ll really immerse yourself in the cast and how you can relate to any of us based on your love of XYZ, whether that’s your love of soul food, Southern food, your interests in comedy, and everything else. One thing I will definitely take away from the whole experience is the people I met who are now considered family members.
korean chicken taco
Note: From Tony Sherber, contestant on The Great American Recipe. “As someone who was born in Korea and raised in the United States, I did not grow up with an obvious connection to Korea,” he said. “I was drawn to chefs like Roy Choi because of their blended cooking, and I looked up to them for the way they have created their own way of expressing their identity through food. These are my version of chicken tacos: spicy chicken seasoned with fermented kochojang kimchi. Blending Korean flavors with Mexican flair, These tacos are definitely a favorite for any gathering.” You will need to prepare this in advance to give the meat time to marinate.
• 1/2 c. gochujang
• 1/3 c. Plus 2 tbsp. Soy sauce, divided
• 6 tablespoons. Divided vegetable oil
• 5 tablespoons. Toasted sesame oil, divided
• 1/4 c. Maple syrup or honey
• 3 tablespoons. Chili oil or hot garlic sauce
• 2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
• 1 (2 inch) knob ginger, grated
• 4 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. ground black pepper
• Gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes) to taste, optional
• 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
• 6 (8 inch) tortillas
• 1/2 teaspoon. Sesame seeds
• 1 jar (14 oz) kimchi, drained and coarsely chopped
• 3 green onions, thinly sliced on top
To prepare the chicken: In a large bowl, whisk together kochujang, 1/3 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 3 tablespoons sesame oil, maple syrup, chili oil, rice wine vinegar, ginger, garlic, salt, pepper and gochugaru (if you are using). Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Add the chicken thighs to the bowl and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to two hours.
Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, and seasoning until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate while it simmers, adding more oil as needed for the remaining batches. Cut the chicken into small pieces, then transfer to a clean bowl.
Place the tortillas on a grill or grill pan and let them heat slightly on both sides, or in the microwave for 20 seconds to heat them up.
To prepare the dipping sauce: In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce with the remaining 2 tablespoons sesame oil and sesame seeds.
To serve: Pour chicken over each tortilla, add kimchi and garnish with green onions. Serve the dipping sauce with the tacos.