The word “Anju” means food that you eat with alcohol, so the food that we’re doing is not fine dining, it’s very casual, and I’m working with Korean drinking food as well as regular dishes. My vision for Anju is to introduce Korean food to the general population of Calgary, to make Korean food approachable, and doing it in a fun and interesting way which reflects not just the flavours of Korea, but also who I am as a chef.
Anju is my first restaurant, although this is not the first location, we opened December 31st, 2008, for four and a half years until June 2013, closed, then reopened here in August 2014. I was born in Canada but got exposed to Korean cuisine through my mom, family events and the Korean community. I put my own interpretation on the dishes, though, either through different ingredients or different techniques, some more North American, sometimes just an updating of the original.
Authentic ingredients are not hard to get, although some vegetables are only available dried, not fresh. Korean food in general has a lot of options for vegetarian and pescaterians, vegetables are a very large part of the diet.
Our tiffin containers are part of our lunch menu. We serve *doshirack*, kind of like Japanese bento, a meal your wife would prepare like a packed lunch.
The noodle dish that we’re doing just now originated when the Americans were in Korea during the war. At that time Korea was a very poor country, so the local people would get the rations from the American soldiers, which would include American cheese, hot-dogs, pork and beans, spam, and they made this dish called Army Stew. They would put it into a spicy broth with Korean instant noodles. We use higher quality noodles and ingredients, obviously.
We have a Wine Director that helps with wine pairings, and we have wine training every week to figure out what wines go with which food. Beer is an easier one to figure out. A big thing is Soju which is a Korean alcohol. Before there were only two brands imported, but it’s starting to get easier to get higher quality versions now.
We don’t get a lot of Korean customers. Koreans are very stubborn and don’t like to see their food changed, which I do, especially first generation, but we’re starting to get the younger generation. The traditional Korean restaurants in Calgary are not competition for us, there’s nothing like this modern approach. But there’s room to improve, I look at food in Korea and I think Korean restaurants in Calgary could do much better.
We get a lot of reservations. When we closed we had a reputation for being busy and that has carried over here. People know they’re not guaranteed to get in, especially Thursday through Saturday. We reserve the bar and four tables for walk-ins and those fill up at 5:30… we have 112 seats.
We plan to stay the course here. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. I’ve seen a lot of people grow too fast. I’m content here right now. Maybe once Anju is full established I’ll consider something else.
By Fred Holliss