Grace Seo Chang Masters a Family Recipe

“I promise you, it's really easy.”

The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Grace Seo Chang is as passionate about Korean food as she is about rescuing animals (see: Seve Chang) and beautiful clothing (she used to work in fashion). She's mastered her mother's recipe for mille-feuille nabe, which looks impressive but is actually quite simple to make at home (Grace swears!).

Mille-feuille nabe is something my mom made for us growing up. It’s really nice, especially in the wintertime. And it's easy! Though somebody’s going to make it and be like, What is she talking about? But I promise you, it's really easy.

The ingredients are half of a napa cabbage, which fits perfectly in Deep Cut. Between each leaf you layer shiso, and I like to use thinly sliced hot-pot beef. You can use pork, too. Or, if you just want to go all vegetarian, you can remove the meat. I get beech mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, and then portobello mushrooms for the top. On the bottom you usually use mung bean sprouts, but because I'm pregnant, I substitute those with yam noodles.

Mung beans are a staple in Korean food. But the properties of mung beans are cold. And when you're pregnant your body should stay warm. So you try to not consume mung beans because, otherwise, your uterus gets cold. Everything inside, it just cools you down, and you wanna stay warm. That's why I substituted the yam noodles, but you can also play around with it.

This recipe is pretty quick to cook once you’ve done the assembly, which you can do ahead of time. I simmer it for about eight minutes on the stove. I make a broth out of the leftover mushrooms; I just pour hot water over them and let it sit there. It’s a really clean broth — no salt or anything. You could also cook this in the oven. Or you can just get one of those portable ranges and cook it in front of your guests at the table, and it becomes kind of like hot pot.

The best thing I've noticed about Deep Cut is the weight, which is just right. I feel that way about the whole set. I can cook with the pans, Dave [Chang, Grace’s husband] can cook with them, my mom can cook with them — even my mother-in-law, Dave's mom, was in town, and she noticed. She said, “This is just so much easier to cook with than the stuff you guys had before."

The first time I made this recipe, I think it was for Dave. I always feel like the best time to cook for him is when he comes back from a long trip. The first thing I ever made him was chili, and it was horrible. It was, like, the first year of us dating, and I thought, Oh, I'll make a bowl of chili because then I can eat it, too. I think this was my second time making chili. As I'm making it, I'm like, This still tastes like tomato sauce. There was a point where I was actually like, I think this is better off as a pasta sauce rather than chili. It's just going to have beans in there. I served it and ... I think Dave made a few adjustments to it.

But that didn’t stop me from cooking! Dave is definitely great at home cooking, but it still feels very like, Oh, this is a professional making us dinner, versus someone who's just trying to cook at home. A lot of the dishes that I make are dishes that I grew up eating with my mom, things you could go to K-Town and have, but making it at home is extra nice. It would be a nightmare if we cooked in the kitchen together, though. He's a tornado in the kitchen, but in the best way possible. He loves timing himself. He's like, "I made all that in 30 minutes!" I'm like, "Great.”

Home cooking is more about the effort. Perfection will come over time. I cooked a lot growing up because I would just like to hang out with my mom. When I first got pregnant, I was like, “I’m going to eat whatever I want to eat!” But then I realized I really should think about the baby and eating healthier, especially in the third trimester. It makes you feel so different than eating out or ordering in. I got swollen pretty quickly in my third trimester, but after my mom came and we started cooking, the swelling came down because my salt intake and sugar intake decreased significantly.

Home cooking is more about the effort. Perfection will come over time.

My mom really started to cook after my brother and I arrived. She immigrated from Korea, and it would have been so easy for my brother and me — especially because we grew up in a predominantly white area — to just get lost eating spaghetti or pizza. For her it was another way to introduce us to her culture. My mom will say, "You only like Korean food just because you had it so young."

One of the biggest obstacles to cooking at home is knowing how to shop for groceries. I was never able to fully grasp how to shop in a store; it's the part of the process that gives me the most anxiety. You walk in and you're like, Oh I think I want blueberries. And then you come out and you're like, So, what am I going to make with all this cereal? Now I shop by each category: fruits, vegetables, meats. But I can’t do it online; I have to be able to touch and see the food that I'm buying in order to know what I'm going to make.

I have to be able to touch and see the food that I'm buying.

The first time Dave cooked for me, it was a year into us dating. He says you can't set the bar too high or whatever. My friends would keep asking me, "Has he cooked for you?" There was even a point where I thought maybe he wasn't even really a chef. I was like, "Maybe he's just a fake and he actually doesn't know how to cook!” I mean, most chefs, they don't have anything in their fridges.

Photos by Liz Clayman

Living with someone like Dave, all of his stuff is very industrial for a true professional chef. A lot of times that doesn't translate to what you need at home. That's one of the reasons my mom always thinks that I never cooked. Our moms inspire so much of how we cook and what we cook. It's so nice to have cookware the whole family can use.