Kari Kleinmann is 24 years old, but already she’s been cooking professionally for over a third of her life. The Wisconsin native made her way into the restaurant industry while still in high school—first as a busser—but quickly realized that working front-of-house wasn’t for her.
“I was really always interested in what they were doing in the kitchen, so I decided to see if I could get a job doing food prep or something like that when I was 15,” the executive chef of Dunlevy SnackBar (433 Dunlevy Avenue) tells the Georgia Straight during an interview at the Chinatown restaurant.
After a short stint at a Mexican restaurant, Kleinmann was hired by a country club. For three years, she learned to work every kitchen station before moving to Vancouver at age 20 to attend Emily Carr University of Art + Design. She worked at Gastown’s Nicli Antica Pizzeria while in school.
“They hired on a chef at the time, Chris Picek, who ended up becoming a mentor to me in a lot of ways,” Kleinmann recalls. “I learned a lot—about making pasta, using really fresh ingredients, and just really fresh, simple Italian food.”
After graduating in 2013 with a degree in painting, Kleinmann spent three months travelling around Southeast Asia, visiting the Philippines, Singapore, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. When she returned to Vancouver, she began cooking at Dunlevy SnackBar.
“It was weird and perfect because I had spent the last few months learning about food over there, really paying attention to it, and really getting excited to come back and share some of the things I learned with my friends, and it turned out I could share them with everyone,” she says.
The menu at Dunlevy SnackBar—which opened in 2010—is based on Asian flavours. Dishes, which include Japanese inari-zushi, pork belly steamed buns, and a daily Korean bibimbap, are small and meant to be shared. Asian cuisine also inspires Kleinmann’s cooking at home. She often tosses together different combinations of vegetables and noodles, as in the recipe below for sweet soy turmeric noodles, on her days off.
"I usually make rice-noodle dishes with variations in the sauce. I use rice noodles because I try to stay away from wheat in my own personal diet. It doesn’t sit well with me. I also don’t really buy meat at home. I’m not against eating it; I eat it sometimes. At home, for me, I throw an egg in my dish or fresh tofu or something like that,” she explains.
Her recipe calls for sweet soy, which is a reduction of regular soy sauce, sugar, and spices. Kleinmann likes to make her own but says the sauce is found in most Chinese grocery stores. Pickled mushrooms are also sold at Asian supermarkets; they add a touch of acidity to the dish. Kleinmann suggests pairing the dish with a light Asian beer such as Tsingtao.
Kari Kleinmann's sweet soy tumeric noodles
2 Tbsp (30 mL) sweet soy sauce
1 Tbsp (15 mL) soy sauce
2 tsp (10 mL) turmeric powder
½ cup (125 mL) water
1 clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
7 oz (200 g) rice noodles
1 Tbsp (15 mL) canola oil
1 small crown of broccoli, cut into small florets
1 pickled bird’s eye chili, thinly sliced
1 stalk green onion, thinly sliced
Pickled oyster mushrooms for garnish
Roasted cashews for garnish
½ lime, cut into 2 wedges
- In a small bowl, combine the sweet soy sauce, soy sauce, turmeric, water, and garlic. Set sauce aside.
Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil. Add noodles and cook for 5 minutes, or until noodles are al dente. Drain.
Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add broccoli and sauté for 2 minutes until broccoli is bright green. Add noodles, sauce, and chili. Toss with broccoli.
- Move everything to one side of the pan. On the empty side, fry eggs for 30 seconds until whites start to solidify. Break eggs into small pieces by incorporating with other ingredients.
- Divide between two bowls. Garnish with green onion, mushrooms, and cashews. Place a wedge of lime on the side to squeeze over dish before eating.
Yield: 2 servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.