Beverly Hills-based private chef Ronnie Woo's culinary education began as a child growing up in Washington, with parents exposing him and his two older sisters to different restaurants at home and around the world. Later as a model for brands such as Banana Republic, Nordstrom's and K-Swiss, mixed with appearances on runways, Woo would develop a calm receptiveness that he applied toward his career in food, and which has allowed him to better accept feedback on his cooking.
When Woo launched his first brunch pop-up, last month at a private residence, it was due in large part to the requests of clients.
“We were criticized down to the very inch of our bodies and faces. So if I make a dish that someone criticizes, I'm not going to cry about it and lose my motivation. It's about what I can do to improve it,” Woo says. “To be criticized on something you have no control over, then to transition and be criticized for things you do have control over makes [criticism] a lot easier to handle.”
Woo comes from a family of Hong Kong and Taiwanese descent. His mother preferred to blur regions in Chinese cuisine and include all the food groups in making large family meals. “That's how I am when it comes to cooking. I want to make sure there's always something from each food group,” says the chef.
As he's wanting to start a family with his partner soon, Woo recognized the sacrifices required of running a restaurant and chose to become a private chef instead. He now cooks for two to three clients a week, using a different menu each time.
“Being a private chef, I get to interact with all my clients and guests. I love that about my job. It's very intimate and close; it's fun. It made sense for my personality and what I enjoy about cooking,” he says.
Woo calls his style California comfort. “I lived in San Francisco for three years and started my private chef business there,” he says, finding inspiration in the city's farm-to-table ethos. He returned to L.A. in 2011, having first moved to the city six years ago for his career in modeling.
“Seattle is just being recognized as growing foodie space. But my parents had always known it. There were always new restaurants. We had a lot of fresh seafood. My dad and I would go fishing all the time. I was introduced to a lot of fresh produce. It's a lush region; I'm used to eating really fresh seafood, which translated to freshness in general,” Woo says.
Woo's brunch pop-up came by request from his clients and is named in part after his personality. “I can tell it like it is, but I can be sweet at the same time,” he says.
The second Salt + Honey pop-up will be at The Colonial Wine Bar on Melrose on Sunday, May 5 at 11:30 a.m. This time around it's a four-course meal at $45 per person; a vegetarian option is available in lieu of the hanger steak entrée. Tickets can be purchased online.
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