ARTIST INTERVIEW: Jaimie, Saehee, and Jeffrey of TENZO
Tenzo is an online resource for the adventurous home cook, featuring a curated selection of thoughtful tools for the modern kitchen. Founded by Jaimie Lewis, Saehee Cho, and Jeffrey Ozawa, if was formed from a merger of their businesses SOO N and Gorumando. Tenzo is part kitchen/homewares store, part lifestyle magazine, and part culinary resource.
Tenzo will be at the Echo Park Craft Fair outside on Effie Street serving up their delicious victuals!
Describe the path that led you to the work you do now.
Jeffrey: The Echo Park Craft Fair is special to Tenzo because our partnership as a company began there a few years back. Jaimie and I were doing catering as Gorumando and Saehee as SOO N. Our booths were right next to each other, and as two of the only food vendors, we were working non stop. At the end of the first day I remember looking across at Saehee and we made eye contact and we just knew. I suppose there may have been a natural inclination to look at each other as competitors, but there was none of that. We struck up a conversation and realized we were all incredibly compatible and had a similar vision. A post-Craft Fair drink turned into a friendship which turned into a business for the three of us.
Jaimie: I think we all had a desire to share what we had learned through years of working with food and translating that professional experience into our home kitchens. None of us started in food; we all have backgrounds in writing and other modes of creative expression. So we envisioned a business where we could tell a story through words and images, objects, as well as the food itself.
How do you find a balance between practicality and beauty in your creations?
Jaimie: Balancing practicality and beauty is really important to us when it comes to curating the products for Tenzo. All of it comes from our own experiences both in the kitchen and entertaining, so we’ve learned over the years what works and what doesn’t, despite how nice it might look. What we’ve come to, I think, is an elemental aesthetic. The pared-down elegance and strength of raw materials that will patina and gain character with age. Wood, copper, brass, carbon steel, handmade ceramics, linen and cotton textiles. We don’t carry anything that we wouldn’t use ourselves.
How is your work inspired by or influenced by nature and your surroundings?
Saehee: Food and cooking feels like a constant response to what’s happening around me. We’re incredibly lucky in Los Angeles to have access to farmer’s markets almost every day of the week. That direct relationship with not only seasonality but the hands that grow my food is meaningful and gives food intention and real substance.
What do you do, or where do you go to seek fresh ideas or renewed creative energy?
Jeffrey: Multiculturalism is a major theme of our work as cooks. Saehee, Jaimie, and I are all coming from very different, very unique backgrounds that have informed our cooking. I love traveling around LA and going to different areas with strong immigrant communities because the food culture is so vibrant and distinct.
Do you see your work as part of an artistic tradition?
Saehee: I think about this questions a lot since food and cooking aren’t traditional considered art/art-making. Particularly as a woman, it’s interesting to consider that cooking exists for women historically in a domestic realm whereas men have been able to move cooking into a commercial realm. Culture often puts women in the home kitchen and men in the restaurant kitchen. Who are the big famous cooks? Often, men. I think about how women can re-capture or re-claim this cooking space and I wonder if the way to do this might be through envisioning food as an art-medium. I think it’s exciting to think that women can be at the helm of nudging food into the realm of plastic arts. It’s even a little poetic if you want to think of food as an ephemeral medium. It’s meant to be consumed. It disappears or changes shapes or rots, but whatever the case, can’t stay static.
Did you have any artists or creative people in your family? If so, how did they influence you?
Saehee: There are a lot of remarkable cooks in my family, starting with my grandmother. She’s lived her entire life over a stove. Her hands are the most beautiful to me – they’ve aged faster than the rest of her, beyond wrinkled and well-used. A life in food will do that. She was a food stylist in the seventies and a cooking instructor before that. She can cook French, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, you name it. I also think her dedication to food is what keeps her young. She’s 86 years old and still studies recipes and is out at all the best markets every day. Cooking gives her ambition and identity and something to works towards every day. I love this as a model for living.