In the Kitchen With Roy Oh of Calgary’s Anju Resto

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RoyOh-Anju-chef

Roy Oh’s pathway to professional cooking has had a few detours. “I started cooking for my church, doing Christmas parties,” he says. “For a guy who didn’t have any experience, they were pretty good,” he remembers. But Oh didn’t immediately enter the culinary world after cooking at church, he had diversions first.

The chef studied science at university and spent time in the automotive industry. “I had my own small business doing visual enhancements on cars,” he says. “I partnered with body shops — they did the paint work — I did the decals. I like keeping my hands busy.” Eventually, he earned a visual communications diploma, a qualification with little benefit to a cook. But cooking at church hooked him, and eventually a full-scale career swap changed his life.

The cook’s inherent creative streak compelled him to embark on a foodservice career, without any training. “I don’t have any culinary schooling, I learned everything through my experiences, and my mom is a very talented cook,” he says fondly. “The meals at home were always very good, so her food developed my palate. That’s pretty much my strength.”

Oh got his start at Calgary’s Joey Tomatoes — a job he viewed as an investment in his future. “It was the biggest restaurant I knew, so it was the best place to learn how to open a restaurant. That was my vision back then,” he says. Next, he travelled briefly to Seattle to stage at Monsoon restaurant, before taking a “vacation and eating tour” of New York. Returning to Canada, Oh took a leap of faith and opened his own 50-seat restaurant.

His vision paid off. Today, Oh is executive chef and owner of Anju Restaurant and Lounge, serving “contemporary Korean fusion.” Anju, which means “food you eat with alcohol,” is the basis for his tapas-style menu. Oh’s love of Korean cuisine came easily to him. In fact, several of Oh’s dishes, such as Anju’s popular Korean-style mussels ($16), are inspired by his mother’s Korean recipes. “My mom had been making black garlic, and I thought it would be great with ginger and soy, so I created a sauce with black garlic, ginger, Serrano peppers, soy sauce and sugar,” he explains. “We steam the mussels with white wine, the black garlic sauce, and a little butter. It’s one of our best dishes,” he says. Another favourite is Oh’s slow-braised oxtail tortellini ($12). “We braise oxtail for 10 hours and roll it into a tortellini shape using wonton skins.” The menu also features panko-breaded crispy tofu with sautéed kimchi and citrus aioli ($10). “People think they don’t like tofu,” Oh says, “but we’ve never had anyone not enjoy it.”  

Oh seeks different ways to use interesting ingredients, modernizing Korean food. It’s a strategy that seems to be working, as Calgarians frequent his resto, regularly spending $40 on average per visit; the most expensive item is the $45 tasting menu.

The chef’s future looks bright with monthly sales of $60,000 and plans to grow the business. “We’re in the process of moving locations — a bigger location that’s more accessible, with a higher traffic area.” Oh is ready to handle the larger crowds he’ll attract. He’s done it before.

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