Review: Cook/Book with Ann Shin

Cook/Book event
Cook/Book event

A little while ago, I went to an event – called Cook/Book – at Windup Bird Cafe (382 College Street, Toronto) that was an interesting mix of literary and culinary fun. When Sang Kim, the owner of the cafe, invited me to the event I was intrigued even before I found out who the author was. Food and books together – for me, it’s a match made in heaven. And then I read further in the email and found out that the author for the event was Ann Shin and I was sold. I was really impressed by her documentary, The Defector, but hadn’t read any of her poetry or writing. Yet!

Windup Bird Cafe
Windup Bird Cafe

Windup Bird Cafe

I’ll have to go again to get a real feel of the vibe of the cafe but I was impressed by how friendly and well organized the staff were (always a plus). Two things really stood out for me though. I loved the bar area and the random quotes written on the windows. But since this event was about the food and writing, let’s concentrate more on those.

The Food

There was a set menu for this event as Ann Shin, along with the event host, Sang Kim, would be showcasing one of Ann’s family recipes – a delicious pulled chicken bibimbap. The two of them prepared it while explaining all about the dish along with Ann talking about her new book of poetry, The Family China. So what did we eat?

One of the appetizers - Japanese Kimchi
One of the appetizers – Japanese Kimchi

Japanese Kimchi

It was a very mild flavoured cucumber kimchi, not spicy at all but would probably appeal to many.

The second appetizer, three salads and soup
The second appetizer, three salads and soup

Carrot & Fennel Soup with 3 Salads

I loved the soup, it was flavoured perfectly. In fact, I would order it as a stand-alone dish. As for the salads, I really enjoyed the one on the right (in the picture), perhaps it was an Asian coleslaw?

Ann Shin's pulled chicken bibimbap
Ann Shin’s pulled chicken bibimbap

Ann Shin’s Family Bibimbap (pulled chicken)

The chicken gave a slightly lighter flavour to the bibimbap and I could have used a little more sauce as there wasn’t enough to make it as spicy as I generally like my bibimbap. But overall, it was a nice dish and one that would probably appeal to most palates.

Dessert - mousse, crumble and chocolate
Dessert – mousse, crumble and chocolate

Three Dessert Plate

I adored the fruit mousse; it was light and just the right mix of tart and sweet. The flourless chocolate cake was super rich and yummy; and a nice counterpoint to the mousse. However, I found the crumble a little heavy and cakey for my taste but still decent.

The host, Sang Kim, with author and documentary filmmaker, Ann Shin
The host, Sang Kim, with author and documentary filmmaker, Ann Shin

Ann Shin’s talk

I had previously only heard her talk about North Korea and her documentary (which I highly recommend and which has won 3 Canadian Screen Awards) so was quite happily surprised how funny she was. I loved her joke about hockey and corner stores, it was not only a lovely way to break the ice but super funny too.

She spoke about her documentary, poetry and her most recent project, The Family China, ongoing stop-motion video series that is absolutely fascinating. Check out her YouTube channel for clips from it.

After the demonstration and talk, I was lucky enough to have a brief conversation with Ann Shin, who is lovely by the way, and she told me a little about how her documentary came to be (go see it if you haven’t already). We also chatted about her upcoming book – a novel with North Korean characters set in North Korea and Toronto that is a coming of age story. I don’t want to give away anything but based on her short description; I can’t wait to read it.

The finale - breaking china to let go of something.
The finale – breaking china to let go of something.

The Smashing of the Dishes

The evening concluded with everyone going onto the patio of the cafe and smashing a plate or bowl. Why? It was a symbolic gesture to release any pent-up baggage. We were actually asked to bring a piece of china to smash but most forgot and Sang provided us with some. It was interesting how open everyone was with sharing the baggage they wanted to ‘release’ and how cathartic it was to smash the china. Don’t know if it worked but it was fun.

Random Impressions

Not only were staff friendly but so were the other guests/diners. I was there on my own as I generally am when covering an event and a lovely lady came over and chatted with me and even invited me to join her table. It was super nice and set the tone for me for the event.

And as always when I go to a Korean or Korean cultural event, I saw someone I had met previously. This time it was the past owner of the Korean restaurant Daebak, who remembered me from when I was there last year with MPP David Zimmer (who is no relation to me even though we have the same last name) and the lovely people from Arirang Korea. He in turn, introduced me to the gentleman he was with, a member of the North Korean community in Toronto.

A close-up of some of the ingredients in Ann Shin's pulled chicken bibimbap
A close-up of some of the ingredients in Ann Shin’s pulled chicken bibimbap

Final Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. It was lovely meeting and chatting with Ann Shin – and from the description of the book she’s working on, I really can’t wait to read it! Everyone was super nice and the food was good. All in all, it was a wonderful way to end my weekend on a pleasant note. I highly recommend you check out the interesting events that happen at Windup Bird Cafe, among which the Cook/Book is a monthly series with different authors each time. I also recommend Ann Shin’s documentary, The Defector.

  • For more information about Ann Shin, please check out her website
  • For more information about Windup Bird Cafe, please visit their webiste.

Did you attend the event? Perhaps you saw The Defector? What did you think?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday – this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it’s taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I’m the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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