Somewhere between Korean, Southwestern and French cuisine is where our story begins.
Born in Columbus and raised in Licking County, Alyse Cho discovered her love for cooking at a young age.
“Growing up our family motto was: ‘Share food. Share love.’ It’s a saying we always repeated, it was important to my family to feed one another.”
Alyse’s dad is Korean and was raised in Hawaii, their family dynamic always-included dozens of extended family members working together in the kitchen and then sitting around a table sharing food.
“It was something my mother always made a point of, sharing a meal together as a family. I really started taking an interest in food around 11 years old. I was dying for an Easy Bake Oven, but when I got one I realized it was just a silly lamp, I turned my attention to the real oven and started experimenting with recipes.”
Alyse chuckles, “The early recipes were terrible. But my family pretended to enjoy them.”
Along with her love of cooking, Alyse wanted to do something impactful. She joined the ACLU and worked with mental health patients while enrolling into Ohio State’s Political Science program. After a few semesters, it dawned on Alyse being a lobbyist or politician wasn’t going to fulfill her, so she dropped out of school and moved out West.
“I just knew I wanted to feed people. Oh, but it terrified me, and my family. I had a full ride scholarship to OSU and dropped out with nothing but a few bucks and a big dream.”
Alyse landed in Arizona where she enrolled into culinary school. Going to school full time, Alyse also worked at a fine dining French cuisine restaurant. She was the only chef hired with zero professional experience.
“It was scary, and something I had never done before. There were little plates and complex designs, it was a very intricate setting. I would go to school until 2 in the afternoon, take a one-hour nap or study break, and head to the restaurant at 3. I would then work until 1 in the morning. I feel like I didn’t sleep for 2 years, but the knowledge I gained was priceless.”
“After awhile I wanted to learn something new. I had a passion for the Southwestern culture, so I moved into a Southwestern cuisine restaurant. One that was a little more rustic. I was the only female in the kitchen, after a short time, I became the lead line cook. It was such an honor, and I loved it, but it was still fine dining. It was hard for me to make small plates when I knew there were so many people suffering.”
Alyse left that restaurant and was hired at a local hospital working in the cafeteria.
“Talk about humbling! Going from fine dining to making batches of scrambled eggs. But the empty feeling inside of me finally went away, and I felt like I was helping people.”
She admits, “The hospital has its challenges, there isn’t a ton of funding and I really struggled with feeding processed, packaged food to people who were sick and really needed help.”
Due to personal and family circumstances, Alyse found her way back home to Columbus.
“My dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. When I found out, I literally packed up and moved within 24 hours to care for him. That’s when I really started researching juicing and the whole foods diet. I also started to take a real interest in the ethics of food. I went out to local farms and worked in a garden and I started to get back to the organic side of things—I also learned there was this whole ethical side to the food industry.”
It was at this point Alyse started to realize how much she loved Ohio. “There are very happy cows and chickens here. There are great fruits and vegetables and lots of natural medicines. Not to mention, there was this whole community of locally owned businesses sprouting up and I was really excited about that!”
It was at a Farmer’s Market, when Alyse first heard about Zest Juice Co. “The girl next to me at the market worked at Zest. At the time, Zest was brand new, so I applied, 3 days later I was hired.”
Today, Alyse is Zest Juice Co.’s exclusive chef. Recently launching a new unique menu with many more items in the works.
“We wanted to start out simplistic, with very approachable items so our customers could get oriented with the tastes. Right now, we are still experimenting with what people like and learning about our audience. I have about 10 different ideas a day, so it’s only going to expand from here. As we introduce more food items, I want to put more of my influences, experience and cultural heritage in the ingredients. For example, the Asian Dragon Noodles are very ‘homey’ to me. I want to marry that with some Midwestern favorites, all while bringing up the standard of healthy foods.”
When asked what Zest Juice Co. means to her, the answer is simple. “This company is conscientiously ambitious. Natalie and Jordan are always looking to move forward, but they take their time and are very careful to stay true to the values this company stands for, such as community first. We are always looking for ways to better serve Central Ohio, so we can collectively make our home a healthier environment for all.”