Jannell Lo is a young, female, Asian chef ready to stir up Kitchener- Waterloo’s food scene.
Lo has quite the food experience under her belt. After attending culinary school in Montreal for five years, she worked for a variety of restaurants and catering companies based in Montreal, Toronto and Hong Kong. Not to mention she’s travelled and taken local cooking classes in countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.
And now, several years later, Lo has ended up here in KW and is using what she’s learned in the industry. Having only moved here last October, Lo’s already influencing the local food scene with her dishes, how she serves them, and how she shares her recipes.
Aside from being a private chef, Lo is currently the chef who runs J&P’s Grocery’s Hot Lunches Program in downtown Kitchener.
“I basically menu plan, organize and execute hot lunches every day from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m,” she said.
According to Lo, the Hot Lunches Program evolved to what is today — themed lunches for every weekday — thanks to collaborating with Chris Kim of Public Kitchen, and Sarah Pepper and Johnny Kent of J&P Grocery.
At the time, Kim was interested in starting a pop-up at J&P.
“It turned into a natural thing where every Wednesday from October to January, I would set up a table at J&P and serve lunch,” said Lo. “It was always some sort of Asian themed dish. We just wanted to get the cuisine and people familiar with different flavours that they may not have tried before.”
The weekly pop-up was received so well that Kent and Pepper suggested to expand the program to every weekday, rather than just every Wednesday.
“It was kind of mutual … and it kind of developed into that very organically,” Lo said.
Lo also likes to share some of her food knowledge online, particularly when it comes to gluten free food.
“I have a food blog called ‘My BF is GF’, [which stands for] “My Best Friend is Gluten Free,”” she said. “It’s inspired by Asian classics and Canadian comfort foods.”
Some of the popular recipes on My BF is GF include Tom Yum coconut salmon, Northern Thai falafels, Korean beef tacos.
“A big part of [creating this] is because my husband Reid [Witzel] is celiac and has been since he was four-years-old,” Lo said, when asked about the inspiration behind the blog.
“These are just all of the recipes that we create at home that brings my background of being Asian and his background of growing up Canadian. We’re just fusing our foods and making gluten free foods that we think doesn’t quite exist yet.”
As a young, female, Asian chef, Lo recognizes how different it is to be part of such a demographic while living and making a career in KW.
“I think for sure the demographic is less diverse than what I’m used to,” Lo said. “In [my hometown] Toronto I have always felt like I can blend in there. That being said, it was almost too comfortable. Here, I feel like I can rep me and rep my culture and cuisine and bring that to the table be like “this is me.””
Lo said the freedom to cook whatever she wants at J&P has allowed her to play with people’s taste buds.
Being a self-proclaimed traveling nomad, does Lo see herself staying in KW for the long run?
“I think definitely [my husband and I] are going to be here for the next couple of years … but long-long term, I’m not so sure,” she said. “In regards to opening my own business [in the future] though, it makes a lot of sense to open something here.”