With more than 164,000 Instagram followers, brand ambassador deals for national companies, and a slew of TV appearances, it’s a wonder that Alice Choi has time to cook, create recipes, shop for locally raised products, and be a wife and mother to her two daughters. But Choi keeps churning out recipes for zucchini ribbon pizza, chickpea veggie meatballs, butternut-squash-turkey chili and other healthy dishes. “And there’s more coming,” Choi says with a laugh. “When you love what you do, more is more.”
Also on her plate: completion of the Malvern home she and her husband Paul bought in September 2019. They relocated from Madison, Wis., when her husband’s insurance industry job brought them to this region. Though his career has taken them to several states, Wisconsin was one of Choi’s favorites—especially Madison, the state capital, which has a fantastic food scene. “I wish more people knew about Madison’s diverse culinary scene,” she says. “There are James Beard-nominated chefs, and restaurants work closely with the farmers. It’s a smaller community, so we were well connected and collaborative.”
It was there that Choi’s social media empire took off. She’d started cooking and posting on Instagram in 2011 when she lived in Seattle. By 2016, the account had a healthy following. That year, Choi made her first appearance on the Today Show, where she prepared an asparagus-gruyere tart for Mother’s Day. The response was so positive that Choi was invited on Good Morning America, then back to Today. “The Instagram following grew, then more opportunities came to me,” she says.
Choi wasn’t always a chef—or much of a foodie. “My husband didn’t marry me for my cooking,” she jokes. “My repertoire was limited.”
Choi was an advertising executive before her daughters were born, her food awareness growing when she became a mother. Looking at the labels on baby food jars, she was surprised, confused and horrified. “I started to learn about food and ingredients, and a switch went off,” Choi says. “I wanted the food I was putting on the table—and into my family’s bodies—to be better.”
Food was a big part of Choi’s life growing up in Dallas. “My parents taught me how to cook when I was a child, and it was mostly traditional Korean food,” she says. “They wanted to pass on those recipes and instill our Korean heritage in me.”
There are vibrant Korean communities in Dallas and Houston. So, although Choi was a minority and aware of it, she learned to be proud of her family’s heritage. “It jibed just fine,” she says.
Choi’s parents owned and operated Korean restaurants in the Dallas area. “My father and mother love food and are good cooks,” Choi says. “I come from a family where food has been the center of what we do together.”
It’s that way for Choi, too. Daughters Phoebe and Madeline, 13 and 10, make regular appearances in Choi’s social media content. Choi limits their exposure online, but she loves that her daughters enjoy healthy home-cooked food. “I love my mom’s cooking,” Madeline says. “It’s better than any food I’ve had from a restaurant. Cooking in the kitchen is fun when I’m helping my mom.”
Phoebe agrees. “My mom’s food is so delicious and full of flavor,” she says. “I love her leek-and-potato soup.”
Choi knows that the whole foods route isn’t always easy. Her advice to other parents: Get young kids eating vegetables before fruit. “Don’t start with fruit, because they’ll taste the sweet and be less interested in the carrots and broccoli,” she says.
Even food-friendly kids can become picky eaters when they turn 4 or 5 years old. Choi urges parents to keep trying. Once a week or so, introduce new vegetables. “If you don’t do it when they’re young, they won’t do it later in life,” she says. “I see people who only serve chicken nuggets and mac and cheese, and that’s all the kids eat.”
Right now, there’s lots of time at home for getting creative with family dinners, and kids are looking for new and interesting things to keep them busy. Choi’s social media traffic increased greatly from March to June, so she upped her output to meet demand. “I’d been publishing one recipe every other week, but I started putting out recipes two to three times per week,” she says.
With supermarkets running low on supplies, Choi’s quarantine recipes employed pantry staples and ingredients most people had at home. She simplified things, sensing that people with young kids didn’t have the bandwidth to spend hours cooking. Now, Choi has returned to creating dishes that feature seasonal produce and locally sourced ingredients. “It’s creative comfort food that tastes good and is good for you,” Choi says. “I think it’s exactly what we need right now.”