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January 24, 2018

Morning breakfast with Tenzo and Canyon Coffee

We feel very lucky to call the trio behind Tenzo our friends. Before meeting Jeff, Jaimie and Saehee, we were fans. We devoured the delicious food they made at Echo Park Craft Fair, and admired their aesthetic and brand from afar. Behind it all we found three sincerely nice, humble, and authentic people. They embody all the qualities of people/entrepreneurs that keep us inspired with our company.

During our transition from the Westside of LA to the Eastside, Tenzo welcomed us to the community by inviting us over for dinner. Just as we love to spread the warmth of morning coffee and ritual to our friends and family, so it is with Tenzo with [delicious] food and conversation. It was such a relaxed, beautiful night. And the food was insane.

We were inspired, and asked Jeff, Jaimie and Saehee if we could do it again for breakfast. They said yes, of course, and we invited our friend, photographer Justin Chung, to join (all the photos in this piece were taken by Justin!).

We also asked Tenzo answer some questions, and loved all their answers! Hope you enjoy, and be sure to check out Tenzo's gorgeous selection of home and cooking goods on their online shop!


What, and who, is Tenzo? (What do you do, where do you do it, and how?)

Jeffrey: Tenzo is the three of us: Jaimie, Saehee, and myself. We run an online kitchenware store and a catering company in Echo Park. On top of all that we develop content around our cooking, products, and our way of life here in LA. We're able to pull it off because we each do a little bit of everything. 

Can you tell us the story of Tenzo? What inspired you to create it?

Jeffrey: Tenzo is the Japanese name for the temple cook in a Buddhist monastery. Our business is inspired by the idea of a heightened awareness in the process of cooking. Before that Saehee had Soo N, Jaimie and I had Gorumando, both catering companies on the east side of LA. We met at the Echo Park Craft Fair, became friends, and realized how much we thought alike in terms of food.

After several endless dinners we began brainstorming this larger project that would incorporate all facets of cooking into one company.

What are your morning rituals?

Saehee: My day doesn't start until I have coffee. My coffee of choice is Canyon's organic Chochajau. It has the right amount of acidity for me and the chocolate smell is so inviting first thing in the morning. I make a full French press full of coffee and sip all morning. Among my many new year's resolutions, I've re-dedicated myself to writing for at least 30 minutes every morning. Something about coffee and writing naturally go together. I love this moment of writing and drinking coffee before the sun is fully up--it feels like the purest moment in my day. 

Jaimie: My ideal morning involves sitting on the patio and reading before the sun comes up over the house, with a mug of something warm to hold. I love the chilly mornings we've been having lately. I love the taste and smell of coffee, but I'm sensitive to caffeine, so lately it's been ginger turmeric tea for me. Jeffrey prefers coffee, though, so I'll often make it for him and sneak a few sips. 

What do you love about having your own business? 

Saehee: It's nice to know that at the end of the day we're building towards something real and not just a paycheck. It makes the work more satisfying and keeps us going.   

Jaimie: I really love the freedom that working for yourself allows. I have a really hard time with a fixed schedule and I like a mix of physical and mental work. Jeffrey and I basically started our own business originally because we couldn't imagine doing anything else. 

 It’s awesome to see friends teaming up to create something they love. Do you have any advice for similar groups of friends wanting to go into business together?
Jeffrey: Yes, I say do it. What's the other option? Work with someone you hate?

Saehee: Working with friends is such an advantage because the partnership/business is necessarily more meaningful. We were clear and specific about putting our friendships before our businesses which I think informs the food we make, the tone of our brand, and the decisions we make.

Knowing where everyone stands and general transparency feels right for what we're trying to do.  

It also helps that our work is fun and keeps our bellies literally full. Our meetings and brainstorming sessions almost always involve a good meal.  

Jaimie: I also think it helps that our skills and interests are quite complementary. Saehee is very visually creative, while I tend to be more precise and detail-oriented. Jeffrey is the conceptual ideas person. We're all pretty laid back, so rather than create tension that generally allows us to reach a nice balance. We share an overarching vision, but each of us has our own areas that we focus on.

It really comes across how much love and effort you put into making food, and into its presentation! Are there sources of inspiration or influences that have informed each of your creative processes?
Jeffrey: Travel and nostalgia. We launched Gorumando as a bento catering service after a trip to Japan. The bentos there were so good and I thought it would be fun to translate that to LA. That process made me think about not just the food, but the entire culture of consumption, that the food is just as important as the container its in, and the font and design of the label.

Saehee: My grandmother, mother (also all of my aunts and cousins) are pretty exceptional cooks. I am forever chasing my grandmother's careful attention to everything she makes. Her food has the kind of magic that only comes from time. Our family talks about her "Sohn-Mat" (손맛, trans: hand-taste) which is that inexplicable depth of flavor that comes from her general life experience. I love that my family talks/thinks about food in this way. I read my family story in food and am always reaching to extend that narrative.

What are your favorite, go-to markets and restaurants in LA?

Saehee: I love the Santa Monica Wednesday market for variety but I probably go to the Sunday Hollywood Market the most regularly. I inevitably bump into a friend, which always feels wonderful. I like to start at the top of the market and do two rounds to truly get the full scope and always end my trip by getting a baguette at Bub & Grandma's.

Jaimie: Apart from the Hollywood market, our favorite is the Thursday evening market in South Pasadena. It's smaller, but has all of our favorite produce vendors -- Underwood, Valdivia, Moua's Farm, Ken's Top Notch -- and it starts at 4pm, so we can get there when it opens, which is not something we can manage on Sunday mornings.

We don't eat out very often, in part because we can get such good ingredients to cook at home. If we eat out, it's often because we're sufficiently away from our own kitchen, so a couple of our favorites are Gjusta in Venice and Necco in Westwood.

What are your favorite meals to make / eat at home?

Saehee: Pasta-all day! 

Jaimie: I love to make a variety of meze and have little bites, like what we're having for breakfast here. Really simple vegetable salads. My favorite lately is just sliced green cabbage with olive oil, lemon, garlic, and a mix of herbs from the garden--mint, oregano, cilantro. I've also been obsessively roasting brussels sprouts in a mix of olive and walnut oils in our De Buyer roasting pan. Walnut oil is my secret ingredient for roasted vegetables, it adds this really subtle nuttiness that takes it to the next level. 

Can we get a Tenzo recipe?

Coconut Banana Nancy Cake

This recipe is a variation of Nancy Cake--a recipe I designed around my dear friend Nancy Romero. It's ridiculously easy and adaptable.

  • 1 1/4 cup (162 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 banana (mashed)
  • 1/2 stick (56 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup (146 grams) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh berries


  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Grease a 9 in cake pan and set aside
  3. Combine dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda. Set aside
  4. Combine wet ingredients: egg, buttermilk, coconut milk, and vanilla extract. Set aside
  5. In a standing mixer, cream the butter and the sugar until fluffy
  6. Add mashed banana
  7. Slowly incorporate the wet and dry ingredients in alternating additions.
  8. When your batter is no longer lumpy, pour into greased pan.
  9. Dot you cake with the berries in a circular pattern
  10. Spoon about 2-3 tablespoons of sugar on top of your cake batter

Bake for 20-25 minuted or until the cake has developed a golden brown sugar crust. You should be able to poke the cake with a toothpick and have it come out clean

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