Many of us in Chicago know Melissa Yen as the friendly woman who ran Vella Cafe, a popular brunch/lunch spot that I used to eat at regularly. It was at Vella that Melissa first started using the flavored syrups that would become Jo Snow. This past fall, the syrups became her full time thing. Now you can find them at stores in the Chicago area, as well as popping up on menus at restaurants and bars.
The syrups are a hit, and I am a huge fan. We keep a bottle on hand to add to cocktails, top ice cream or to make a quick soda. But you can (and should!) get more creative. They are great whipped with cream, used in salad dressings, sauces, and coffee. It is a simple product with endless uses.
Melissa is also fantastic and she and I recently met for lunch to talk syrups. She inspired me to try my hand at making my own syrup at home. Her main advice was to have fun because, as she reminded me, you can’t go too wrong. And it is true— even my worst experiments were still pretty good. But before we get to my creation, I (of course) asked Melissa to take the L+D food quiz:
Lottie + Doof Food Quiz: Melissa Yen of Jo Snow Syrups
Sweet or salty?
Salty and crunchy! It’s all about texture for me. That said, I ALWAYS need something sweet after I eat something savory!
Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate, hands down!
Hot or mild?
Unfortunately these days it is mild. Stomach isn’t what it used to be :(
What won’t you eat?
I will never eat stinky tofu ever again. I shudder at the thought. I don’t feel so bad, though, because it got the best of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern also.
Most memorable meal?
Pizza Bianco in Arizona. They have THE best pizza. The dough has the perfect chew. It gets nice & bubbly & blackened in spots. Perfect amount of toppings, not too much cheese.There is really nothing else on the menu. They have a wood burning stove & that is it. I love single concept restaurants. We had to wait for hours, but we snagged a seat down the block at their “bar” which is a little house lit by candles & noshed on olives & sipped on wine, while spending quality time with our friends. What a wonderful evening.
Favorite object in your kitchen?
Oddly enough, an inexpensive random yellow spatula. It has the best curve & is suitable for any job.
What are you scared of in the kitchen?
Flipping food in a saute pan. I still have not mastered that task, or even attempted it lately.
Do you prefer to cook alone or with others?
I would have to say with others. Whenever we have parties we tend to have interactive parties, where people create their own dishes from ingredients we have provided, like roll your own sushi, or wrap your own gyozas or create your own ramen soup. I love the interaction & collaboration & creativity that stems from collective cooking.
What country would you move to for the food?
Vietnam. We are going in January. I am so excited. I cannot go very long without some type of Asian food. I think I could survive on goi coun. It is just the perfect food; light, healthy, crunchy, satisfying. Even their grilled meats are light & flavorful paired with cold noodles, fresh herbs, tangy fish sauce. I love the contrast of flavors, textures & temperatures.
If you were to come back as a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
Kale. Somewhat misunderstood, like me!
What’s for dinner?
A big bowl of soup. We keep home-made chicken stock in the freezer & thaw it for quick meals. We add whatever veggies we have in the fridge & supplement from the pantry & freezer, so..tonight: Chinese brocoli, frozen corn for texture, shitake mushrooms, maybe some brown rice or cellophane noodles. We can spice it any number of ways, Asian, Latin, Italian, so we never get sick of it. I could eat it everyday.
Inspired by Melissa, I made this bright and refreshing grapefruit, lime, and ginger syrup. I love it with sparkling water, but it is also nice spooned over some grapefruit segments.
This isn’t about a recipe, just an idea. Steep something in some syrup to extract flavor. Go crazy! I am working on a prune, orange, anise that I am still trying to get right. Dried fruit, zests, herbs and spices, there are so many possibilities. Have fun experimenting and let me know what you come up with!
Or better yet, just find yourself some Jo Snow and let Melissa do the work for you.
Huge thanks to Melissa for the syrups, and for such a wonderful, Chicago-based product! More on Jo Snow syrups (including links to order your own bottle) HERE.
Grapefruit, Lime, and Ginger Syrup (inspired by Jo Snow Syrup)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- zest of 1 large grapefruit
- zest of 1 lime
- 3/4 cup water
- 1-2 teaspoons of grated fresh ginger
In a bowl, rub zests into sugar to release oils. Combine sugar, water and ginger in a small pan and cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves and syrup is simmering. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 15 minutes. Strain syrup to remove zest and ginger and allow to cool. Keep in the refrigerator and use however you like.