Growing up in a Filipino-Canadian family, food was always an important part of Jay del Corro’s life. After a brief stint working in restaurants, del Corro took a corporate job and settled into life as a foodie civilian. But, you can’t keep a man like del Corro away from his calling — before long he couldn’t resist a deep-seeded desire to share his love of food with an audience beyond his own family, and while he wouldn’t have predicted it five years ago, del Corro is now full-time as the owner and cook of the wildly popular Eats of Asia.
Del Corro’s professional food career started as a hobby when in 2009 he started posting cooking videos on YouTube and his video blog under the name The Aimless Cook. Viewers loved his casual, upbeat style and easy-to-follow recipes, often for classic Asian dishes. Today the Aimless Cook has over 35,000 YouTube subscribers and del Corro was the only Canadian invited to participate in YouTube’s 2011 Next Chef competition. But while del Corro loved sharing his recipes with his audience, he yearned for an even more direct way to get the food he loved to the people.
Nowadays del Corro’s Aimless Chef videos come out at a much less frequent pace because he’s busy with Eats of Asia, which he originally started as a stall in the Millarville Farmers Market in 2012. After his YouTube success, del Corro knew there was a demand for the kind of Asian street food he was making in his videos, so he took the plunge and the first version of Eats of Asia was born.
“When we started in Millarville it was a really tough sell,” del Corro says. “There were a lot of locals in that market. So it took a while to get our momentum building and to get our audience. There were a lot of ranchers who may not have had curry laksa. My wife was really good at being that interpreter and she really broke down a lot of barriers. But here in Calgary people are a lot more open and accepting, and willing to do that culinary exploration.”
Outgrowing Millarville Market, del Corro moved Eats of Asia to the Market on McLeod (then Kingsland Market), where he still has to explain his dishes sometimes, but finds that Calgarians are getting the hang of the Asian street food theme. Serving up bowls of congee, chili miso ramen, spam musubi, Korean dirty fries, bao, beef machado, and whatever else hefeels like making, Eats of Asia is inspired by the ever-growing street food movement that’s taking over hipper areas all over North America.
“I knew that I love Asian food and that I loved sharing via my channel. And at the time there were a lot of great things going on in the food world,” del Corro says. “So I was inspired to do the same thing. In San Francisco Danny Bowien was doing Mission Chinese Food and that really inspired me to think outside the box. I thought, why can’t we do that here?”
And it’s worked out well. While some people may see stalls in farmers’ markets and food trucks as less prestigious than bricks and mortar restaurants, del Corro loves the freedom that comes with a restaurant that is essentially portable. He can cook pretty much whatever he wants and experiment with new dishes — all completely in line with the spirit of North American street food, which del Corro thinks is still just getting into full swing.
“I see it as a scene that has a lot of opportunity still. I see there’s a lot of potential for markets here as long as people get their heads on the right tracks,” del Corro says. “Like food halls that are incubators for young budding entrepreneurs. We can really foster that community here in Calgary. I think a lot of people see markets as a really good way to go get some produce and then take it home and feel good about themselves. But they’re becoming a very good place for entrepreneurs to get their start. People who are doing wonderful and beautiful things.”
Last December, del Corro finally left his corporate job, making Eats of Asia his full time gig. This February he bought a food truck that he brings to events, making his street eats available to people who don’t necessarily find their way to the Market on McLeod. Del Corro would like to open a full-fledged fast casual restaurant, but for now he’s really happy with the freedom that he gets with his space in the market and mobile location.
“The most fun about this business is that we get to do it the way we want to.” Del Corro says. “I love just playing with new items and doing new things and seeing how they get accepted. That’s the most fun for me.”
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth is a Calgary-based freelance writer, and co-founder/co-editor of RollingSpoon.com. She enjoys exploring the connection between music and food through interviews with musicians and chefs.
Photos by Ingrid Kuenzel