Kalbi Taco Shack Sue Wong-Shackelford

Sue Wong-Shackelford opened Kalbi Taco Shack on Cherokee Street in 2016.

While doing their part to maintain social distance, home cooks everywhere are honing their skills in the kitchen. Feast consulted with some of St. Louis' finest chefs and business owners for their best advice on how to make easy, wholesome meals using simple pantry staples. Find out how to make the most of your groceries in this Q&A series, which outlines some pro tips for creating nutritious and comforting from-scratch meals, snacks and more.

Chef Sue Wong-Shackelford is the co-owner of Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant Kalbi Taco Shack on Cherokee Street. The family-owned and -run business will roll out another location named City Taco Shack at the forthcoming City Foundry STL food hall. Kalbi Taco Shack is currently offering curbside pickup (with back patio seating available) Wednesday through Sunday from 11am to 7pm. View the menu and order online at kalbitacoshack.com. Delivery is also available via PostMates.

What are some essential ingredients in your home kitchen that you always like to keep on hand? My refrigerator is always stocked with a variety of Asian vegetables along with basics such as onions, green onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, cilantro and other fresh herbs. My spice cabinet consists of a variety of different Asian seasonings and sauces along with Mexican spices.

I like to shop at the local Mexican grocery stores on Cherokee Street, and for Asian and other Mexican items, I go to Jay International Foods on Grand. Some of the most versatile Asian seasonings are of course soy sauce, sesame oil, rice cooking wine, fish sauce and I do get some hard-to-find spices from family members. As for Mexican spices, I always have cumin, chile powder and Mexican oregano in stock along with fresh herbs.

While growing up, what were some of the most memorable meals you enjoyed at home? I have so many memorable meals that I shared with my parents growing up. It’s hard to pick my favorite because it seems as if every dinner was a feast. We always had a large pot of soup boiling on the stove with every meal, and we’d have two proteins and several sides of Asian vegetables, along with rice in the rice cooker. Over the years, both my parents were professional chefs – my dad at Trader Vic’s, which offered Polynesian cuisine, and my mom at Rice Bowl and other restaurants that offered Asian/Chinese cuisine. At home, though, they cooked just about everything. It wasn’t from a specific region – it was just about enjoying the food and the flavors. Sometimes dinner could last a couple of hours unlike nowadays.

Some of my favorite dishes were whole steamed fish, dim sum and stir-fried blue crab, just to mention a few. There are still times I miss my dad’s famous barbecue and his fried chicken that I still haven’t found similar versions of. My mom, on the other hand, made the dishes I had mentioned and she also made fantastic chili.

When I was a little girl, I remember going grocery shopping with my mom and learning how to pick quality meats and the freshest ingredients to purchase for that evening’s meal. I now still continue to shop that way for the restaurant and home – the funny thing is I might be a little bit more particular than my mom was. 

Growing up over the years, I helped my parents with cutting the vegetables and then making the sauces. Later on, I learned to marinate the meats, and soon after that I started cooking the whole meal alongside both of them. It was a great experience. Now, when I have both my daughters Olivia and Sierra in the kitchen at home and at the restaurant cooking with me, it brings back great memories of my childhood.

What are some of your favorite dishes to cook at home for your family? Some of my favorite dishes I make when I have time are pho and other soups, barbecue ribs, corned beef and cabbage, all kinds of seafood, pasta dishes and the family's favorite: my Mexican tacos.

Can you share a recipe for a quick and easy go-to meal? After coming home from a hectic day at the restaurant, one of our favorite fast meals and my preferred dish is baked salmon because it's fast, easy and healthy. I bake it in foil for an easy cleanup and also the foil locks in moisture so the salmon turns out moist and flaky.