Kimchi and Curry on American Soil

Friday, June 17, 2016

Anniversary cake, celebrating six years of "getting hitched." 

Dale Gray never expected to settle in the United States, much less in one of the oldest towns in Mississippi.  And she never planned to meet a man who would win her heart and take her far from the country she loved. But life is full of twists and turns and as we lean into the journey we often find ourselves following a different path from the one we first envisioned. This was the case with Gray, a native of South Africa who went to university with the intent of studying Food Science, changed her major to become a Social Worker, and then, after graduation decided to spend a year in South Korea before beginning her career.  Six years later, she had completely fallen in love with Seoul, kimchi and an American soldier.

Now Dale spends her days teaching children how to cook and enjoy food from around the world in classes she offers from the home she shares with her husband in the small town of Brookhaven. The food she prepares often stems from memories of her childhood in South Africa, such as her grandmother's grape jam and her mother's roti, and includes many dishes she learned to prepare from browsing the markets in Seoul. She also hosts successful Instagram and Facebook accounts where she weaves stories into a beautiful journal of culinary inspiration.

As a military wife, she knows the reality of loneliness and the overwhelming joy of a husband coming home from deployment unharmed. She also knows the gratefulness soldiers experience when receiving a box of home-made goodies and has done her part in shipping dozens of her special M&M cookies abroad.

For someone who grew up in the rolling vineyards of the Cape Winelands and now lives in the heart of Mississippi, Dale Gray has traveled a long way to find the place she calls home. And when her heart misses her homeland and memories tend to bring tears, she pulls out this piece of prose by Linda Hogan,

“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands."  

Dale Gray, host of @thedaleyplate.

Tell me about your life currently, Dale.  I work and live in the small town of Brookhaven in Mississippi.  I teach children how to cook healthy meals from around the world. A lot of what I do is connected to my time spent in South Korea where I lived and worked as a cooking instructor for six years.  I also manage my Instagram account, @thedaleyplate and sometimes collaborate with brands to develop recipes, style, and photograph food products. 

From the garden.

What is a common food in your homeland of South Africa?  Biltong is cured and preserved beef that is our national snack.  We cook with it sometimes and quiche is a popular way to use it. Biltong was first made when the early Dutch settlers came to the Cape Of Good Hope in order to establish trade routes to India for spices.  There was no refrigeration then so biltong was created out of necessity, but ask any South African expat which food they miss the most...This is it.

Biltong Quiche.

Give us a glimpse into your childhood.  I am the eldest of three girls. My father is of Irish descent and my mother is of Malay/KhoiSan descent. I was born in the 80's and grew up in the Cape Winelands located at the southernmost tip of Africa. My father was strict and my mother treated us with such tenderness, I am very much like my mom.  We grew up surrounded by vineyards and orchards in a valley. Our town, Wellington, is well-known in South Africa for producing some of the best deciduous fruits. During the Summer months we would walk up to the Drakensberg Mountain to swim in the natural springs. We knew what snow was, we just never experienced it because of the warm climate.  

Bourbon Pecan Bread Pudding Cupcakes 

How did you come to love cooking and baking? The Cape Malay community is known for their food and any family occasion always involved the women getting together to cook a hearty meal. I grew up watching my mother, grandmother, and aunts prepare dishes like biryani, curry, koeksisters and melktert for family gatherings. Naturally, I started helping at a young age and my love for cooking grew from there. My mother would entrust me to prepare dinner once or twice a week after I turned 11.  

South African pancakes, which Dale would cook and sell for lunch every Friday at school.

How did you end up in South Korea?  After graduating from Paarl Girl's High School I set my sights on Stellenbosch University, about two hours away from home. I had originally enrolled to study Food Science, but something led me to register for a course in Social Work. I am a registered Social Worker but after graduating I decided to take a year off and travel to South Korea. The intent was to teach English to kindergarten and elementary students for one year, but that turned into six years! I started using cooking as a method for my students to learn the English language, and soon got invited to other schools because the way that students responded during my lessons. I started to marry my love for cooking and my love for teaching when I moved to the United States after meeting my husband during my final year in South Korea. 

Date and Tamarind Cake 

Are you involved in your local community?  I volunteer at our local animal shelter and currently have a foster kitten named "Jude." I am new to our community as we recently purchased our first home here. I support local farmers and frequent the farmers' market as often as possible. 

Dale with two of the kids she teaches in her cooking class. 

How would you describe your cooking style?  My cooking is really influenced by my interest in different cultures and places. I always knew that I would travel because I wanted to experience the world by immersing myself in other cultures.  My food is homey, but there's always something different about it.

A summer salad of shaved zucchini, radish, corn, tomato and chili. 

What is your favorite food to cook? I am very much influenced by Korean cuisine. Since my husband and I both have spent a considerable amount of time there we enjoy eating dishes that remind us of our second home. Dishes like galbijjim...Short ribs braised in soy sauce with potatoes and carrots. Kimchi...The popular South Korean side dish of fermented napa cabbage in a spicy sauce.  On Sunday however, I always cook a South African dish that reminds me of my mother. Sunday's are usually when we would cook a large meal with mom. There's always some sort of curry, followed by sweet pumpkin, rice, grilled meat, a variety of vegetables, and milk tart for dessert. 

Korean Mandu in Sweet & Spicy Kochujjang Sauce. 

What inspires you?  Stories of how other creative people found their niche and develop their passions truly inspire me. I adore the Netlix series "The Mind Of A Chef." The way that Francis Mallmann thinks is so inspirational. His love for cooking with fire really resonates with me because cooking over an open flame is part of everyday life in South Africa. I am also inspired by the many amazing and talented friends that I have met through Instagram.  

Market vendors in South Korea selling anything from seaweed to sardines. 

Have you had any funny experiences while cooking or learning to cook?  The first meal that I served my husband after we got married was steak and a salad. It was heavily oversalted because I did not understand the seasonings here. He ate that meal like it was the best steak he had ever tasted. I love him so.

Teaching children about cooking in South Korea.

What are your hobbies or favorite activities?  Though cooking has become a way to produce an income, it still is my favorite thing to do when I am alone. The best times are early on a Sunday morning when the house is silent and the blue light shines through the wavy glass of my kitchen window.  When I am not cooking or teaching, I enjoy tending to my garden or reading under the magnolia tree in the yard. I am currently reading "The Art of Eating" by M.F.K Fisher for the second time. 

That early morning light. 

What are your plans for the future?  Brookhaven is one of the oldest towns in Mississippi and has an old-world charm to it. The streets are lined with oak trees and gorgeous homes from the Victorian era. This is the kind of place where people still greet one another when they pass by. I hope to open a small cafe here within the next few years. 

Dale and husband, SPC Gray.

Tell us your love story.  I met my husband in 2009 when he was serving his first tour of duty in Korea. On the day that we met, he said "I'm going to marry you one day." I laughed it off but seven months later he got down on his knee and proposed.  I was cooking the popular Korean stew, dalkdoritang, at that moment. I turned around and there he was! I had never anticipated moving to the states before that moment. I must admit that it was a huge adjustment because of the differences in culture between the U.S and the places that I had previously lived. Cooking was a way for me to keep busy during his deployment, and sharing the dishes that I created via Instagram started purely out of boredom.  Now @thedaleyplate has 46,000 followers and has been featured by Instagram, and I am also an editor for the popular food website, TheFeedFeed.  We do not have any children yet, but plan to adopt from my native South Africa within the next few years.


Peach and Apricot Galette

Cardamom Stewed Peach & Apricot Galette with Pine Nuts, Mint and Sweet Mascarpone

For the Crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, diced + chilled
1/4 cup ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups fresh peach slices
2 cups fresh apricot slices
1 tsp cardamom powder
1/4 cup orange cardamom jam

To Serve:
1/2 cup mascarpone
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp sugar

Optional: 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts + fresh mint leaves


Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir water in, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together. Gently press together and wrap in plastic, refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Add filling ingredients to a medium pot and gently simmer for 25 minutes on low heat, or until the fruit is tender. Use a wooden spoon to move the filling around but do not stir in order to preserve the integrity of the fruit. Set aside until completely cool.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (190 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper for a silicone baking mat.

Roll dough into a disk with about 1/8-inch thickness and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Spoon fruit filling in the center and gently fold edges over, making occasional pleats. Brush a little milk over the dough and bake until the crust is golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven.

Whip mascarpone, sugar, and heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add a tablespoon to each slice of the galette to serve. Add toasted pine nuts and mint.

Serves 4

All photos courtesy of Dale Gray and used with permission.


  1. Dale is such a beautiful, cool soul! I loved reading this and getting to know more about her background, her life in Brookhaven and the possibility of a future cafe-- wouldn't that be fantastic!? It's not surprising that after reading this, I'm more impressed than ever. High fives ladies! Thank you both!

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  3. Thanks for reading, Kim. I am happy you enjoyed the post.

  4. Great article, Dale stay as humble as u are, and put your trust in God for He will make all your dreams a reality! H. Paulse

  5. Thanks for your comment, Meagan. I appreciate you stopping by to have a read.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Meagan. I appreciate you stopping by to have a read.

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