Bringing Down the House

Penn alum wows writers with cooking memoir

34th Street Magazine
October 02, 2008

Ellen Yin, co-owner of Fork restaurant in Old City and author of the cookbook/memoir Forklore: Recipes and Tales From an American Bistro, remembers being a freshman at Penn. "I lived in a high rise and was overjoyed to have a kitchen at my disposal," she told the gathering of foodies and Fork fans crowded into the Writers House last Thursday. As a Wharton undergrad focusing in entrepreneurial management, Yin actually drafted a business plan to open her own restaurant while at Penn. "I wanted it to be at around 3rd Street," she recalls. Little did she know that a decade later, one of the culinary gems of Old City would be of her very own creation.

Yin's experience in the food business started in high school. Working at restaurants awakened a passion in young Ellen for cooking and serving others. Matriculating into Wharton after graduation, however, did not leave a lot of time to pick up a restaurant shift here and there. Though her passion for the restaurant business continued throughout college, concerned parents and an intense Wharton education sent her on a different path after leaving Penn. A job at an advertising agency taught her managerial responsibility. Working as a fundraiser for the American Heart Association taught her about compassion for others. An eight-month stint at a corporate investment firm taught her the importance of love over affluence when it comes to a career.

With another Wharton degree under her belt — MBA in health care administration— Yin decided to go into a completely different direction and pursue her true passion. Keeping in mind that 1 in 5 restaurants fail, Yin opened Fork in 1997 along with a grad school friend who knew a lot about wine. The 11 years since have brought incredible success to the business and Fork has established itself as one of the top 20 restaurants in Philadelphia (according to Zagat). Yin describes her restaurant as "value-oriented, eclectic, fun and open to the masses." She emphasizes a desire to keep new customers coming in and old customers coming back. "We want a neighborhood business," she says.

Published in September of 2007 to celebrate Fork's tenth anniversary, Forklore describes Fork's journey as a growing business in Philadelphia, focusing more on the experiences involved with each and every recipe rather than simple tactile descriptions of the food. Yin includes personal photos from the past as well as professional, mouthwatering close-ups of her prepared recipes.

As a part of her presentation and book promotion, the Kelly Writers House provided listeners with tiny tastes from Forklore itself. Yin's main emphasis is on fresh, organic ingredients prepared in a manner that exhibits their true and natural beauty. When speaking of her restaurant, she said, "I don't even put 'local' or 'organic' on the menu anymore. Restaurants today shouldn't serve food any other way."

To prepare for Yin's visit, the Kelly Writers House hosted a culinary event planning session, where students had the opportunity to create recipes from Yin's Forklore. With a table full of ingredients from Trader Joe's, four students and one staff member set out to bring the pages of Yin's cookbook to life. By testing recipes from her cookbook such as tropical fruit gazpacho, roasted beet and gorgonzola bruschetta, spinach and artichoke dip and chicken skewers with spicy Korean marinade, the guest chefs paid tribute to Yin's continuing success.

Her Wharton influences shine through in Yin's dedication to maintaining a viable business. Confident in her ability to serve great food in a comforting environment, Yin's magic formula hasn't failed her yet.