The Story of Steph’s Tofu
Originally the dish was Steph’s Famous Tofu.
“I have this habit whenever I come up with something to say it’s famous, just as a joke,” said Stephanie Coren, who worked at PCC in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
But the recipe she invented at PCC’s View Ridge deli, known now as Steph’s Tofu, deserves the original name. Her marinade of orange juice, ginger and garlic, tamari and mirin and other seasonings transforms tofu into a punchy, savory-sweet delight that’s been a bestseller for more than 30 years.
Coren (Stephanie Coy in her PCC years) was in her mid-20s when she joined PCC. Like coworker Meg Petty (see “Inventing Emerald City Salad “), she worked with Jennifer and Henry Gordon, who operated PCC’s first deli, located at the View Ridge store.
“I’d worked in restaurants a lot, but they taught me everything to be a cook,” she said.
The Gordons brought some recipes with them and encouraged employees to create their own. A scone served at the deli was so addictive Coren swears some customers called the police, convinced there must be drugs inside. (Trudy Bialic, a 27-year PCC employee who retired in 2019 as director of public affairs and quality standards, remembers the scones having a “moist and scrumptious” crumb and recalls that the actual ingredients included a blend of white flour and whole-wheat pastry flour, cinnamon, buttermilk and apple juice. Whole grain flours were key to most PCC recipes then, Bialic said.)
The tofu marinade was inspired by a coworker named Ginger, “vegan before vegan was a thing,” who made deliciously creative dishes and taught Coren that tofu could benefit from a major burst of flavor.
The dish took some time to make its mark. “I think people were a little reluctant around tofu at the time. A lot of those foods are so common now, but back in the day it was kind of new stuff,” Coren said. Once it became popular, though, it stood the test of time.
Coren eventually left Seattle for Portland, where she found a different PCC—Portland Community College, where she now works for the advising department. It’s great to be a part of someone’s education, she said, helping connect them with what they need. “It’s a small part but it’s an exciting part.” And she remains delighted that her namesake dish has earned its fame.
“That was a thrill. I’m still thrilled by it.”