– Words by Lauren Kramer Photography by Martin Knowles
It was May 2022 and Vancouverite Daniel Bae was on his way to Germany to compete in an event considered the Olympics of sausage-makers worldwide. There were over 2,000 products entered in the Deutscher Fleischer-Verband competition, and the more than 50 presiding judges were master butchers with incredibly discriminating palates.
Daniel entered 28 products from his six-year-old company Bae Food Group, which was unique in that it had intentionally had no sales to date.
“We wanted to make sure we were making really good meat products before we started selling,” he explained.
When he walked off with 28 medals—26 gold and two silver—Daniel knew he was onto something. Though his quest to make great meats was far from over, this was the confirmation he needed that he was off to a good start.
Bae Food Group is a food processor operating out of Edmonton, in a facility with distribution capabilities across Canada and into the US. But its founder’s immersion into the culinary world would have seemed unlikely even 10 years ago.
A classical violinist who has performed as a soloist with international orchestras, 42-year-old Daniel was born in Germany and moved to Burnaby with his family as a child. He graduated high school in Burnaby and enrolled at UBC, initially intending to study medicine. But music drew him to Mainz, Germany, where he studied violin at Johannes Gutenberg University, graduating in 2007.
“After my studies, my family wanted me to come back to Canada, work in construction and operate hotels, our family business,” he said. “I did this for a while until I realized that my real passions are creating food and music. And, I found out, I’m good at both!”
In 2016 Daniel began his culinary work, focusing on Asian and European meat products that are traditional in other countries but not sold in North America. Bae Food Group’s products include Korean-style sausages, Japanese-style cocktail sausages, frozen products such as Korean barbecue, and cevapcici, an eastern European skinless meat that’s a national street food in many of the Balkan countries. Next year the company will release its jerky products.
“I’m a firm believer in the farm-to-table concept, so we work with local farmers in Alberta and across Canada. And that’s really why we are based in Alberta, where the good meat is,” Daniel said.
Being German was an asset when it came to understanding meat, as the country is famous for its sausages and meat products.
“I grew up in the heart of Munich, known as the sausage capital of Germany, which means I tasted the best German meat products,” Daniel said.
When Daniel returned from the competition in Germany, discussions with grocery stores began in earnest, and Bae Food Group’s brands—among them Tasty Meat Snacks, Chef’s Grill, Premium Korean BBQ, Bacon2Go, Peppe Skinless Pepperoni and Oppa’s Korean BBQ—are now available at H-Mart and most Asian supermarkets. Talks are in progress with mainstream distribution channels and by the year’s end those brands will be readily available across BC and Alberta—and soon, across Canada.
Daniel has big dreams for his company.
“Once we’re across Canada we want to make our products available in the US, too,” he said. “We’re not a small butcher—we purchased machines that can produce up to 4,000 kg per hour, and I believe we’ll become one of the largest ethnic meat and jerky producers in the coming years.”
Far from just appealing to Asian and European buyers, Daniel believes his products will have widespread appeal to all consumers, and market studies back this up.
“Those studies have shown our product will sell better at a non-ethnic retailer because there’s such a limited availability of ethnic meat products available. Go to any grocery store and you won’t see many Asian meat products,” he said. “With our barbecue meats you can enjoy a warm meal of thinly sliced beef bulgogi or Korean barbecue ready in five minutes at home. There’s nothing else like that.
“In North America, cocktail sausages usually contain the cheapest byproduct,” he noted. “From this most neglected category, we’re trying to make the very best products.”
Daniel counts chef Michel Jacob from Le Crocodile as a mentor and friend who has taught him the value of perfection and consistency. He was also influenced by Jim Pattison when he met the Vancouver icon recently.
“Jim taught me the definition of being humble, as well as how to treat my staff,” he said.
When he’s not refining his meat products, Daniel is playing Mozart or Vivaldi on the violin, much of the time playing by heart.
“I’m really good at improvising with music, and that carries over into my work in the kitchen,” he explained. “I try to create foods that are very artistic by taking something that’s popular in one culture and combining it with something popular in another. I love to be really creative with the food I make, and to think outside of the box.”
One thing Daniel is sure of is that there is always, always room for improvement—even when you’ve just won 28 medals at an international competition.
“After we were awarded the prizes, I went to the judges and implored them to talk with me about how we could improve,” he recalled. “You always have to try to make things better.”