We had the good fortune of connecting with Stephanie Chui and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Stephanie, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
Growing up in LA as a first-generation Asian American certainly shaped who I am today. With the breadth of diversity in LA, I was constantly exposed to different cultures from a young age. This fostered an openness and interest in tasting new cuisines, learning unfamiliar traditions, and trying new things! In this welcoming environment, I could also tap into my Asian heritage as well as my American values. However, those two sides were often in conflict and I felt pulled back and forth between them. Influenced by my family’s immigrant background, I used to fear taking risk because I overemphasized the potential downside over the upside. That contradicted my dream to build a business which is in and of itself a huge risk! In working with mentors and other entrepreneurs, I have worked on reframing my perception of risk to achieve better balance. Looking back, I have taken many risks in my life that have turned out well and that realization has been key to my shift in outlook. I led projects outside of my immediate wheelhouse which not only expanded my overall skillset but also honed my leadership skills. I moved to a country that I had never once visited before and ended up absolutely falling in love with the culture and experience. Taking risks pushed me beyond my perceived limits and in that discomfort, I developed a stronger sense of self and have come to terms with my two identities – that it isn’t one or the other but rather the combination that makes me distinctly me!

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
The inspiration behind my business was a happy accident. At the time, I was living in Switzerland when the pandemic struck in 2020. Like many of us during the early days, I was spending hours in the kitchen cooking every meal from scratch and experimenting with recipes. Feeling homesick, I wanted to make Southwestern cornbread. Unable to find corn flour, I bought polenta thinking it was identical – wrong! Stuck with a massive bag of polenta taking up pantry space, I tried to bake a polenta pizza, which was an absolute failure. The best part was actually the crispy, crusted-on edges. This was my lightbulb moment and the beginning of Gourmais (pronounced GOR-MAYZ).
Gourmais is a better-for-you snack brand crafting organic polenta crisps baked, never fried, into a range of globally inspired, “amaising” flavors. As the first and only snack utilizing polenta as our main ingredient, we have turned this ancient grain into a delightful new treat using a simple list of ingredients found in your very own pantry. By donating a portion of profits from each bag to fighting food insecurity in the US, we aim to make healthy snacking a force for good.

It took hundreds of versions of trial and error from that lightbulb moment to arrive at what we have today! My co-founder, Moritz (who in real life is also my partner!) and I love to travel and our favorite part is experiencing other cultures through food. In China, we discovered the mouth-numbing pleasure of Sichuan Peppercorn and in the South of France, the delicate bouquet of Herbs de Provence. These experiences were the basis for Gourmais’s initial flavors (Adriatic Sea Salt, Herbs de Provence, Spicy Sichuan Peppercorn), which we found much more exciting than things like Nacho Cheese, Ranch, and BBQ that are already overrepresented in snacks. These first three flavors are just the beginning – we are eager to expand our range to even more fun and unique flavor profiles.

LA has been a great place to launch a healthy snack company and we are extremely thankful for the support of the community. From the independent stores that gave us our first orders (TYSM Stanley’s Wet Goods (www.stanleys.la), Simon’s Market (www.simonsmarket.com), The Canal Market (www.thecanalmarket.com), and Almor Wine & Spirits (www.almorwineandspirits.com)) to the customers that buy our polenta crisps. A purchase, an Instagram follow, tagging us in your content – these may seem like small acts but they all add up to create a snowball effect that has helped us steadily grow our business. Maybe more importantly, the support gives small brands like us the validation and motivation to keep pushing when we hit a speedbump because starting a new brand can be incredibly challenging.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
For those new to LA, I try to give a balanced experience across nature, food, art, and culture but adjust the itinerary based on the friend’s interests. I would dedicate each day to a different part of town to be most efficient and avoid hours of commuting!

Malibu – Corral Canyon Loop Trail and then lunch at Malibu Seafood. Relax at the beach followed by a sweet treat at the Malibu Country Mart.

Westside – Bike along the beach from Santa Monica to Venice and then stroll around Abbot Kinney and the Venice Canals while sipping an iced coffee.

Hollywood – Take in the sunset at Griffith Observatory and then cap off the evening with rooftop drinks at E.P. & L.P. in West Hollywood.

Downtown – Enjoy a delicious sushi lunch in Little Tokyo followed by art at the Broad. If it’s basketball season, a Laker game is an unforgettable experience.

Boyle Heights – Experience the Mexican food scene from Tacos Y Birria La Unica to Mariscos 4 Vientos.

San Gabriel Valley – A must-stop for delicious Chinese or Vietnamese food. Favorites include Savoy Kitchen, Banh Mi My Tho, Embassy Kitchen, and Ji Rong Peking Duck.

We love that our friends are so supportive and excited to see our product on shelves so stopping by stores that stock Gourmais would be sprinkled throughout the trip. The Canal Market (www.thecanalmarket.com) and Simon’s Market (www.simonsmarket.com) when we’re in Venice, Stanley’s Wet Goods (stanleys.la) in Culver City as we head east, and Almor Wine & Spirits (www.almorwineandspirits.com) in Hollywood.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Moritz – my partner in business and life. Simultaneously working on Gourmais while also holding down an office job is no easy feat and deserves recognition. Together, we have made many sacrifices to launch this business and I’m glad I have a partner on this journey with me. My friends, but especially my family. Early on, I held back from sharing what I was working on with my parents. I assumed that they would be unsupportive out of concern. When I was finally ready to share, I was taken aback by how extremely proud and excited they were!

Website: www.eatgourmais.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/eatgourmais/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/gourmais/

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