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Originally published December 30, 2011 at 8:53 PM | Page modified October 26, 2012 at 8:04 AM

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Christina Kim Choi, noted chef, nurturer dies

Seattle chef and culinary artist Christina Kim Choi died Wednesday, Dec. 28 from complications from a brain aneurysm.

Seattle Times staff reporters

At a recent dinner she catered, noted chef and food forager Christina Kim Choi gave a little talk.

"Walking around and picking something that you know you can eat is so natural," she said. "I think it's really important to know things that are edible. It's good for people's souls to feel resourceful."

Ms. Choi, 34, died Wednesday at Swedish Medical Center from complications from a brain aneurysm diagnosed Dec. 12.

"Today we lost our sister, our daughter, our best friend," her family wrote Dec. 28 on the blog (honeyfromaweed.wordpress.com/) they've been keeping through her diagnosis, a long and difficult surgery and what they had hoped would be her recovery process.

"We surrounded her with love, the way she surrounded us with love."

Ms. Choi was raised in Seattle's Eastlake neighborhood and graduated from the Seattle Central Community College culinary program in 1997.

She worked as a chef at many restaurants in the Seattle area, including Adriatica, Bandoleone, Sapphire and The Herbfarm and managed the Olive Branch.

In 2001 she co-founded Foraged and Found Edibles with Jeremy Faber, working at local farmers markets and delivering mushrooms and other wild foods to restaurants.

Ms. Choi also created and published the Wild Foods Calendar for 2009 and 2010 and in March 2010 she realized her dream of opening up a restaurant, Nettletown, in Eastlake, a restaurant that featured her love of foraged and local produce.

"She always wanted to open a restaurant featuring wild and foraged food," said Ms. Choi's sister, Elizabeth Choi Rudd. "Her theme was yummy foods with wild ingredients."

She said Ms. Choi searched outside her apartment in Eastlake, where she knew the mint that grew wild. "She took advantage of everything she could find in Eastlake," Rudd said.

Ms. Choi closed Nettletown in August, saying she was exhausted, Rudd said. Now the family believes it was the aneurysm, which had likely been growing for 10 years.

Close friend Emily Crawford Dann said Ms. Choi attended her birthday party in August, renting a cabin near Chinook Pass.

"We had a big outdoor party, but she was clearly exhausted. At the time she was trying to sell her restaurant and it was hard to tell if she was reacting to that or something greater. It was the first real significant sign that she wasn't herself," Dann said.

She met Ms. Choi when Dann was working at Eva Restaurant and both were part of a food club, featuring 20 people in the food industry, that met once a month. When Dann married two years ago on Orcas Island, Ms. Choi catered her wedding.

"It was one of the more memorable and truly delicious meals of my life," Dann said. "I'll always remember it. She was a gifted cook in a soulful spiritful way. Her natural way of expressing herself through food was so unique."

Matt Dillon, her business partner at Nettletown, said Ms. Choi was like a mother to him and others in the food business. "Her home was the center of the universe, the Eastlake neighborhood where she lived," said Dillon. "We all loved and gathered in that neighborhood, and her house was the center of that, and food was always the center of that."

He said Ms. Choi was "always the nurturer, the one who fed everybody."

Friend Dave Sanford, who helped Ms. Choi at Nettletown and relied on her for advice as he prepared to open his own restaurant in Ballard, said he did not know she was ill.

"She was an amazing woman; she came after life with a huge amount of gusto. She was a loving family member and a loving friend. She loved making people happy with food."

Sanford said he often thinks of Ms. Choi when he's in his kitchen. "It's a huge loss on so many levels. It still hasn't sunk in."

Rudd said Ms. Choi was the third and youngest daughter in a family of six children, and the family would get together often for big family dinners. Their mother would bring leftovers and Ms. Choi "would take little bits of everything and turn it into something."

Cooking is in the family, Rudd said. Her mother was a food-recipe tester and her paternal uncle owned a Chinese restaurant. Her brother, Matt, is also a chef.

"Christina was the happiest and most positive person in our family," Rudd said. "We don't know how life will go on without her. She lived life to the fullest in her short time."

In addition to Rudd, Ms. Choi is survived by her mother JoAn, sister Theresa Choi and brothers Teddy, Christopher and Matthew. Her father, Ted, died in 2010.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Patrick Catholic Church at 2702 Broadway Ave. E. in Seattle.

The family asks that donations in her memory go to Seattle Tilth, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N, Suite 100, Seattle, WA 98103.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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