His eponymous ‘new Korean cuisine’ restaurant opened in Seoul in February 2009, heralded as the first restaurant in which molecular gastronomy was applied to Korean ingredients, and it has captured the imagination of Korean and international diners ever since.
What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?
My earliest memories of food are of being greedy and wanting to eat the most delicious things at the table! (Laughs) One particular memory I have is the first time I ever ate a banana. Bananas didn’t exist in Korea when I was growing up, but one of my uncles was a chef for the US army stationed here. You couldn’t buy bananas in the mart in Korea in the 1980s, but sometimes my uncle would bring me them in his pocket when he came to visit. I was fascinated by it, and proud to be the only one in my neighborhood to have tried one. My friends didn’t even know what a banana was at that time.
What, or who, would you say has inspired your cooking the most?
No one person has inspired my cooking, except for maybe my mother. I gain most inspiration from what I eat on a day-to-day basis. I try to draw newness and creativity from what Koreans really eat on a normal day.
Describe your culinary style…
Simple tastes, simple textures. I want people to know what they’re eating. I don’t like complicated or complex dishes. Just tasty food. That’s it. Simple and delicious.
What would you say is the main focus/concept for the menu at your restaurants? (can talk about NYC and Seoul)
New Korean. I aim to redevelop and recreate - kind of ‘upgrade’ – basic Korean cuisine.
How did you feel when the news was announced that the New York restaurant had retained its Michelin stars this year?
I was of course very happy that the New York restaurant retained its two stars.
What do you think makes a restaurant or menu so successful?
Two things – ‘perfection,’ which is really just a feeling. I know when I create a dish that feels ‘perfect’ to me. Chefs should always aim for that feeling when they cook. And character – uniqueness. Customers are always searching for something unique.
What are your most indispensable ingredients?
I would say salt, but that’s too obvious. Probably Kim (seaweed). I love to use it and I love to eat it.
What kind of experience do you aim to give guests when you cook for them?
I really just aim to satisfy the two basic requirements of a great dining experience – delicious food, and top service. That is really the foundation of being a chef and restaurant owner, for me. Those are the two things that cannot be compromised.
What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?
Definitely opening the doors of my first restaurant for the first time. Of course, receiving Michelin Stars, and other awards, was memorable, but in terms of personal meaning, that first day I served customers in my own restaurant comes first, no doubt.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self, starting out a career in the world of food?
I don’t want to go back in time – I have no regrets – but if I could give my younger self, or any young chef, one piece of advice, it would be to tell them they have to be crazy about what they do. You really have to be obsessed with food. It’s not just passion, it’s more than that.
What's next for you/What projects do you have lined up?
I have lots of projects lined up for next year – the big one is to expand into the world of fast, casual Korean dining. I want to take Korean gomtang (beef soup) global.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I don’t ever feel guilt when I eat! But in terms of pleasure … I eat gomtang every day these days. I say for ‘research’ purposes, but really I just enjoy eating it.
What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?
I want to eat real North Korean food. I want to go into north Korea and try their naengmyeon (cold noodles.) Unfortunately, that’s impossible for me!
Find out more about Chef Jung Sik here...