FOURty Seconds with Ryu Tae Hwan

10 Jun 2016
3 min read
FOUR speaks to Executive Chef of Ryunique in Seoul, Tae Hwan Ryu, to catch up on the opening of his second restaurant, Normal. The cosy modern bistro offers diners a creative fusion of French and Japanese molecular cuisine.

What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?

I’ve always loved food, but my actual interest in cooking started only around ten years ago. I’d always wanted to be an artist, but after finishing my obligatory military service, my father encouraged me to pursue cooking as a more stable option. I left to study at the Hattori Nutrition School in Japan at the age of 22.

What would you say has inspired your cooking the most?

For me the most important thing are those moments that stand out as food-related life-experiences; my mother’s cooking, my grandmother’s cooking, food I’ve eaten with much-loved family and friends. I use these memories for inspiration when creating my own dishes. My father was also a marine biologist, and so many of my dishes center around an ocean theme. Technically, I was and still am inspired by the many things I learnt while working in Japan, Australia and the UK.

Describe your culinary style…

I use French and Japanese cooking techniques, and Korean produce, to create what I like to think of as a new culinary ‘hybrid’. It’s a bit like creating a new species, and it takes a long time – more than ten years to perfect a new culinary style, I think. I try to infuse Japanese and French cuisine with Korean culinary tradition and the ingredients that are available and treasured locally here.

What would you say is the main focus/concept for your new restaurant?

My new restaurant, ‘Normal’ is a bistro concept. It builds on Ryunique’s DNA – using my techniques, and local, fresh produce – but offers diners large, a la carte portions in a laid-back atmosphere. Normal almost balances out Ryunique as a kind of ‘opposing power’.

What do you think had made this menu sosuccessful?

Hard work! And the fact that Ryunique offers something very original here in Korea; a unique and special concept that I hope satisfies the balance between aesthetics and taste. Each of my dishes expresses a different concept, building on themes and presenting customers with a ‘story’ behind the food. Diners really enjoy their experience at Ryunique.

What are your most indispensable ingredients?

Salt and pepper!

What kind of experience do you aim to give guests at your restaurant?

At Ryunique, I want to offer diners a special experience. Something they cannot experience elsewhere. Normal, on the other hand, aims to satisfy the three basic prerequisites when it comes to dining: delicious food, good-sized portions, and a reasonable price

What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?

My most memorable and cherished moments are actually the times that were the hardest. I struggled a lot in both Australia and England. My English isn’t great, and coupled with the culture difference, it made adjusting to living there very difficult for me. However, I never would have been so successful without first having overcome those hard times. They made me who I am today, both personally and professionally.

Now, it means so much more when I see a customer really, truly enjoying my food. When I think back on the hard times I faced while training as a chef, it makes those trivial moments seem that much more meaningful

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’m not sure I’d give myself any advice. I always tried my best, and that’s the only thing that a young apprentice chef can do. We all have to learn through experience.

What’s next for you/What projects do you have lined up?

I will be participating in Diner le Blanc here in Korea on June 10th, then after that, I’m heading to Norway for a much needed break!

What is your guilty pleasure?

Spam! With ketchup and mayonnaise! And Ramyen, of course. Lots of ramyen.

What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?

I really would like to do a culinary tour of South America. I’d love to eat at Borago in Chile, and D.O.M in Brazil, run by Alex Atala. Unfortunately, South America is one of the hardest places in the world to get to from South Korea. But I’m sure the food would make up for the long flight times.

Find out more about Chef Ryu and his restaurants here…