Picking the Brains behind Your Favorite Restaurants
Story by Jordan Redmond
Can you tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up, etc.?
Sure. I was born in upstate New York, moved to Korea when I was 5, Japan when I was 13, then back to the US for university. I studied at a little liberal arts school in Portland, OR, and it was there where I decided to drop out of my English lit program and pursue cooking full-time. I moved down to Arizona to attend Le Cordon Bleu and have been cooking ever since. This year marks my 12th year in the industry, and I’ve loved every moment of it (well, not really—just like any other job, there was a lot about it that sucked).
Tell us a little about your restaurant.
Our restaurant is The Beastro in Hongdae, and we’ve been open since May 2014. We do New American cuisine, which is just another way to say fancy-pants fried chicken. I take the techniques from my classic French training and fine dining background, and we use them to create familiar American flavors with a twist. Everything is made from scratch, and our team is hands down the best I’ve ever worked with. My chef-de-cuisine, Steve Park, keeps the kitchen running along smoothly. Our head bartender, Kiwon Ryu, has worked at some pretty legendary bars in the New York bar scene, and his pedigree shows in his drinks. And of course, my sister and general manager, Cat, is the face of our restaurant… which is good because it’s a much nicer face than mine.
We’ve always approached our restaurants from the point of view of being American immigrants.
We’ve always approached our restaurants from the point of view of being American immigrants. How we eat in the US is a product of hundreds of cultures coming together from all over the world, each of them trying to figure out how to cook their own food. We’re trying to do the same here in Korea.
How did you come to run a restaurant in Seoul?
I come from a third generation restaurant family, and Seoul is deep in my bones. It’s the closest thing to home I’ll ever have, and it’s an exciting place to be running a restaurant. It has its frustrations, its limitations—but if you know what you’re doing, you can use them to push you forward instead of holding you back.
If you could have dinner with any three well-known people, living or dead, who would they be and why?
Hm. Let’s make it a double date. I’d invite over the Obamas and Tilda Swinton. My only concern is that I am not nearly cool enough to be at that table.
What would be on the table for your last meal?
Even though I’ve seared off tens of thousands of steaks in my lifetime, no one can cook a steak like my mom. A nice hanger steak, fluffy white rice, kimchi, and a sunny egg. A bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon. That’s my perfect meal, and that’s what I want my last meal to be.
What foods or restaurants are on your food bucket list?
I still haven’t been to those old-school temples of French gastronomy: Taillevent, La Pyramide, et cetera. I would have loved to have gone to Le Cirque or The Quilted Giraffe back in its heyday, ridiculous towers of food and all. But if I had to choose one restaurant, it would have to be Osteria Francescana. I’ve had Massimo’s food several times but never at the restaurant.
What was your favorite food when you were a kid?
Being a FFK (former fat kid), I loved just about everything. More so than anything else though, I loved Thanksgiving dinner. My mom is as Korean as they come, but she can roast a mean turkey. And her stuffing is amazing—her secret is chicken livers and chestnuts. So good.
Where do you go for late night eats after the restaurant closes?
I eat a ridiculous amount of convenience store food. But when I don’t hate myself, I like going to La Cave du Cochon. Very nice pates, sausages, cheeses, wines. Best part is, they’re open until 1 AM six days a week. But most of the time, I usually head straight for the bar. And for that, the crews over at Honeyhole, D.Still, Southside Parlor, and Alice kill it each and every time.
What are some of your favourite restaurants in Seoul?
Lately, I haven’t had to leave the Hongdae/Sangsu/Yeonnam/Mangwon area at all to have the best mid-range dining in the city. Casa di Noa, Ciuri Ciuri, Berabo Ramen, Khaosan Road, Hyangmi, I Am a Burger, Sukkara Cafe, the entire Tuk Tuk restaurant group. There are a couple of other spots, but I’m not telling anyone about those. Buy me a drink, and I might spill some local secrets.
My current obsession is Rimgagi in Hongdae. Szechwan mung bean noodle soup. Thick glass noodles, intense chili broth, fried tofu skin. Hands down the most legit noodle soup in town.
My current obsession is Rimgagi in Hongdae. Szechwan mung bean noodle soup. Thick glass noodles, intense chili broth, fried tofu skin. Hands down the most legit noodle soup in town. As a bonus, hop next door to pick up croissants at Old Croissant Factory for dessert, and some of the tofu bread over at Aoitori for breakfast the next day.
What’s the best thing your mom made for you growing up?
My mom makes legendary sandwiches. Thick, stacked high with roast beef, bacon, or a good ham. Always a decent mustard. Toasted bread. My school friends would literally fight with each other to get a bite.
Do you cook for yourself at home? If so, what’s your go-to dish(es) to cook up?
At home, I pretty much live off of yogurt, granola, eggs, and club soda. Which sounds really depressing when I say it out loud.