October 17, 2019
This week we visit Korea to chat with world-renowned Michelin Star Chef Jun Lee about its restaurants, the most noted contemporary dining places in Seoul Korea. Recognized for its quality, glamour, and the first of its restaurant: ‘Soigné’ has joined a higher league of culinary recognition by having been awarded a Michelin Star in 2017. However, Jun Lee, the man behind this culinary achievement is no stranger to the public as he worked in some Korea and American top kitchens and will be soon participating to the ‘Celebrity Gala dinner’ organized on October 23 at the Parc Hyatt hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. Chit Chat with Chef Michelin star Jun Lee, the creator who emphases colors and materials by producing innovative and refined dishes in a country where nature, tradition, but also modernity are queens.
“I didn’t set out to pursue a Michelin star”!
On its first Michelin Star
Bliss Saigon: Chef Jun Lee, a few years ago you organized the Pasta Pop-ups that introduced in Korea the French-American style of pasta you learned in New York. Theses pop-ups led to the opening of the restaurant Doughroom and Soigné and you became a Michelin-starred Chef with this last one. How does one become a Michelin-starred Chef?
I didn’t set out to pursue a Michelin star. It’s nice to be recognized, but it was never something I specifically went after. I got the star for Soigné, as opposed to my other restaurants. I was surprised to receive a star at first because Soigné is an ever-changing restaurant with episodic menus. I knew this concept was what I wanted to, but I wasn’t sure that it was what the public wanted to see. The star was simple the proof that my vision for my restaurant was something that I could trust.
On his restaurant’s food style…
BS: What is your restaurant’s food style at Soigné? What’s your signature dish?
Soigné offers story-driven French-Korean cuisine. Our episodic menus are like watching a TV drama. We don’t have any single signature dish. There are signature people and signature spaces involved. Whatever is created by these people and in these spaces could be a ‘signature’.
On art and gastronomy…
BS: What’s the place of art in your cuisine? and do you think like Picasso that “Every act of creation begins with an act of destruction”?
That’s what most chefs do, I think; try to break some concept to make something new. There is really no such thing as a ‘new’ concept or a new technique. All techniques related to cooking are derived from very classic cooking techniques – heating, cooling, cutting. What I do in my restaurant, in the way of art, is more like breaking down a subject into many sub-categories, and trying to match each piece of that sub-category with ingredients and technique. What I do is not as abstract as Picasso’s work. It’s more like re-assembling a puzzle to make something that may seem abstract.
On its pairing up with the Major Seoul hotel…
BS: Recently, you open in July 2019 a table-side service European eatery at major Seoul hotel. What is the experience you hope to impart on your diners through your cooking in your 3 restaurants?
‘Soigné‘ is a strong concept that runs through all restaurants. All three are different in their cooking style and business models, but the care and the focus that goes into the whole experience is the same throughout. Guests will feel the same, very-strong care and precision, both front and back of the house, at all three restaurants. The level of detail, the care we take in providing the whole experience from booking to leaving the restaurant; we try to manage entire experience as linear and steady, no matter which restaurant. ‘Soigné’ is about the entire experience of being catered for.
On its first time in Vietnam…
BS: People from Saigon are finally able to meet you in Vietnam. You will be attending the ‘Celebrity Gala dinner’ organized on October 23 at the Parc Hyatt hotel in Ho Chi Minh City where we will discover your cuisine through a menu offering no less than 6 dishes paired with the German wines Schloss Vollrads. Is this a first in Vietnam?
It’s my first time in Vietnam, yes and I am really looking forward to meet people from Vietnam and to participate in the ‘Celebrity Gala dinner’ organized at the Parc Hyatt Hotel.
On the future of gastronomy …
BS: How do you see the future of gastronomy?
If I knew the future of Gastronomy, I’d have already done it! I think perhaps it will be more related to emotion and feeling, rather than technique and flavor. We’ve tried so many techniques and flavor combinations. Chefs will go further by thinking more about the atmosphere, aromas, serving, things related to emotional experience.
On food trends….
What’s your favorite food trend?
Food alchemy. Something that I’ve never seen before. Innovation. I like to see a chef who is the first person doing something. I like to see how people react to new things.
On foodie bucket lists…
BS: What’s your foodie bucket list today?
I would love to visit Alchemist in Copenhagen by Chef Rasmus Munk. It looks like a fantasy world. I love how the interior matches the food itself and opens visitors up to trying the new foods there.
On Foodie pleasures…
BS: What about emerging dining destinations around the world – is there anywhere, in particular, that is piquing your interest at the moment?
I think every city is actually interesting in terms of a dining concept. I recently visited New York and have not been there in ten years. I had low expectations but saw that lots of new concepts were emerging. In Asia, Japan is always pushing boundaries. In Seoul, we’re growing very quickly. Southeast Asia’s dining culture is also expanding rapidly. I think whichever country I go to I can see the growth and development of the dining experience.
On the highlight of his career…
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Not failing yet! I can still dream. If nothing is blocking me from dreaming, or if there are obstacles but I can overcome them and still have the energy to chase my dreams, that is an achievement to me, and is proof that I’m doing something right.
And what if…
And if you were not a Chef, what would you do?
I’d be an engineer. Even right now, I still think of myself as not dissimilar to a computer engineer or an IT engineer. I always try to merge technology into my restaurant, to make a better experience for the customers and staff. I approach making a recipe with an engineer’s mindset. Everything is related, in terms of a cause and effect’. I think of myself as engineering food, engineering a restaurant, engineering an experience. If I wasn’t a chef, I’d be doing the same thing, but without food ingredients. It just depends on whether the source material is edible or not. If it’s edible, I’m a chef. If not, I’m an engineer.
Photos courtesy of Soigné Restaurant
46 Banpo-daero 39-gil, Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea.