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Korean restaurants are no longer considered just “ethnic food” joints, but rather, leading the entire culinary scene in an outstanding manner. Chefs like Roy Choi and David Chang as well as fine dining, modern Korean restaurants like Oiji are setting the tone for what is trendy, delicious and gastronomically forward-thinking.
Oiji chefs Brian Kim, Tae Kyung Ku, and general manager Max Soh share with us how Korean food and dining has grown from family-owned establishments to star chef status, with a little help from K-pop.
What is your morning routine?
TK Ku: I spend time with my family cooking breakfast, spending time with my baby, sometimes going to the Farmers’ Market.
Brian Kim: I go to the gym and the Farmers’ Market.
Have you noticed any recent trends or movements that have helped shape Korean cuisine in the United States and beyond?
Young chefs and restaurateurs started opening restaurants outside of Koreatown and have succeeded. Chef Jungsik, Simon Kim from Piora, Hooni Kim from Danji are great examples. Restaurant popularity increasingly revolves around chefs rather than on being family-owned. The K-pop trend definitely helped shape Korean business in general.
What is it about Korean food or flavors that has been catching on with Western diners/palates?
Savory, Spicy, Fermented and Umami flavors. Subtle fermented flavors have also been catching on.
How has Korean food and dining differentiated itself amongst other popular Asian cuisines like Japanese or Chinese in the United States and across the globe?
Korean food has lots of fermented product. Our technique of aging/preserving food makes Korean food unique from the cuisine of other Asian countries.
Why is Korean food on the rise right now, then as opposed to a decade ago?
I think it has to do with the history of immigration. The Chinese and Japanese settled in the United States far earlier then Koreans did. The U.S. population is becoming more diverse now than ever. People’s palates are becoming diverse as well.
How does the food at Oiji set itself apart from other Korean restaurants in the US?
We don’t serve banchan (side dishes). Traditionally, Korean food is consumed with varieties of banchan, a main dish and rice. At Oiji we create a dish so that it works by itself. We want guests to experience multiple main dishes in smaller portions.
Are there other countries or areas outside of the United States and Korea where Korean food is a shaping the culinary scene or taking off in a thoughtful, creative way?
Korean restaurants are highly recognized in Asian destinations like Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Japan. Australia will be one of them because of the country’s distinctive Korean population.