Solbam's journey from its inception to the present day has been propelled by the unwavering commitment of every team member in their respective roles and their cumulative small victories. Allow me to introduce the narrative of Entremétier Taegyun Kim, whose growth has been intertwined with the team.
Could you share your journey into the culinary world?
I'm an outgoing person who enjoys socializing. Back when I was in middle school, whenever someone inquired about my future aspirations, I would respond that I wanted to become a teacher. I believed that sharing knowledge with others and connecting with children suited me well. However, I eventually let go of that dream after facing the reality of midterms. I'm quite pragmatic, and it became evident that I wasn't particularly adept at traditional academics. (laughs)
I've always been eager to delve into a practical field and engage in economically productive activities. The idea of bypassing college and entering the workforce directly crossed my mind. Nonetheless, my parents wisely advised me to attend college, urging me to broaden my horizons before making a definitive choice. Consequently, I graduated from a humanities-oriented high school and enrolled in a culinary institute. My experience at a culinary academy during my middle school years had left a lasting impression and ignited my enthusiasm.
Could you elaborate on your experiences after enrolling in college?
I was fortunate enough to secure a full scholarship, which facilitated my enrollment in the culinary program. During my initial year, I familiarized myself with the industry through hands-on training at the Grand Hilton Hotel. This immersive experience exposed me to various aspects, including handling meat and orchestrating group banquet events during the festive Christmas season.
Subsequently, I served in the military and spent two years working at the officer's restaurant before returning to school. In my second year, practical training wasn't obligatory, and most of my peers seemed to forgo it. However, I was determined not to miss the opportunity to gain practical experience supported by the school. Thus, I joined the team at the Kensington Hotel Pyeongchang. Although I aspired to work in Seoul, the establishment's affiliation with prominent hotels here led me to believe that I might have the chance to be assigned to the Yeouido branch. After a two-month training stint, I received a formal job offer and commenced my professional journey ahead of schedule.
I'm curious about how you ended up joining Solbam.
In October 2019, shortly after I secured a position at a hotel, the repercussions of COVID-19 began to escalate nationwide. The hotel where I had just started working had to temporarily shut down for two weeks due to the pandemic. Faced with this situation, I decided to resign from my job, return to Hongcheon where my family resides, and immediately take up a part-time position. I found employment at a local Japanese restaurant.
Ever since high school, I've been accustomed to working part-time jobs and keeping myself busy. I found solace in staying active and productive, believing that a fulfilling life equates to a diligent one. Saving money became a priority for me, and I used the earnings to cover my phone bills, gradually adapting to this lifestyle. I dedicated myself to various roles, ranging from a delivery driver to a part-time job at the county office, and even positions at Japanese and meat restaurants. Yet, upon retrospection, I realized I had become somewhat confined in the midst of my endeavors.
At the time, my older brother, who had served in the military ahead of me, was working at the Michelin two-star restaurant ‘L’Impression’. During our conversations, he planted the idea that I should seek out new challenges. This prompted me to explore uncharted territory. Although I was oblivious to the concept of fine dining and the intricacies of upscale cuisine, I felt compelled to venture into the unknown. My brother informed me about a sous chef he had worked with, who was planning to open his own restaurant and was in search of staff. Following his suggestion, I met Chef Eom for the first time in March 2021. Ordinarily, when applying to a larger company, I would research the organization and prepare for the interview. However, in this case, as I was considering a position at a restaurant that hadn't yet materialized, I was at a loss. With trembling nerves, I donned a suit, visited a salon two hours prior to the interview to tidy up my appearance, and shared my aspirations and thoughts with the chef.
Thankfully, Chef Eom took the time to elaborate on Solbam's vision. He presented me with the restaurant's dish concepts, name design, and the Solbam logo. Consequently, I was offered a position as a team member of the restaurant, which was slated to open six months later.
From the initial opening to being awarded our first Michelin Star, my journey at Solbam has been…
It has beem marked by continuous growth and valuable insights into the realm of fine dining. Under the guidance of the chef, I delved into the finer aspects of culinary craftsmanship, learning not just how to wield a knife but also the nuances of knife technique and selection. It was a period of significant personal development. Many ingredients were entirely new to me, like Uni, Caviar, and Truffle. While my experience at a Japanese restaurant in Hongcheon had exposed me to fish such as sea bream and flatfish, my exposure at Solbam expanded my culinary horizons. Witnessing these luxurious ingredients, grasping their cultural significance, and understanding their role in various dishes, I gained a profound appreciation for the chef's unwavering commitment to using premium ingredients without compromise, despite their costs.
Reflecting upon my time at Solbam, I am utterly content with my decision to join the team. I've constantly been learning and growing, acquiring knowledge that I previously lacked. Although I initially felt trepidation about the seasonal menu changes, now I look forward to the challenge. This period has been transformative for all of us. I recall the tremor in the chef's hands during Solbam's grand opening last October, when only four guests were seated. As we now effortlessly manage a full-house restaurant each day, that moment has transformed into a cherished memory.
What was the most memorable moment?
Among the myriad memories, one that stands out is the pre-opening dinner the chef organized for the parents of the team members. I distinctly remember my mother expressing that it was her first time dining at such a restaurant and offering words of encouragement. Returning to my lodging that night in Seoul, I was moved to tears, an uncommon occurrence for me.
What are your future plans?
Regarding my future plans, I'm focused on excelling in my present role. Like the synergy between sea waves and a ship's motion, individual efforts contribute to collective advancement. While a ship may move even if one crew member rows less, I am determined not to be that person. As I transition from being the youngest team member to a more experienced one, I feel it's my responsibility to refine my skills. In the Garde-Manger role, collaboration to craft a single dish is vital, necessitating that each member excels in their respective tasks.
I recall a forward-looking meeting held with the chef and the entire team last summer, before Solbam's official launch. I resonated with the chef's ten-year vision and felt privileged to be part of a journey with such significant aspirations. This vision remains etched in my memory, serving as a constant reminder of the big picture we are striving towards. I'm committed to continuing my earnest efforts and contributing to the restaurant's ongoing success