Seung-gul Lee, the Entremetier, shares the tale of Korean cuisine that embraces the essence of each season and aspires to offer a restaurant experience marked by personal and intimate service for customers.
How did you get started with cooking?
My journey into the culinary world began before I entered college when I hadn't yet decided on a career path. It all started when my sister, who had a deep love for food, offered me some cooking advice. Initially, I considered it a small opportunity, but it eventually led me to pursue a major in culinary arts, bringing me to where I am today. Following my military discharge, I joined friends in preparing for a cooking contest, which marked the turning point when I fell in love with the art of cooking.
Until then, I had never delved so deeply into the act of creating food, but my perspective changed. I was captivated by the idea of pushing the boundaries of the fundamentals. Cooking is a domain where mastery of the basics is crucial for success. Even a simple act like chopping ingredients revealed its complexity, as I learned how every tiny detail could transform the taste of a dish. This experience opened my eyes to the allure of the culinary world, allowing me to pursue exquisite flavors and offer a rich dining experience by simply infusing dishes with a touch of "tastefulness."
Can you tell me about your career path so far?
My culinary journey has encompassed several significant chapters. I began with an internship at the Michelin two-star restaurant Mingles, which was recommended by a professor. This initial experience in the world of fine dining posed some challenges as I adapted to the environment. However, it provided valuable insights into the ambiance of the restaurant, the team's mindset, and their work ethic. Paying attention to minute details became a crucial part of my work, and I gained a broader perspective as I observed the dedication of my fellow team members.
Next, I spent approximately two years working at “Second Kitchen” in Hannam-dong, thanks to a friend's recommendation. This role taught me essential communication skills and workplace dynamics as I became part of the organization. Later, my journey led me to the Michelin two-star restaurant Joo-ok, where I honed the fundamentals of Korean cuisine-based cooking. This experience underscored the importance of adhering to principles and mastering the basics.
After a brief hiatus, I continued my culinary education at Soseoul Hannam for about two years. This phase was instrumental in shaping the foundation of my cooking career, providing a diverse perspective on modernizing Korean cuisine and understanding various recipes and customer preferences. I later worked at the three-star restaurant Mosu, where I gained fresh insights and innovative ideas. For instance, I encountered a unique approach to serving bread, typically eaten at the beginning or middle of a meal, which challenged stereotypes and encouraged chefs to express their creativity, even in the realm of dessert.
Could you share how you came to work at Solbam?
Throughout my career, I've had the privilege of working at some fantastic restaurants. However, what truly stood out to me when I dined at Solbam and heard their story was the incredible energy and commitment to growth within the establishment. Joining this dynamic team, I was eager to be a part of the tangible journey of growth and achievement, together. This opportunity led me to become a part of the Solbam team.
What's your experience like working at Solbam?
I genuinely appreciate the camaraderie among my colleagues at Solbam. The vibrant and cheerful atmosphere, where everyone works diligently with smiles, fills me with energy. Being part of a team that encourages each other's development is inspiring, and the mutual support we provide even when we're fatigued is invaluable. We also engage in constructive feedback sessions to identify areas for improvement.
What's currently your main focus?
Right now, my main focus is to deepen my understanding of food and culinary arts while gaining a broader perspective on running a restaurant, which is crucial. I see this as an opportunity to develop my skills in creating the overall restaurant ambiance, enhancing communication with the team, optimizing kitchen operations, and striking the right balance between the front-of-house and the kitchen, all while leading in a unified direction. I aspire to learn extensively from Solbam regarding the services and systems in place to ensure that customers have a memorable experience and to convey the heart of the restaurant. I believe I'm still in the process of refining my fundamental skills, which will serve as a foundation for future applications, so my primary focus is on my daily work.
Do you dine out frequently in your free time?
Whenever I have some spare time, I enjoy dining out and trying new experiences. I often visit other fine dining establishments and sushi restaurants, finding sushi particularly inspiring. It's a remarkably simple form of cuisine, yet it embodies a deep understanding of ingredients' essence. With every bite, you can feel a lingering sense of satisfaction and emotion that lingers even after the meal. The more you reflect on it, the more you appreciate the dishes that encapsulate time and sincerity. I'm constantly striving to create food that leaves a lasting memory like this.
So, what, in your view, constitutes the 'foundation' of Korean-based dishes?
When we discuss Korean cuisine, the term "jang" is integral. While ingredients are undoubtedly crucial, I believe that the foundation for everything lies in the broth. Korean cuisine encompasses a variety of fundamental broths, including Yangji, kelp, and anchovy, which serve as the basis for rich flavors. In my past experiences, I had the privilege of learning the art of royal cuisine from Director Han Bok-ryeo during my days off. I was amazed to see that even when preparing simple or ceremonial dishes, they used broth instead of plain water. I consider Korean broth as the cornerstone for side dishes, soups, and even desserts.
What are your aspirations for the next 10 years?
My dream for the next decade is to take on the role of the owner-chef at a fine dining Restaurant. I envision a place that celebrates Korean cuisine, capturing the essence of the season, and offering personalized and intimate service to our guests. I understand that realizing this dream is an ongoing process, and I'm committed to continually expanding my knowledge and experience without limits to make it a reality.