top of page

Garde-manger: Taehoon Kim

Meet Taehoon Kim, the passionate Garde-manger at Solbam, who infuses heart and energy into his cooking.

Could you tell us about what you're currently doing at Solbam?

Sure! I'm working as a Garde-manger, handling all the cold cooking. It's been about a month since I joined Solbam, and time really flies here. Each day, I come in, prepare my section, serve food, and then reflect on the day's work, planning for the next day.

How did you get into cooking?

Well, I was inspired during the era when TV shows were highlighting the first generation of star chefs. Programs featuring chefs like Edward Kwon and Leo Kang really caught my attention when I was a teenager. Before that, I had vaguely considered going into banking, but the culinary world intrigued me much more. No one in my family was in the restaurant business, so it was quite new to us, but my father supported my decision. When I expressed my interest in cooking, he enrolled me in a cooking school the very next day. That's how I began my journey towards earning a Korean food certificate at 17.

Can you share a memorable story from your first job?

Absolutely. My school encouraged us to find work before graduation, so at 19, I started working at a countryside hotel before finishing high school. It was a small hotel with a bustling Western restaurant that handled banquets and room service. Being the youngest member of the team, I learned a lot about not just cooking but also about professional and social life beyond being a student. One vivid memory is when, just before a buffet, I accidentally flipped over a dish meant for 160 servings. Being the youngest, I took the blame and shed a few tears, but it taught me a valuable lesson about responsibility.

What did you do after that experience?

After my initial stint in high school, I took some time to ponder my career path. Hailing from Gyeongju, I decided to move to Bundang when I was 20. For me, Bundang felt no different than Seoul in terms of opportunities. Buffet dining was all the rage then, so I joined a place called DeMaris. Unfortunately, I had to leave after six months due to health concerns. At that point, I started questioning cooking as a long-term career—it's physically demanding and not always well-paid unless you have a clear vision or dream. I explored other avenues, even working in a shipyard for a few months, where the pay was good but I wasn't happy. Ultimately, cooking brought me back to a sense of purpose and joy.

Can you tell us about your restaurant career journey?

After some exploration, I reached out to the director I had previously met at DeMaris. He had been a chef at the Renaissance Hotel and became my mentor for the next five years. I asked him if there were any opportunities to work as the youngest member in the kitchen, so I returned to the metropolitan area. I started gaining real experience at local Italian restaurants in Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do. In those smaller establishments, I worked across different stations—pasta, pizza, steak, salad—building a strong foundation in the field. Working closely with the director, I absorbed the chef's mindset and attitude, which still serves as my standard today. Despite the challenges and fatigue, cooking has always been about finding joy in the process because it embodies the heart of a chef.

Later, I joined a fermentation-focused bistro called Concept.B as a founding member, where I spent two enriching years. Before that, I had never delved deeply into fermentation, but working there expanded my perspective on cooking significantly. I learned about lactic acid fermentation—how we used seasonal fruits like plums and peaches for salad dressings in the summer, and adapted our fermenting techniques for autumn. I found it fascinating how fermentation outcomes could vary greatly depending on different variables. Sometimes, I achieved excellent results unintentionally, while other times, despite putting in considerable effort, I faced setbacks.

It sounds like you've had an intriguing experience with fermentation.

Looking back, fermentation has always been part of my family's unique culinary philosophy. I grew up accustomed to it, with a dedicated room in our home town used for making fermented soybean paste and hot pepper paste, crafted by my mother. However, I later discovered that such practices were uncommon. Working in restaurants heightened my family's interest in making soy sauce, prompting me to return home to learn and craft it myself.

How did you end up at Solbam?

Prior to joining Solbam, I spent a year at a French wine bar called Domenchengdam. It was my first exposure to a French restaurant, a departure from my Italian-centric experience at Quizin, and it marked a significant leap for me. The focus was on conveying the essence of ingredients more directly—simply baking and seasoning with salt or lemon. In contrast, French cuisine emphasizes refined and complex flavor combinations. Working alongside passionate colleagues who deeply appreciated French cuisine broadened my culinary perspective. I believe French cuisine forms the foundation of modern Western culinary practices.

Later, I dined at Solbam and was truly impressed by the experience. I expressed my desire to work in a similar environment to those around me. When a job opportunity arose at Solbam, friends encouraged me to apply, and here I am today.

What stood out to you about Solbam?

While I haven't experienced extensive fine dining, Solbam exuded a unique sense of perfection and energy that I hadn't encountered elsewhere. The food was exceptional, but more importantly, the professionalism and positivity of the staff left a lasting impression on me. Each member of the team was dedicated and exuded a vibrant spirit, which was truly inspiring to witness.

Can you share a standout moment from your time at Solbam?

Before becoming a full-time employee, I had a trial where the chef handed me a chicken and asked me to "create a hot dish." I was caught off guard and felt quite embarrassed. I ended up roasting the chicken and pairing it with a pine nut and lettuce salad. I remember the chef's expression wasn't very impressed! (laughs) Despite that, I was officially hired by Solbam.

During my month here, I've been learning from scratch, feeling like I've gone back to my early days in the kitchen. While I know I've learned and grown in some ways, it feels like a lot of that progress has been reset. As I realized my standards weren't meeting Solbam's expectations, I set new goals for myself. This is my first experience in a fine dining restaurant, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Working with exceptional ingredients and striving for culinary excellence is truly fulfilling.

What are your plans and aspirations for 2024 and beyond?

In the near future, I aim to earn recognition from my colleagues at Solbam. I also prioritize maintaining a healthy work-life balance. To manage stress, I enjoy listening to and singing along with music in my spare time—I'm a fan of exciting tunes across various genres.

Looking further ahead, I dream of opening my own wine bar, drawing upon the experiences and skills I'm gaining here. I envision infusing Korean elements into my unique style and creating a space that reflects my vision. Today, I'm focused on finding joy in my work and taking steps towards these goals.


bottom of page