Kim Sung-eun of Solbam, a patissier who orchestrates the final enchanting notes within the grand symphony of Fine Dining, shares her story as a patissier.
How did your culinary journey begin?
My fascination with pastries dates back to my childhood, though the exact memories are a bit hazy. Unlike many others, I didn't start cooking at a young age. My parents were initially against me pursuing a career in the culinary arts, so I began taking classes as a hobby during vacations. As I approached the time to choose a college path after finishing high school in Canada, my intention to major in cooking was met with strong resistance from my parents. Despite their opposition, I was determined to follow my passion. Balancing my desire with the need to appear committed to education, I applied to both art and business schools. After securing their consent, I pursued my dream. Cooking wasn't an escape from academics; rather, it was my sincere aspiration. I explained this to my parents, stressing that I was pursuing something I genuinely loved. Their perspective shifted, and that's how I found myself enrolling at the CIA in the United States.
Tell us about your journey to Solbam.
In the professional world, I'm still a novice. While I may lack extensive experience in various restaurants, I consider this my true initiation into the industry. During my studies, I had the invaluable opportunity to intern at a real restaurant, which led me to spend some time at a Michelin two-star restaurant in Seoul. It was there that I truly felt the allure of the culinary world.
Following my college graduation, I fortunately connected with the chef. Considering the prevailing impact of COVID-19, returning to Korea seemed the most prudent decision. Chef Eom, a university senior of mine, made me join Solbam upon recommendation from a cooking acquaintance who emphasized his strict yet charismatic approach and the immense learning potential he embodied.
How did you feel about joining a brand-new restaurant?
This sentiment was shared by all our team members. As Hyunbin mentioned, the chef played a pivotal role in persuading us during the interview and establishing a shared vision. His passionate elucidation of Solbam's future identity resonated deeply, and I was eager to be a part of it.
One remark that remains etched in my memory is the chef's statement: "I want each team member to be the star of the night, not just me." This was more than mere words; it embodied the essence of our collaboration. For instance, we documented the roles and names of all team members on our menu. Drawing inspiration from movie credits—the ending credits—we delineated our roles. This isn't a commonplace practice in restaurants, is it? With all team members, including those like me with limited experience, introduced to customers, a stronger sense of responsibility and commitment to the team's purpose took hold. I'm deeply invested in contributing positively and ensuring that I don't hinder the team's progress.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I am currently learning under the guidance of pastry chef, assisting in various aspects of the pastry section. My primary responsibility is baking the bread that is served during the course. Additionally, I assist in fruit preparation and other tasks that contribute to the dessert-making process. The art of pastry holds great allure for me. It functions as both a decorative element for the restaurant's conclusion and a final touch that leaves a lasting impression. Just like in any performance, finishing strongly is vital for creating a positive and memorable impact, and I find immense satisfaction in contributing to this endeavor.
Why did you choose to work in a restaurant rather than a standalone dessert establishment?
My deep appreciation for performances, often exemplified through my weekly visits to musicals, played a significant role in this decision. Witnessing the synergy of numerous individuals fulfilling their roles to craft flawless moments on stage has always moved me. I perceive fine dining in the same light as these performances. It's about orchestrating happiness for someone, with all experts from different fields working collectively to create a holistic experience that resonates with the patron's emotions.
Unlike standalone pastry shops with limited menus, the allure of fine dining lies in its complexity. The collaborative nature within this environment, where interactions are thoughtfully choreographed, is both enjoyable and enriching. I'm profoundly motivated to contribute to a broader narrative alongside my colleagues.
Moreover, beyond my pastry work, I seek to learn many aspects of cooking. This broader exposure widens my perspective and deepens my understanding of various aspects of the culinary realm. I also appreciate the opportunity to work with diverse ingredients beyond flour and butter. For instance, including parsnips in our main dessert—an unusual ingredient in Korea—allows us to experiment and expand creative ideas, especially within the savory menu.
What is the atmosphere like at Solbam in terms of work environment?
While my experience is relatively limited, I can undoubtedly attest to the exceptional atmosphere at Solbam. Whether it's within the dining hall or the kitchen, there's a sense of cohesion that prevails. Having been part of the team since the restaurant's inception, I can recall some initial challenges as we were all collaborating for the first time. Nevertheless, the positivity, support, and camaraderie among team members have turned potential difficulties into manageable situations. As a result, I don't recall facing significant hardships. In fact, I've often felt a sense of responsibility and concern when circumstances beyond my control, such as contracting COVID-19 earlier this year, might have impacted my colleagues. This reflects the strong bond within our team.
How did you spend the past year at Solbam?
Reflecting on the past year at Solbam, there have been numerous moments that have brought laughter to my days. Comparing my perspective to when I first joined, it's remarkable how much my outlook has evolved. What once may have appeared trivial now bears deeper significance. It's a continuous journey of discovering the intricacies of the pastry chef and Chef Eom's teachings, one layer at a time. I feel as though my understanding is gradually unfolding, much like opening my eyes to new horizons. Communication with my fellow team members has improved markedly. The ability to interpret the unspoken cues, such as Hall's expressions, has enhanced our teamwork and synchronization in the kitchen.
What are your aspirations for the future?
I aspire to take on a more significant role within Solbam. My time spent assisting the pastry chef has been incredibly educational. In a broader context, I hold a vague vision of establishing my own venture within the next five years. I hail from Jeju Island, and I dream of creating a tranquil pastry shop nestled in its serene surroundings. Although specifics are yet to be determined, this remains a long-term goal.
My philosophy in life is to embrace happiness in the present moment. The chef frequently reminds us that our daily service may seem routine, but for those who walk through our doors, it's a cherished experience, a unique step in time that won't be replicated. This perspective encourages me to approach each day with renewed commitment, avoiding complacency.
I endeavor to seize this period without regrets. Instead of lamenting opportunities not pursued, I choose to embrace diligent effort and avoid regrets altogether. If I evaluate potential decisions through this lens, I believe it fosters meaningful and fulfilling days.