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Roaster: Hanseul Kang

Embarking on a late cooking journey to master the art of making hollandaise sauce, this determination led her to discover her own unique approach to excelling in the finer aspects of culinary craft.

How did you initially get into cooking?

My love for coffee goes so far back that I can't even recall when it all began. As my fascination with crafting delicious coffee grew, I decided to delve deeper into the world of coffee, dreaming of one day opening my own coffee shop. Even though I was still young, I took a leap of faith and opened a quaint little café back in my hometown of Geoje Island, thinking it was worth a shot. Geoje Island was filled with large domestic companies and a substantial foreign population, which naturally led to a demand for brunch menus. So, without much expertise, I added brunch items to the menu and gave it a try.

Admittedly, my cooking skills were hit or miss, with only half of my culinary endeavors turning out successful. But in my ignorance, I believed I was doing just fine; I figured everyone in the business must face similar challenges. It was during this time that I stumbled upon an egg benedict recipe on a blog and attempted to whip up hollandaise sauce upon receiving an order. However, my success was inconsistent, and I encountered texture issues with the sauce. As I chatted with my regular foreign customers, I discovered they possessed valuable culinary know-how, much like Koreans excel at making soybean paste stew or kimchi stew. This sparked my interest in the world of cooking.

I'm curious to know how you progressed from that initial interest to where you are now.

At the age of 30, I decided to pursue my passion for cooking and enrolled in the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). It's amusing, yet somewhat embarrassing, that my journey into the culinary world started with something as simple as learning how to make hollandaise sauce. I half-jokingly, half-seriously say that it was a trivial turning point. Back then, YouTube wasn't as active, and my Googling skills were not top-notch, leaving me no choice but to seek hands-on learning.

I could have opted for a closer and more conventional cooking education, but I secretly desired something more intense and immersive. You know, most people who pursue cooking as a career start honing their skills in high school. I was already over a decade behind others, and I felt the urge to catch up quickly. That's why I decided to go for it and explore the best place to learn - the CIA.

Could you tell me about the different ventures you pursued in your career?

My first hands-on experience took place at NoMad, a one-star restaurant situated within the Nomad Hotel in New York. It was a period of tremendous growth for me. Working in a real kitchen environment for the first time, I knew then and there that I truly belonged in a kitchen. Despite my advanced age and my inexperience with wielding a knife, I was driven by a strong conviction. While I hadn't been exposed to much Western cuisine before, the challenges of cooking dishes I had never tasted or heard of exhilarated me. All my worries dissipated as I soaked in the excitement and enjoyment of working in a restaurant. This period laid the foundation for my culinary skills, teaching me invaluable habits like maintaining cleanliness while working, sharpening and handling knives, pre-service preparation timelines, and effective communication and collaboration with my colleagues. These were essential qualities that I developed during this time.

Subsequently, I moved on to Quince, a prestigious three-star restaurant in San Francisco. Unlike the a la carte-focused setup at NoMad, Quince had a different approach, emphasizing courses rather than individual dishes. The ingredients and culinary techniques between the East and West were also distinct, making the experience even more enriching. Initially, I worked as a Prep Cook, but my ambition pushed me to request to learn how to work on the Line. It was a challenging period, but my determination paid off as I was promoted to Line despite my limited experience. This allowed me to gain even more insight into the world of fine dining and the meticulous details that go into every dish.

When are you planning to return to Korea?

Upon my return to Korea, I initially worked at an innovative restaurant that had received Michelin stars for a period. However, I realized that the cooking style there didn't align with my pursuit, so I made a switch to a different two-star fine dining establishment. I spent two and a half years there before joining Solbam in October 2022.

In the fall of 2021, Solbam opened its doors, and my close brother mentioned that he was heading to the Solbam kitchen with the goal of earning a star. Intrigued, I decided to visit the kitchen with him, and we also had dinner there. To my amazement, the food was incredibly delicious, leaving me with a strong desire to work at Solbam.

Isn't there a difference between a restaurant that serves delicious food and one you want to work at?

Indeed, a restaurant that I want to work at is one that not only serves delectable food but also brings joy to the dining experience. When I'm cooking, there aren't many kitchens that I truly wish to be a part of. There comes a point when many fine dining establishments seem to use similar ingredients and follow popular styles. Even when I eat at such places, the food may not be particularly outstanding, and I find myself contemplating the mechanics of how it was made.

However, there are places like Solbam that go beyond that, rekindling the joy of eating. For me, Solbam was such a place. I considered it a significant advantage that I could savor and appreciate every course while enjoying the food to the fullest. Working in a restaurant that I can wholeheartedly recommend to friends and family seems natural for someone who values delectable cuisine.

How has your experience been at Solbam?

We places immense importance on the concept of teamwork. Unlike many dining establishments where only the sous chef is involved in menu composition, we come together for meetings to share opinions and incorporate them into the menu. This fosters a sense of joy in working as a team. Currently, I am working as a roaster.

What do you find alluring about the fine dining business?

The fine dining industry brings me great satisfaction every day when I accomplish my tasks. It's a series of days where we work together to overcome time constraints and challenges. Among these days, the ones when I'm pleased with my work bring immense psychological rewards. Having a job that keeps me engaged and fulfilled makes the fine dining business truly captivating.

Do you do a lot of cooking at home?

At home, I often prepare sandwiches and pasta. My go-to dish is Jambon-beurre. I enjoy simple sandwiches with ham and cheese, and I have a preference for delicious yet straightforward styles like cacio e pepe. I also appreciate wine, but I'm not particularly adept at drinking, so when I open a bottle of white wine, I refrigerate it and enjoy it over two or three weeks. My friends often ask me if that's even possible! (laughs)

What are your future plans?

In the next ten years, I aspire to continue working and learning in the fine dining business. I want to refine my skills and expertise thoroughly. In the distant future, I envision opening my own establishment again, reminiscent of my fearless days in my early 20s when I had less knowledge. I'd love to run a deli-style light eatery, a bistro, or a proper brunch shop with homemade bread and ham. Until that day arrives, I'm focused on strengthening myself through daily accomplishments.


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