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Sous-chef: Eunjung Park

How did you embark on your culinary journey?

Reflecting on the decade leading up to my time at Solbam, it feels as though I arrived here through a natural course of events rather than a predetermined plan. Recalling my early years... I held a somewhat nebulous aspiration to engage in the fashion industry. My parents both ran fashion businesses, and that environment shaped my upbringing. During my high school days, I nurtured dreams of attending design school. Unfortunately, my academic performance didn't align with this ambition, and despite not wanting to compromise by enrolling in a humanities high school, I discovered the allure of culinary arts while seeking vocational specialized education. This is where serendipity began to play a role.

At that juncture, concepts like "fine dining" or "chef" weren't in my contemplation. My interests leaned toward pastries and cocktails. With the guidance of my instructor, I often ventured into international cooking competitions. The theme of "competition" propelled me forward for about five years. I participated in a gamut of events, including international competitions organized by the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS), clinching accolades along the way. This was when I truly fell in love with cooking, experiencing immense joy and realizing how aligned it was with my aptitude. This revelation greatly supported my journey up until now.

Can you highlight the differences between competition dishes and restaurant dishes?

The differences are substantial. The evaluation criteria diverge significantly. Competitions typically revolve around specific themes, demanding the portrayal of these themes with adept skills within stringent time constraints. Conversely, within the restaurant context, the emphasis is on overall harmony, a consistent chef's signature, and the steady quality of the cuisine. After devoting around five years to this realm and pondering my future, I recognized the significance of securing a profession and contributing to it. The competition preparation process often resembled intensive project work, each time-consuming substantial energy. This led me to develop an interest in the realm of fine dining.

Certainly, I gleaned valuable insights from the competition circuit. Observing individuals from across the globe congregating under the common thread of "culinary arts," spanning countries like Singapore and Malaysia, broadened my perspective. Despite my inherent introverted nature, this experience fostered a modicum of change, augmenting my confidence upon receiving awards. My efficiency in handling tasks accelerated, and the ability to organize became a habit—both crucial aspects in the culinary realm. Navigating the competition's time constraints compelled me to meticulously plan timelines, which in turn facilitated more intuitive time management when crafting the final plated dish. Moreover, I gained the experience of devising recipes in alignment with diverse themes. Crafting compelling recipes is a pivotal aspect of culinary excellence, yet as a young individual, opportunities to take the initiative in designing recipes were limited. This phase served as a formative foundation, refining my ability to ideate ingredient combinations and create my own distinctive recipes.

I've heard that you also have experience in front-of-house service.

Yes, I spent around a year working in front-of-house service at ‘Toc toc’, which is also featured in the Michelin Guide. While I aspire to open my own restaurant as an owner-chef someday, I believed that gaining experience in the service aspect was crucial. I felt it was necessary to personally immerse myself in this role as early as possible to gain a comprehensive perspective. Transitioning to the front-of-house, I recognized that it differed significantly from the kitchen viewpoint. This experience exposed me to aspects I couldn't see while in the kitchen, such as wine pairing, customer reactions, and the art of enjoying meals. It underscored the considerable divergence between the roles of the service staff and the kitchen team. This period was truly invaluable, and I believe it would be beneficial for other colleagues to gain similar insights occasionally.

Could you share your journey leading up to joining Solbam?

Following my year in front-of-house service at Toc toc and three years honing my culinary skills at Jungsik, I joined Solbam. Jungsik holds a prominent status for many culinary enthusiasts—it's like an idol within the Korean dining scene. Given its reputation, impressive scale, and well-structured system, there was much to learn as it's an establishment that has significantly impacted Korea's dining landscape. Particularly for individuals with limited experience like myself, the six-month probationary period exposed me to a wealth of knowledge. I learned under the guidance of the head chef, managing the order of food delivery and overall flow. My culinary prowess saw marked improvement during this time. The restaurant's sizable operations enabled me to gain swift proficiency in handling various proteins like fish and meat, contributing to my skill development.

When pondering my career direction once more, I experienced a dinner course at the newly opened Solbam, and it left a lasting impression. The impeccably crafted, intricate, and harmonious meal was truly remarkable, igniting my passion for cooking. This experience solidified my resolve to work here, prompting me to join the team around three months after its inauguration.

What are your impressions of Solbam from your experience working here?

Solbam is a restaurant that embodies your personal values and essence. It staunchly upholds the use of premium ingredients without compromise. The process of a complete menu overhaul every season is no small feat, yet the systematic approach in executing this aspect holds immense learning potential.

Simultaneously, the leadership and approach toward team members are remarkable. Throughout the menu transformation, the process includes listening to our insights, thoughtfully incorporating them, and fostering our growth within our respective domains. In fact, I first heard about the restaurant through my husband (DY Ko, the head sommelier at Solbam), and my initial reaction was, 'Can a chef truly be this dedicated?' For instance, I've rarely come across instances where incentives are shared among staff when a restaurant gains recognition. However, at Solbam, team members are consistently valued, and meticulous consideration is given to promoting teamwork while balancing holidays and vacations. This approach builds trust among staff, fostering a personal rapport.

One particularly impressive aspect of working at Solbam is the inclusion of all our names in the 'Ending Credit' section of the menu. This serves as a profound reminder of our collective contributions, adding a meaningful dimension to our work and greatly enhancing our sense of teamwork.

Can you describe the role of the sous chef?

In Solbam's kitchen, we function as a cohesive team despite the division of responsibilities. In my capacity as a sous chef, I actively contribute to supporting my fellow team members. I'm extensively involved in the seasonal menu changes and oversee administrative tasks such as ingredient and supply ordering.

Truthfully, my tenure as a sous chef has been relatively short. I still shoulder the roles of a sous chef while fulfilling my roaster responsibilities. I perceive my current position as a work in progress, and I'm constantly contemplating ways to foster deep trust among my colleagues and bolster the restaurant's overall efficiency.

Leadership is cultivated collectively by team members. While some individuals exhibit exceptional skills, acquiring leadership isn't akin to a standard colleague-to-colleague dynamic. A restaurant's operation hinges on its people, necessitating everyone to fulfill their designated roles cohesively to achieve a common objective and deliver favorable outcomes.

What is the allure of fine dining for you?

Isn't it the embodiment of the "culmination" of the culinary experience? From inception to completion, I orchestrate the balance of elements throughout the process, relentlessly pursuing perfection even in the minutiae. Even if I venture into running a bistro in the future, I believe it's crucial to grasp this facet. Presently, I find immense satisfaction in my work.

Could you share your aspirations for the future?

My husband is a sommelier, and together we envision establishing a wine bar as a couple. Our dream is to curate an environment that offers delectable cuisine alongside exceptional wines. I'm of the belief that the caliber of the food should be exemplary as well. My aim is to set new standards in terms of culinary techniques, ingredient selection, and meticulous attention to detail. Working at Solbam is a means to further refine my culinary expertise, gain experience in managing teams and operating restaurants, and ultimately amass comprehensive skills.

On a lighter note, how does it feel to work alongside your husband in the same field?

The situation of seeing each other all day has its merits and drawbacks. (laughs)

We communicate effectively, share common interests, and possess an understanding of each other's professions, which minimizes potential clashes. However, the lines between work and personal time can sometimes blur, which could be both beneficial and challenging. (laughs) On the bright side, traveling together is a major advantage, as we can share the same holidays. We both relish travel, and during the COVID-19 period, we explored numerous hidden gems across Korea. Among these journeys, our trip to Andong stands out as a favorite. The serene ambiance of the old houses, coupled with Andong's traditional liquors, local delicacies, and cuisine, left an indelible memory. Little did I anticipate that my connection with Andong would extend to my experience at Solbam. (laughs)

In any case, I hope that Solbam endures as a beloved establishment for years to come. I am committed to realizing my dreams and contributing my utmost within my role.


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