Sung Jun Oh
Haemul Pajun (seafood pancake)
Where did you learn to cook?
I started cooking at home. I have four sisters and two brothers, I'm the baby. My sisters got married when I was little. My parents were sick at home and my brother had to make money, so that's when I started cooking. I had to make it tasty for my mom.
I have about fifty cookbooks, all different types of cuisine. I've worked at Indian, Vegetarian, and French restaurants. Mangos don't grow in Korea; coconut —I've never seen it. I didn't know about cumin seed or paprika. I didn't speak any English when I came over so I needed to find a cookbook in Korean. Now I speak English. There's a big Korean cookbook which I use.
What is the one ingredient you could not live without? Garlic.
Favorite Microbrew or wine?
I'm diabetic so I try not to drink at all. The guy who made the wine list when I opened, who was a good friend of mine, was the best in the area. He didn't charge me anything. After he made the list, he passed away. That was the last project for him. My champagne with my logo is for him.
Right now Mexican. All my staff is Mexican. I love any kind of music. Good is good.
Favorite type of food? Seafood.
Most memorable meal?
Eight years ago, I went to Korea. One of my friends took me on a trip for three days. Deep, deep into the mountains. It was off season so there was nobody around there. We went into a small restaurant which an eighty year old grandma ran by herself. She grew all her vegetables in the backyard. I ordered a chicken dish. Samgyetang -ginseng chicken soup. She asked where we came from and I said the United States. I haven't been to Korea for several years. She brought out 35 side dishes! She sat down and watched me eat. She understood how much I missed the food.
Most memorable guest?
I was getting ready to open and a grandma and grandpa were walking outside. They came in and I said we're not open yet. "Oh no! We want to make a reservation" they said. They were old, but you could tell they were in love. Okay, we made a reservation. They lived upstairs in an apartment. They came back all dressed up and had dinner. They wanted to say goodbye to me but I was so busy. i had like 30 or 40 tickets. It was our first night open. That was ten years ago and since then they've been coming a lot. Two weeks ago, the whole family came but I didn't see the grandpa. The grandma grabbed my hand. He passed away - I started crying. I really loved them.
Most famous guest?
John Ennis the Korean baseball player. He ate five bowls of kimchee with kimchee soup!
Most irritating celebrity chef?
I have a lot of respect for chef Jean-Robert de Cavel. He is one of my best friends and an amazing chef.
What makes indie food better?
An independent restaurant is my baby. I built it, I made the menu by myself because I am a chef and owner of the restaurant. You focus a lot on your relationship with the customer. In a big chain it's all about more money. An independent restaurant cares more about the customer. When someone is eating my food so happily, that makes my day.