Tag Archives: food


March Issue: Cali Flavor at The Wallace

Photo by Kimberly Genevieve.

Family Style

A husband-and-wife duo partner with her restaurateur brother to offer their take on farm-to-table California cuisine.


Diverse cultures and mountains of fresh, local produce shape California’s rich and much-envied food scene. And that’s the very image Michael and Carol Teich are looking to spread with The Wallace, their new culinary venture that is receiving much early acclaim. Located in the heart of the trendy downtown district of Culver City, The Wallace joins a growing list of Southern California restaurants that support sustainable and local food.

“The Wallace’s menu is ‘Californian’ because we emphasize local products,” Michael told KoreAm Journal. “To me, California has such diversity when it comes to food. So many immigrants have come here and brought their cuisine with them. All those [cuisines] influenced me growing up here, and they find their way into my food.”


His wife is one of those immigrants.  As a teenager, Carol immigrated to Los Angeles from Brazil with her family. She met Michael in the kitchen at a Ritz-Carlton restaurant, where Michael was already a sous chef.

“He wasn’t even one of the executive chefs; he was one of the younger sous chefs,” recalled Carol. “I was so scared. But whenever you had a question or needed help, he was the most helpful and most willing to teach you. He was always really good at that.”

Fast forward eight years, and they are now married with a 4-year-old son and, of course, their culinary offspring. The Teichs operate as a one-two punch, with Carol operating the front of the house as general manager, while Michael works in the kitchen and oversees the menu. Carol’s older brother, Marcelo Ahn, who ran the restaurant that preceded The Wallace at the Culver City location, deals with the finances as CEO, effectively making The Wallace a family business.


“I think anyone that works in this industry always has the dream of doing their own thing,” said Michael, who spent four years as a minor league pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.“I was lucky enough to have a brother-in-law who already had a location, which happened to be in Culver City. I thought there was a great opportunity to do something here that I didn’t see anyone else really doing.”

It is a vision that Carol’s brother is excited to be a part of. The emphasis on fresh produce reminds him of his childhood home.

“There’s no need to use any canned products [in Brazil],” said Ahn.  “Produce, fruits, anything you want, it’s available anywhere. In the U.S., it’s a bit different. You have to go to the farmers’ market. All these American chain restaurants, you can tell right away the products they use have a ton of preservatives. But when you eat food here, you feel good about yourself.”

photos by KARLEE RICKS

Vegans, vegetarians and omnivores can all enjoy the variety of shareable plates. Chef Michael’s menu follows the seasons to take advantage of the local available produce, while the meats are also acquired from local sources, and the seafood has all been designated safe and sustainable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“I feel strongly it’s just the right thing to do and the way everyone, not just chefs, should live their lives,” Michael said. “It’s about respecting the environment and supporting the people who are doing things the right way.”

The best ingredients make the best food, and Michael makes sure to highlight each one. His meticulous nature (Ahn calls his brother-in-law a perfectionist) shines through in the presentation of every dish, from brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert.

On the dinner menu, a few starters include the smoked trout, made with cucumber, radish, celery, yogurt and almonds, and the roasted butternut squash, which is prepared with curried yogurt, quinoa, cranberry and pumpkin seeds. The entrees are just as extensive: The customer-favorite grilled cauliflower, prepared with creamy parmesan almond bread crumb and rosemary, and the Portuguese-style salted cod fritters, which are personal favorites of Carol and Marcelo.


Koreans in particular will be intrigued by the bindaetteok-inspired shrimp and chickpea pancake, which substitutes the traditional nokdu, or mung bean, with chickpeas and adds harissa aioli for a nice kick. The short rib ravioli will also definitely bust a few taste buds in a delightful fusion of Korean barbecue and house-made pasta.

To top it all off, beverage director Holly Zack oversees the assortment of very pretty and delicious cocktails and locally brewed beer on tap, while Carol, who also happens to be a certified sommelier, takes care of the wine list.

Diners have three choices of where to sit, from the bar and the large communal tables for some impromptu socializing, to the dining tables in the back where the open kitchen is in full view. During the day, the large windows and skylights offer plenty of natural lighting and reveal the original artwork lining the walls, while at night, the old-fashioned light bulbs provide a warm, intimate glow.

The name of the restaurant is inspired by a long-running inside joke involving Mel Gibson, apparently the most famous patron to visit Ahn’s previous restaurant. After an extensive and frustrating search for a name, the family decided to let it come naturally. One liquor-induced night, the men started talking about William Wallace, the Scottish freedom fighter portrayed in the 1995 movie Braveheart, and then The Wallace was born. Now, a few months in from their grand opening, Michael, Carol and Marcelo are enjoying seeing the family business become a fixture in the community.

“[This] is the environment we wanted to create—everyone is welcome, it’s not pretentious,” said Carol. “It is a family.”


This article was published in the March 2014 issue of KoreAmSubscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the March issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


Chef Roy Choi Brings an Oasis to the ‘Food Desert’ of South Central LA

Kogi chef Roy Choi partners with the South Central Los Angeles community and Dole Food Company in a fruitful venture for all.

photo by NARITH TA

A half-hour before the grand opening of 3 Worlds Café in South Central Los Angeles, Roy Choi circles the staff like a hawk, making sure the kitchen is running at full capacity.

“Stay at your stations, all right? Don’t ever leave your station,” he instructs. “This is you, right here. You rely as a team on everyone else to do their job.”

Choi’s voice rings over the excited murmurs of the early customers and members of the community trickling in, as the 3 Worlds crew, as dubbed by Choi, prepares for the café’s July 6 grand opening. Despite the game face, the chef of Kogi truck fame can’t help but show his excitement.

“This is a joyous day,” he declares. “It’s a very, extremely happy, joyous day.”

For the co-founder and culinary mind behind the renowned Korean taco-serving food truck and variousrestaurants all over Los Angeles, 3 Worlds Café appears, at least on the surface, to be Choi’s latest business venture. But, different from his other restaurants, 3 Worlds Café is a collaboration between Choi, Dole Food Company, the local nonprofit Coalition for Responsible Community Development and Jefferson High School. The café presents a menu headlined by smoothies, fruit cups and coffee drinks.

Its location in the inner city is significant, as the inner city is often dubbed a food desert because of the dearth of supermarkets and healthy food options.

The first inklings of the idea to open 3 Worlds came after Dole approached the chef about three years ago, expressing interest in working together.

“At that time, my head was in a place where I was looking for celebrity or sponsorship, but what happened was that I thought, ‘What if we take that money and we do something in the neighborhood, instead of me standing and crossing my arms in a bossy photo?’” Choi said. “‘Why don’t we take whatever money we were gonna spend in those ad dollars and do something great?’”

Choi began working with Jefferson High to build an “Economics 101” program, a specialized course for 10 to 12 juniors and seniors, following a lesson plan that includes running a business, taking inventoryand—most importantly, Choi says—serving fruit in a delicious way.

“As I was going through it, [I] was also thinking about the divide that we have between the monikers of eating healthy and what’s really going down in the neighborhoods,” said Choi. “People need to eat healthy and the youth need to eat healthy, but two things: One, we’re not giving them access to a lot of foods that are out there. And secondly, if I’m a 17-year-old student and an adult tells me to eat healthy, I’m like, ‘F-ck you. None of this sh-t you say to me is interesting. Why should I listen to you?’”

That was a lesson the 3 Worlds team learned early on, when the project began as a fruit cart at Jefferson High three years ago. Dole provided the fruit, Choi provided his culinary guidance, and the high school provided a small, dedicated workforce.

F-CB-0813-2Cafe-KidsRoy Choi with three of the original members of the 3 Worlds crew from Jefferson High School. 

Luis Pahena was a senior two years ago when he was accepted to become a part of the inaugural 3 Worlds crew, and recalled that students at the time weren’t so willing to venture outside of the options they already had available, that is, mostly fast food.

“A lot of people didn’t like [this kind] of food over at Jefferson,” Pahena said. “You don’t really see many places like this in [South] L.A.”

Still, Pahena added that the communities that make up South Central already have a deeply embedded fruit culture, an oft-overlooked fact. “You have a lot of Hispanics, they like mangoes and [other] fruits,” he said.

It was just a matter of making such healthy food options appealing to this high school crowd. So, after some menu modifications and lowering prices, the 3 Worlds fruit cart began to catch on with students.

“My angle was to stop using the word ‘healthy’ and just make it ‘delicious,’” said Choi, describing his strategy. “Let’s make it fun. Let’s put some flavor and some energy behind it, and let’s let the kids design it. Let them make the concept as if they were talking to each other.”

The behind-the-scenes of the 3 Worlds cart at Jefferson High reflected exactly that. Students were able to pitch and bounce ideas off of Choi, who would then offer his feedback or provide resources. From there, students would go out and spread their ideas and products to their friends and community. The program enjoyed success for two years, and while Choi was contemplating its long-term future, leaders from the Coalition for Responsible Community Development, approached him. They told him they had a vacant café location on Central Avenue. That sparked the idea to take the 3 Worlds brand and move it into that spot as a business.


Roy Choi shares a toast with several members of the community and business partners. 

And the rest, as they say, is history—or rather, the present and, hopefully, well into the future, say its supporters.

“It’s almost too good to be true, but it’s possible, and it’s possible to replicate this,” L.A. City Councilman Curren Price said, in remarks at the 3 Worlds grand opening. “I’m excited about the fact that this is the first one, but not the only one, right, partners? Right, community? We’re gonna see these all over.”

One only needs to step inside 3 Worlds Café and look around to see that it is driven by and catered to the people who live and congregate around Central Avenue, a longtime business center for South Los Angeles. Customers can enjoy a signature Mango Bomb smoothie or an intriguingly-named Boba Fett fruit cup, while enjoying the student-designed murals.

As with his Kogi franchise, the community aspect of this project brings an added significance for Choi.

“They’re my family,” he said of the neighborhood. “I spent every day of my life in this neighborhood for the last three years. There’s no master plan, no ulterior motive—they’re just good people in my life right now, and I’m a part of their lives. I know where I’m at right now, I know there’s some celebrity and some momentum in my life as a chef, but I never forget that I have to wipe my ass and put my shoes on and go out into the world.”

As with his other restaurants, Choi makes sure the kitchen runs as smoothly as possible, demanding the staff always give their best.

“I’m busting these guys’ asses,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Our only goal right now is to serve the best possible drinks, best possible smoothies. … For me that part is the same, not minimizing or overcompensating any training or sympathy for anybody because of where we’re at or what hasn’t been here. What’s the same is the attitude of just excellence, doing your best, hospitality and belief, and knowing that this place is going to be a success.”


Chefs, he said, should follow his example and not be discouraged by preconceptions of the inner city and its apparent lack of food culture. That’s an issue that will never be solved, as long as chefs refuse toinvest in the inner city.

“[The] bottom line is, chefs aren’t opening restaurants in South Central L.A., in South L.A.,” he said. “There are a lot of liquor stores. Those are just facts. For me, it’s about why do we have to accept those facts? The people that I hang out with here, they’re not stereotypes or caricatures that you can just put in a form. They’re living, breathing human beings that eat food just like you. So why not open the same things you would open in any other neighborhood, instead of just saying, ‘Oh, these are food deserts, and they’ll never happen.’ Why won’t they happen? How the f-ck do you know it won’t happen? How the f-ck do you know people won’t love them?

“It’s really about taking a chance,” he continued. “Five years ago, people were calling food trucks roach coaches. People were pointing at food trucks and saying, ‘I would never eat off that thing.’ Now, the same person who said, ‘I would not eat off that food truck’ is hiring it for their 9-year-old kid’s birthday party.”

3 Worlds Café is a dream that has “no boundaries,” Choi said. “The big dream is that this will be a success, and that the team will be able to support their lives and families and have a wonderful job and have a great paycheck,” he said. “The community will have a place where they can hang out. It can naturally grow and have an energy. From there, they will find their own way to become entrepreneurs and grow this business. This is not my business. It’s theirs.

“The next step is to grow it organically, find their entrepreneurial spirit, which will in turn influence others, and then maybe other investors come in and see this, and say you know what, ‘This can be replicated in Baltimore, the South side of Chicago, the Bronx, all these areas.’ … This is a start of something really, really awesome.”

This article was published in the August 2013 issue of KoreAmSubscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

Tuesday's Link Attack: North Korea, 2NE1, Opera Singer Ji Hyun Kim

North, South Korea exchange recalls previous historic meeting
Los Angeles Times

REPORTING FROM SEOUL -– Though brief, Tuesday’s meeting between North Korean and South Korean leadership families smacked of another historic get-together more than a decade ago that led to one head of state winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Lee Hee-ho, center, and Hyun Jeong-eun, right, in Paju, South Korea, on their way to North Korea on Monday to pay respects to Kim Jong-il and meet the North's new leader, Kim Jong-un.

New North Korean Leader Meets South Koreans and Assumes Leadership of Party
New York Times

South Korea had said it would send no official mourners to Kim Jong-il’s funeral, which angered North Korea as a sign of disrespect. But Kim Jong-un’s meeting with the private delegation of mourners, which included the former first lady of South Korea and a top businesswoman, appeared to be cordial.

The South Korean visitors, Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, and the chairwoman of Hyundai Asan, Hyun Jeong-eun, which had business ties with North Korea, were the only South Koreans allowed by the government in Seoul to lead private delegations to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, to express sympathy over the death of Kim Jong-il on Dec. 17.

From Dear Leader to Marilyn Monroe, defector mocks Kim

North Korean artist Song Byeok once proudly drew the “Dear Leader” in propaganda paintings. But he was sent to labor in one of the reclusive state’s notorious prisons after hunger forced him to try to flee.

Now a defector living in the South Korean capital, Seoul, Song has turned to mocking a ruler who led his country into famine, isolation and economic ruin.

“The day I finished this, he passed away,” Song said of his painting and the death of Kim on December 17.


Did Kim Jong-il death ruin breakthrough deal on North Korea nukes?
The Christian Science Monitor

The death of Kim Jong-il has disrupted an American plan to encourage North Korea to curb its nuclear arsenal, and the uncertainties surrounding the “dear leader’s” replacement mean US officials have little choice for now but to sit tight.

Before the announcement of Mr. Kim’s death Sunday, the US was on the verge of completing a deal to exchange humanitarian assistance for North Korean steps toward denuclearization.

But as Kim’s replacement and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, tries to establish himself in his father’s place, it will likely be months – and potentially tense and surprise-laden months – before the North Korean leadership will be ready to reengage diplomatically, many North Asian analysts say.

North Korea Presses South to Implement Economic Pact
New York Times

In its first interaction with visitors from South Korea since the death of its leader, Kim Jong-il, North Korea on Tuesday called for the implementation of the inter-Korean summit agreements, which would have brought massive South Korean investments had the South Korean leader, Lee Myung-bak, not scuttled them.

Recalling a Trip to North Korea Before the Death of Kim Jong-il
New York Times

Mun Ho-yong placed the bouquet of flowers at the foot of the towering outdoor portrait of Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea. Then he turned to the Chinese businesspeople and tourists, and to the foreign journalists. “Now please bow to our leader,” he said.

Most of us had set foot in North Korea for the first time just hours earlier. We had no idea what protocol to adopt when faced with the “Great Leader,” as North Koreans call him. So we followed Mr. Mun’s lead. We bowed.

2NE1 and SNSD ranks in SPIN’s 20 Best Pop Albums of 2011

Girl groups 2NE1 and SNSD are receiving worldwide attention.

The two groups, who are leaders in K-pop’s Korean Wave thanks to their unique performances and refined music this year, have been favorably noticed by famous foreign magazines. SPIN, a popular music magazine in the United States, announced their 20 Best Pop Album of 2011 on December 22 (local time) and the two groups were listed.

Five arrested including two members of Hawthorne Fire Department arrested after drug investigation

The Gazette (Hawthorne, N.J.)

A month and a half-long narcotics investigation resulted in the arrest of five Hawthorne residents, two of whom are members of the Hawthorne Fire Department, on Dec. 21.

At sentencing, Choi apologizes for slaying three in a Tenafly home
North Jersey

“We have three individuals who no longer walk the earth,” said Judge Donald Venezia. “You brought havoc to three individuals and to a community. Anything less than a life sentence and I’d be condoning what you did. There’s no way you’re getting a break. You did not give Mr. [Han Il] Kim a break.”

Before being sentenced, Choi apologized via his Korean translator.

“I’m very sorry to the victims and their families,” he said. “I’m sorry to my own family.”


James Kim: Recent College Grad Feels Pain Of Uncertain Job Market
Neon Tommy

Kim, 23, is one of the “Millennials”- a group defined by a 2010 Pew Research study as 18- to 29-year-olds who are mostly newcomers to the American labor force and who, more recently, have become the last hired and the first to lose their jobs.

According to the study that surveyed 50 million Millennials nationwide, only 4 out of every 10 participants said they had full-time work, and the unemployment rate among the group was 37 percent – the highest it had been in over 30 years.

Ji Hyun Kim: New Face
The Telegraph (U.K.)

Who’s that bright and breezy young tenor playing Gastone in the current revival of La Traviata at Covent Garden?

He’s 28-year-old Ji Hyun Kim, currently a hard-working member of the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme.

Perilla, ggaennip, shiso: By any name, a fine addition to garden
L.A. Times

It’s telling that with such limited ground — not even 20 square feet — the gardeners at the Korean Resource Center have dedicated a majority of their space to the perilla plant, a member of the mint family known as ggaennip in Korea and shiso in Japan.

‘Brazen’ contracting scam: Records provide a window into audacious swindle
Washington Post

The plan was straightforward but effective: A tight team of savvy contractors and government employees allegedly inflated invoices by $20 million, approved them and split the proceeds.

And they lived large — on the taxpayers’ dollar. Porsches, real estate, flat-screen televisions and Cartier watches: The men bought it all with impunity, prosecutors say.

The Strangest Man in Ikea

Taeyoon Choi isn’t at this Ikea, the second largest store location in the world, to buy a coffee table. He’s not there for delicious meatballs and lingonberry sauce, either. He’s in Ikea to create crazy-weird experimental noise machines.

7 best ski and snowboard resorts in Korea

Given that almost three-quarters of Korea is covered by mountains, it’s no wonder thousands of tourists fly in every winter to hit the slopes.

Now that it’s finally snowing, even in Seoul, here’s where to find the best snowy runs in Korea.

UNM students deface El Morro rock
Santa Fe New Mexican

Dana Choi, a Korean student at The University of New Mexico, admitted to etching the words Super Duper Dana’ into rock at El Morro National Monument in October. His graffiti covers a portion of an inscription that reads Pedro Romero 1758.’ Although officials at monument won’t talk about how they plan to erase the markings, the restoration costs have been estimated at nearly $30,000.


Tuesday's Link Attack: Kimchi Fines, Hollywood Missionary, Hines Ward

Restaurants Sour on Rules Over Kimchi
Wall Street Journal

Lidea Park, owner of Duck Hyang restaurant in Queens, says she makes kimchi with trepidation.

Ever since she received seven violation points during a city health inspection in June, she’s been fearful about how her restaurant prepares and stores kimchi, a traditional fermented dish that is a staple in Korean cuisine. The violation points resulted from five pounds of kimchi being left at room temperature and exceeding the city Department of Health’s 41-degree temperature requirement for cold foods, according to the inspection.

“They don’t understand the kimchi,” said Ms. Park. “Many Korean restaurants with kimchi get points because the inspector, they don’t understand what it is.”

Korean restaurant and business groups say they are all too often unfairly penalized by the health department because their fermented foods are determined to be above 41 degrees, the temperature below which city rules require potentially hazardous prepared cold food be stored.


Great Falls man pleads guilty in contracting scam
Washington Post

A Great Falls man has admitted he played a key role in what authorities have described as one of the most brazen federal contracting scams in U.S. history, according to court records that became public Monday.

Young N. Cho, who also goes by the first name of Alex, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges at a secret hearing in September — just weeks before federal agents arrested four other men in a $20 million scheme that targeted the Army Corps of Engineers.

Cho’s plea deal became public after a federal judge ordered it unsealed.

Cho, 40, was chief technology officer of Nova Datacom, a Chantilly-based information technology company that did work with the Army Corps. His role in the scam began in 2007 when he began passing kickbacks to two program managers at the Army Corps in exchange for lucrative contracts, according to court papers.

Background Extra Recounts His Unlikely Spiritual Mission
Media Bistro

LA native Steve Cha has a B.A. in Asian American Studies from UCLA and is currently working on an M.A. in theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Along the way, he also worked for several years as a professional background extra.

Earlier this year, Cha published a book about his on-set experiences called Hollywood Mission: Possible. With Christmas and Tom Cruise upon us, he is re-promoting a tale of, essentially, the Tim Tebow of background extras:

During his three-year journey, Steve evangelized many famous actors, actresses, directors, and aspirants in Tinsel Town… Steve’s revealing autobiography recounts how the gospel was shared with celebrities such as Steven Spielberg, Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, Dan Aykroyd, and many other stars.

Hines Ward in ‘Dark Knight Rises’ trailer
CBS Sports

“Dark Knight Rises,” the latest in the line of Batman movies from Christopher Nolan, is slated to hit theaters in July of 2012. But the full trailer hit the Internets over the weekend and guess who makes a cameo: Hines Ward!

We already knew that a slew of Steelers players were playing roles in the movie as members of the Gotham Rogues, whose home field is set at Heinz Field, but not until my younger brother chatted me on Sunday did I realize that Ward was actually in the preview.

You can check out Ward’s appearance at the 1:15 mark below as he runs from not just defenders, but a slew of explosions set by Bane, the movie’s villain, who’s basically like an evil version of Rob Gronkowski, who is also hell-bent on blowing up Heinz Field (only metaphorically) and quite clearly a efficient killing machine created by scientists.

Chul Hyun Ahn explores the Infinite Void
Baltimore City Paper

You can walk all the way around it for hours, but to fully experience artist Chul Hyun Ahn’s “Void Platform,” you have to take off your shoes (as signs prompt you to do) and walk out onto it.

The “out” inserts itself in that sentence because of the nature of the piece. In the front gallery at C. Grimaldis Gallery on North Charles Street, Ahn has constructed a low 10-foot-by-8-foot plywood-faced platform that appears to cover a yawning pit descending through the floor as far as the eye can see, albeit a pit lined with subtle bands of greenish lighting. You find yourself testing the surface with your sock-encased toes, curious to know if it will hold your weight. It will, but you hesitate a little anyway. You step onto the smooth surface and stand over what seems to be infinite space receding away below your feet. But if the surface of the piece didn’t hold your weight, you’d drop a mere 16 inches onto Grimaldis’ wooden floor.

Why it’s great to be a foreign traveler in Korea

With so many foreign travelers visiting Korea on shopping sprees, it seems Korea has been busy devising ways to say “visit often’ and “thank you” at the same time.

There is so much special treatment for foreign travelers, we wonder why Koreans aren’t more envious.

Here are five benefits of being a foreign traveler in Korea.


December Issue: Cecilia Lee Makes Korean Cooking Quick and Easy

Photo by Eugene Yi

Through her cookbooks, Cecilia Lee has been tirelessly spreading her love of Korean food for more than a decade.


“Have you ever seen this much chili powder in your life?” asked the fortuitously named Jennie Cook, host of a kimchi-making workshop on an overcast Los Angeles Sunday at her catering kitchen.

“And we’re using the small jars!” said Cecilia Lee, cookbook author, Korean food evangelist and the after- noon’s teacher. Each student would leave the class with as many 32-ounce jars of kimchi they could make. The nine students (seven women, two men) smiled politely and readied their kitchenware.

“We’re going to start with mincing garlic. That’s basically how I grew up. Mincemincemince,” she said, laughing.


Lee, 41, graduated from the University of California, San Diego, studying art and biochemistry (she had been on the pre-med path). She ultimately chose aprons over scrubs, and looked for writing gigs to allow a flexible schedule. She noticed the Los Angeles Times’ food section hadn’t covered kimchi, and before long, she was the paper’s go-to writer for Korean food.

Lee also writes Frommer’s South Korea guidebook. Her editor recommended that she try writing cookbooks. She’s since published three, the most recent one about Mexican cuisine.

“[People] look at me and say, ‘You’re not Latina,” she said. “I never claimed I was Latina. I just said I could make salsa.” Her parents bought a Mexican grocery store when she was a teenager, and Lee often asked customers about ingredients unfamiliar to her, like nopales (prickly pear cactus). Continue reading

Tuesday's Link Attack: Roy Choi, 2NE1, Samsung

Street Food Guru Roy Choi on Sunny Spot, Food Trucks, Kogi & More
The Daily Beast

Food-truck godfather Roy Choi, the man behind the craze that’s swept the country, tells Jace Lacob about his new Caribbean roadside eatery Sunny Spot—and how embracing street food and putting aside our Western concepts of dining can save society.

2NE1 performs for 2,000 fans at New York’s Times Square

2NE1 has stolen the hearts of 2,000 American fans with their live performance at Times Square in New York. The girls were recently deemed as the ‘2011 Best New Band in the World‘, and so to celebrate, they held a concert at the MTV studio downtown.

Broadcast and streamed to fans worldwide, 2NE1 was ecstatically welcomed by thousands of New York fans.

LAPD probes racist graffiti at Korean church fire scene
Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles police Monday night were investigating racist scrawls left with a marker and baby powder at a Korean church where a small fire broke out earlier in the day.

Officers initially responded to a possible burglary call at the Valley Korean Central Presbyterian Church in North Hills and found a toaster oven on fire in one of the buildings on the property, a law enforcement source told The Times.

Racial epithets were scrawled with a marker pen on the walls and written with baby powder on the floor of the building, according to the source, who asked not to be named because the investigation is ongoing.

Party Crasher! Hyundai is headed upmarket
Los Angeles Times

But now Korean automaker Hyundai seems set to crash the luxury party. Hyundai’s first full-size luxury sedan, the Genesis, was released stateside in 2008. The company followed up with the overtly opulent and even larger Equus model two years later. Even Hyundai’s corporate cousin, Kia (Hyundai has part-owned Kia since 1998) is getting in on the act. Kia’s unveiling of its Maserati-esque GT Concept coupe at last month’s L.A. Auto Show is a fairly obvious signal that it, too, harbors upscale ambitions.


S.Koreans go mass-market, online for luxury goods

Sixty years ago, war-torn South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. Now it is the world’s 13th largest economy and a magnet for luxury goods, prying open the wallets of its wealthy people as well as tourists.

Pierpont Inn owner files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection
Ventura County Star

The owner of the Ventura Pierpont Inn has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a year after signs of trouble emerged at the historic property.

Millions of dollars in debt, Grace S. Ahn filed for bankruptcy protection Nov. 25. Ahn is the trustee of The Ahn Family Trust, which bought the inn and spa in spring 2009.

Appeals panel hears new science about arsons that could free man
Fire Engineering

On Monday, a federal appeals court wrestled with Lee’s case – specifically, whether he should be given a new hearing to present evidence about the changed understanding of how fires burn, and whether he should be freed outright.

Defense attorney Peter Goldberger argued that Lee had been convicted only because of the testimony of fire investigators in Monroe County, and that their findings would not hold up today.

22-year-old becomes youngest mayor in O.C., probably the state
Los Angeles Times

Jeremy Yamaguchi still lives at home, is active in the Boy Scouts and voted for the very first time just a few years ago.

He’s also -– at the ripe age of 22 -– the youngest mayor in Orange County, and perhaps the state, the Orange County Register is reporting.

Yamaguchi was named mayor of Placentia last week, the youngest person to hold the post in the city’s 85-year history. He was elected to the council when he was 19, serving alongside council members who’d known him since he was in grade school. He was the top vote-getter in that election.

The Cal State Fullerton senior is set to take finals this week, the LA Times reported.

The Korean girlfriend gift guide

Visiting Supernormal, Cheongdam-dong boutique located right off the main “luxury street” is like entering a young, very rich, very stylish celebrity’s walk-in closet.

Fashionably daring Korean celebs such as 2NE1, Choi Ji-woo and Lee Hyori frequent the relatively small store to stock up on the latest in interesting fashion, while Japanese travelers also descend in small groups on the weekends.

Since anything in the shop has already been through extremely fashion-conscious screening, we consulted the Supernormal experts about putting together a fabulous girlfriend gift guide. Here are 10 unique gifts for the impossible-to-please, impeccably stylish ladies out there.

Samsung Was the Talk of Seoul, More than Usual, After Dealing With Hyundai
Wall Street Journal

Samsung has been the talk of the town on Tuesday for two reasons: the decision announced Monday to sell a big stake in an important affiliate to a Hyundai (yes Hyundai!) company and the list released Tuesday of annual promotions throughout the 60-plus Samsung companies.

As South Korea’s largest business group, Samsung is always the subject of a lot of attention, of course. But Tuesday’s chatter was particularly huge.


Friday's Link Attack: Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Hettienne Park, Chef Debbie Lee

Angelina Jolie and ‘Kung Fu Panda 2′ Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson on Hollywood’s Female Director Deficit
Hollywood Reporter

I don’t think about the gender thing very much. But when I speak at schools, I’ve had female students say to me afterwards, “I never envisioned myself being a director, since I’ve never seen women do it.” But after seeing me, they can picture themselves directing, so maybe we’ll see more female directors. And half of these kids in art and animation schools are girls.

South Korea by Train: High Speed, Slot Machines and Monastic Calm
Telegraph (U.K.)

Dorasan, close to the border, was supposed to be a key stop on the route to reunification for North and South. But the idea of restoring a regular cross-frontier passenger service foundered. Dorasan station, though shiny with hope, remains no more than a 20 minute stop-off for sightseers on bus tours of the border. It sits on the edge of one of the world’s weirdest slivers of real estate – the Korean Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ, where the Z rhymes with C.

It is a scrubby slice of the 20th century preserved not in archive or museum but in camouflage, landmines and barbed wire. Around it has grown a sort of Cold War theme park, an edgy peep-show of a world almost at war, where instead of turnstiles there are guard posts and the guys on the gate are front-line soldiers. Their costumes and props – combat fatigues and automatic rifles – are real.

Nearly 7 out of 10 Koreans See Society as Corrupt
Yonhap News

More than half of the country’s ordinary citizens considered politicians the main culprits behind the corruption in the nation, followed by government agencies (30.3 percent), the judiciary sector (25.4 percent) and state-owned companies (22.5 percent), according to the poll.

While more than half of the ordinary citizens assessed the government’s anti-corruption efforts as insufficient, the share of the respondents who expect things to get worse reached 27.3 percent, up from 17 percent last year, it found.

Seminar’s Hettienne Park on Hitting the Theatrical Jackpot in Plays by Tony Kushner & Theresa Rebeck

Growing up outside Boston, Park juggled music, dance and academics. Her parents had “the typical kind of Asian [outlook],” the Korean-American actress says. “They had me play every musical instrument; I started ballet when I was three but couldn’t pursue it because I was so busy with music, clubs and academics.” After studying flute and piano at the New England Conservatory, Park bowed to her parents’ wishes and entered college at the University of Rochester, double-majoring in economics and religion. “I don’t know what the hell I was thinking,” she says of her demanding load, which included Latin as her foreign language. By graduation, the over-achieving Park realized she was more interested in performing than business.

Exploring Koreatown’s Galleria Market with Chef Debbie Lee

Not every cook is familiar with Korean ingredients — but we’re lucky to have them in abundance in L.A. Lee herself likes to shop at the Galleria Market in Koreatown, which fills the ground floor of a three-story mall at the southeast corner of Western and Olympic. Explains Lee, “The Galleria Market is like the Pavilions of Koreatown. Everything you can imagine is under the sun, with the freshest ingredients. I prefer to shop at a market for variety, and the Galleria has just that.”

Fund Manager Kim Offered Six- to 18-Year Sentence for Alleged Ponzi Scheme

Manhattan prosecutors said Kim told his clients they were investing in safe and stable securities while he generated losses trading highly speculative futures contracts and diverted customer money to himself. He created fake monthly performance statements to conceal the scheme from at least 45 victims, the government said.

Kim and his employees told prospective clients the fund generated returns of more than 240 percent, and they hid losses by making new investments look like profits, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission said in a civil suit.

Shopping trips in New York, skiing in Vermont and excursions to Atlantic City, New Jersey, were funded by improper withdrawals from the fund, the CFTC said. Kim “is the sole and managing member” of the New York-based company, the agency said in its complaint, filed in February.

Virginia Tech Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Fairfax Times (Virginia)

Daniel Sun Kim, 21, was a 2004 South Lakes High School graduate who was a junior at Virginia Tech when the massacre occurred there on April 16, 2007. Kim killed himself on Dec. 8, 2007.

The lawsuit, filed by William and Elizabeth Kim of Reston, sought $43 million from the university’s “Care Team.”

The suit claimed an online gaming friend, Shuan Pribush, who was then a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., contacted Virginia Tech via email and warned counselors there of Daniel’s suicidal tendencies about a month before he killed himself.

Looking Back at 2011’s Asian Americans in Film
Hyphen Magazine

…the great number of breakout works from 2011 is a reminder that there is a very vibrant Asian American film community with many members working actively to produce timely and entertaining works. While we’ve yet to reach a time when, at any given month of the year, you can walk into a multiplex and find films with either Asian American leads or directors, progress is being made slowly but surely.

Additionally, in 2011 film festivals that heavily feature Asian American works continue to prosper. Hawaii (HIFF), Los Angeles (LAAPFF), San Francisco (SFIAAF), San Diego (SDAFF), and New York City (AAIFF) all enjoyed a very stellar year. Asian American films would be no where without the help of these festivals.


Food Equals Identity For Chef Corey Lee

Now He’s Cookin’

From picky eater to winner of the James Beard Award, chef Corey Lee is scaling the culinary heights.

Story and photographs by VIVIEN KIM THORP

In some ways, Corey Lee could be seen as your typical 30-something bachelor. He works hard, lives alone and keeps no perishables in his fridge (only beverages, and mostly alcohol at that). He doesn’t bother taking his shoes off when he gets home and hasn’t made breakfast in 10 years.

But then Lee, who turns 34 at the end of this year, had a James Beard Award under his belt by the time he was 28. He’s worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in the U.S. and Europe, co-authored a book with Thomas Keller, and served for more than four years as chef de cuisine at Keller’s world-renowned French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. Now, Lee is the chef and owner of his own restaurant, Benu, which opened in San Francisco in August of 2010.

Benu was given two stars by the prestigious Michelin restaurant guide on Oct. 25. It’s a major victory for the chef.

“It’s a huge honor, and the whole thing feels a bit surreal,” Lee says. “You just do what you feel is best and hope Michelin recognizes that. But that was yesterday, and today we are already going about our work like nothing happened.”

Housed in an elegant brick building in the SoMa district, a simple silver sign features the restaurant’s name, which means “phoenix” in Egyptian. Lee picked the name as much for its meaning and sound, as for its hard-to-determine origins. The restaurant’s facade boasts large windows where passersby can stare into the bright and busy kitchen. Here, sous vide machines (which utilize a method that combines the steady heat of poaching and an airtight seal) bubble up perfectly poached sea cucumbers, and staff members meticulously slice duck flesh and patiently weigh dumpling skins, a pair at a time.

The dining room, in contrast, is dim and serene, representing a kind of understated luxury, with a neutral palette and spare modern art. It’s here that Lee nightly serves a brand of cuisine strictly his own, drawn from his more than 16 years of experience, as well as the Asian foods he loves to eat. A dish of oysters, pork belly and kimchi may find itself in the company of a fois gras-filled Chinese dumpling. Flavors such as the Japanese citrus yuzu sit alongside watercress and apples. Lee’s food is creative, complex and lauded by his peers, including Momofuku’s David Chang, who, ironically, is often quoted as a critic of the San Francisco food scene. In January, the New York Times declared Benu one of “10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride,” and an early October Wall Street Journal article named it a restaurant to watch in its predictions of the world’s next star dining experiences.

Using tweezers, Lee painstakingly places chrysanthemum leaves in a bowl containing homemade tofu in a spicy kimchi-based broth. He chose these leaves because they are typically served with jjigae.

Lee, whose Korean name is Dong Min, was born in Seoul in 1977. At the age of 4, he moved to New York with his family for his father’s work as an engineer. After eight years in the States, the elder Lee decided to move back to South Korea.

The move made sense for Lee’s two older sisters, who would eventually attend university there. But Lee was only 12 years old, and his parents decided it would be an awkward time to uproot him. The next few years, his mother, a graphic illustrator, went back and forth between the two countries.

“Looking back, there were things I missed out on,” he says. “But my sense of family wasn’t affected by the separation.  I consider us to be very close.”

During those years, Lee would live in Manhattan, Connecticut and, eventually, New Jersey, where he graduated from Tenafly High School in 1995. It was then he would make a decision that would indirectly change his life’s direction.

Lee, who had no culinary aspirations, though an admittedly picky eater (no spicy foods!), had applied to out-of-state colleges. He began to realize that with his family in Korea, he didn’t want to split his time between Seoul and somewhere more remote. So he started the application process again, this time focusing on schools in New York. In the meantime, he got a job through a friend at Blue Ribbon Sushi in SoHo. It wasn’t long before he ended up in the kitchen.

“I got a real glimpse at the work chefs were doing,” he says.  “I saw how hard they worked, and that being a chef required physical strength but also creativity and, at an extreme level, artistry.” Lee also thought the career path was a fair one, if you worked hard, you did well. Eventually, the owners took a personal interest in him, encouraging Lee to go abroad. He listened, went to London and got his first experience in the world of fine dining, working at a number of restaurants including Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill. His career trajectory took off from there, with Lee climbing the ranks of elite restaurants in Europe and then New York, finally alongside Keller in California. He spent a year opening Keller’s Per Se in New York and together they co-authored Under Pressure, a book on the sous vide method of cooking.

Lee has a precise and modern approach to cooking, in which technique and research are implemented at every turn, but still take a back seat to the ingredients themselves.  Though he came at his career by happy accident, Lee always had a respect for the meaning of a meal.

Some of Lee’s preferred Korean dishes include bossam (steamed pork with oysters), maneuljong (kimchi made from garlic stalks) and ganjang gejang (soy-sauce-marinated crab).  But he says he can’t identify one single dish to symbolize what he loves about Korean food. “That’s not how Korean food is eaten,” he says. “It’s about balancing intense flavors with milder dishes, such as rice or noodles, not one dish.” Lee says owning his own restaurant has been a welcome experience. “In many ways, day to day, I’m still a chef in the kitchen,” he says. “But there’s a different sense of responsibility.” Before, great chefs like Keller entrusted their vision to him, which almost felt like a bigger responsibility to him, he says.

But now he gets to experiment more freely. “On your own, you can take more liberties,” he says. “It’s your own reputation at stake.” Still, Lee is well aware that along with his own success and that of his business partners, he has 34 employees and their families to whom he is beholden. He’s had spare time for hobbies such as golf, and when he reads, it usually reflects his industry. Lee says he feels incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to open his own restaurant, which is booked every night.

The a la carte menu changes according to season and the chef’s inspiration. The tasting menu, an intricate affair of paired textures, flavors and even aromas, changes less often.  Currently, three dishes have remained on the menu since the restaurant opened: the silky-textured monkfish liver, various takes on the 1,000-year-old egg and a faux shark fin soup, which is Lee’s interpretation of the iconic Chinese dish.

The chef says coming to the U.S. as a kid greatly influenced his perspectives on food. “I was young, but still old enough to recognize that we ate differently from most people around us,” he says. “My understanding of food was about the critical role it plays in identity and culture. Food is more than sustenance and nutrition. It’s part of who you are.”

This article was published in the November 2011 issue of KoreAm.