A New York chef's food excursion in Seoul

A New York chef's food excursion in Seoul

Danji owner and chef Hooni Kim picks Hadongkwan and Gwangjang Market as his favorite food haunts in the city
Hooni Kim
Jeon (전) at Kwangjang Market was one of chef Hooni Kim's favorite foods on his recent trip to Korea.

Hooni Kim Chef Hooni Kim, 39. For Manhattan-based chef and restaurateur Hooni Kim, traveling around Korea is naturally all about the food.

“[In New York] I’ve been thinking of Hadongkwan’s gomtang for several years,” says the 39-year-old Korean-American chef. “And what surprised me the most on this trip was that it met my expectations. It was just so good.”

In Korea for a 10-day vacation with his wife Catharine, Kim made sure to look up his previous haunts as well as searching for new renditions of his favorite dishes.

But for an up-and-coming chef, even a vacation is high-profile, with Korean media outlets rushing to interview him once they caught wind of his arrival.

Kim himself is quick to dismiss the fame, however. In fact, he views the term “celebrity chef” as an insult.

“Celebrity chefs are those who play the part of a chef on television. The term has a very bad connotation in the eyes of people who actually own restaurants and toil away in a hot kitchen every day,” he says.

But whether he likes it or not, Kim is quietly on his way of becoming one of the hottest young chefs in New York today. Reviewing his restaurant, Danji on West 52nd street, The New York Times called Kim’s dishes “magical” and “luscious” while praising him as a “terrific cook,” and The Village Voice ran a respectful interview with him about the state of Korean food in New York.

Hooni Kim trained at Masa and Daniel before opening his own restaurant.
Kim attributes a large part of the recent surge in popularity of Asian restaurants in New York to the perception that Asian food is healthy. “That goes for Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean … but Chinese, not so much,” he laughs.

While he specifically tried not to think of his menu on this trip, Kim says that the dishes that will stay with him will probably make it unto Danji’s menu in the future.

“My favorite place was Hadongkwan, but we also loved the chicken gizzards (닭똥집) at 'The Swearing Grandmother' (욕하는 할머니),” says Kim.

Another favorite culinary expedition was Gwangjang Market (광장시장) where he made a point of trying as many dishes as he could, including bindaetteok, kalguksu, manduguk, sundae, tteokbokki and gimbap.

HadongkwanThe chef's pick for best restaurant in Seoul.
“Everywhere we’d go we knew we had a lot to eat and so we’d order and eat a little and move on,” says Kim. “It was embarrassing because the owners would get upset. But we had to be selfish because there was just so much to try.”

Hadongkwan (하동관),10-4 Myeongdong 1 ga, Joong-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 중구 명동1 10-4); +82 2 776 5656

The Swearing Grandmother (욕하는 할머니 B1), 40-31 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 강남구 청담동 40-31 지하1층); +82 2 3443 2790

Gwangjang Market (광장시장), 33-1 Dongsun-dong 1 ga, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 예지동 6-1); +82 2 2267 0291

Danji, 346 West 52nd Street, New York, New York; +1 212 586 2880; www.danjinyc.com

More on CNNGo: Chef Edward Kwon: On a mission to globalize Korean cuisine

Frances Cha is a Digital Producer at CNN Travel. 


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