Antoinette Bruno: What year did you start your culinary career? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Young Hee Roh: I had a job at a food magazine or newspaper where I was a managing editor. I got to visit restaurants and try the food. I did really well, and I liked the food, but my boss eventually gave me too much to do, so I quit. I wanted (then) to be a food stylist.
AB: Did you receive formal training?
YHR: I studied Korean food for five years and I went to Italy for one month to learn other cuisines. I learned about tea from Japan.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
YHR: I worked for a private chef named Kang-In Hee for five years and learned to cook Korean food. She has a class for those who are interested in cooking; I learned to take good care to keep ingredients at a high quality.
AB: What is it like for young Korean chefs to make names for themselves?
YHR: The age of chefs opening their own restaurants is getting younger. Since it’s good quality food, even the older generations want to come to the restaurant. [It is] not too difficult to make a name for oneself.
AB: If you could go anywhere in the world for culinary travel, where would you go?
YHR: The Culinary Institute of America in Napa. I would like to learn traditional French cuisine.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
YHR: In Korea, [small] chef-owned restaurants, French-style bistros; more French than Italian—Italian used to be a trend. There’s a Korean movement to put where an ingredient is from [the origin] in the supermarket, to try to eat organic and local.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
YHR: Freshness. I like to use the best good quality material, even though it is more expensive. The ingredients [that I use] are mostly all local.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
YHR: Soy sauce, salt, and fish sauce, or taro root and shrimp fish sauce.
AB: What goes into creating a dish at your restaurant?
YHR: I grew up in a province surrounded by natural fields; I like natural dishes, I like to go abroad and take ideas from that, and I also like to read books and get ideas.