I learned how to cook from my mom, watching her make things from scratch. The simplest things ever: milling your own spices at home on a stone, drying your own gochugaru peppers, fermenting your own miso, making your own soya sauce. She opened my eyes to everything.
We had a massive backyard; 47,000 square feet. Full of produce. To this day, the importance of freshness and top-quality ingredients defines what I do. I grew up around small farmers, sustainable fishermen, and local food before anyone used those terms to describe them.
In 1990 my family moved to British Columbia. I was in the ESL program at Burnaby High. It rained so much that we moved to Montreal within a year.
I didn’t speak French. On my first day at school in Montreal, someone threw a chair at me. There was a big fight between Koreans and the Latinos. I was in the middle, getting beat up by both sides. And that was my introduction to life in Quebec.
While still a teenager, I got a job as a dishwasher at a Chinese buffet. At the same time, I worked at my parent’s dépanneur—doing inventory, organizing the shelves, checking food and labor costs, and always working on cleanliness. I learned about the importance of care.
When my sister opened a restaurant called Takara, I did dishes, prep, and mixed rice for three years. That was my first kitchen job. After that I apprenticed at her other restaurant, Tomo, a North Americanized Japanese restaurant. California rolls, beef teriyaki with chop suey, spicy scallop tempura—that sort of thing. In the Japanese restaurant scene in Montreal, everyone around me was doing spicy mayo and maki rolls. I decided to get serious about cooking. I went to Toronto and realized it was the same as here. All of North America, it turns out. So I packed my stuff and went to Japan to learn proper technique from the source.
I went to culinary school in Japan. I trained under masters. I learned to understand what they were looking for in their dishes. Japanese people will never teach you why they do things. It’s their personal secret. It’s something that you have to figure out yourself. At the end of the day, you only arrive at it by figuring out how to do it. They’re impeccable in what they do. My goal was to understand their philosophy. How you cut the fish, how you treat the fish, why things are done a certain way.
Twelve years went by.
So this is who I am, whatever this mix is. Forget the word fusion. I make sushi, I ferment kimchi, I love asado. I’ve been a chef in Tokyo, Osaka, New York, Toronto, and Montreal. I’ve wanted to do something different, something personal, something that’s all about who I really am. My restaurants are a reflection of my roots, of who I am. Multicultural chef who rose to fame as a judge on the reality series Chopped Canada. Owner and head chef of the Montreal eatery Park Restaurant, and also the Latin cuisine eatery Lavanderia.