Junghyun and Ellia Park’s New York hot spot Atomix will collaborate with three-Michelin star Gaon from Seol, Korea in a special two night collaboration next month.
There is so much talent involved in this heavyweight meeting of Korean cuisine with Gaon, a giant of the foundational approach and Atomix, a New York-based innovator that focuses on evolution of the cuisine.
Following on the success of their beloved Atoboy restaurant, Junghyun and Ellia Park have created in multi-award winning Atomix an expression of Korean excellence. Chef Park is informed by his cultural travels, having worked with many different cuisines from a young age, his cuisine his forward looking and innovative, built on a foundation of Korean tradition, something Gaon excels at.
The collaboration dinner is hosted by Atomix and will take place on the 8th and 9th of July, places are limited so book early if you want to experience the vanguard and the old guard of Korean Cuisine in New York.
We caught up with chef Junghyun Park to talk about how the collaboration came about and what to expect.
Korean gastronomy is finally getting the respect it deserves. What has brought about this new awareness?
First, I believe that it is due to the achievements of the hard, honest work of the Korean chefs that are part of this movement. Of course, the sponsorship and support of the government, and various corporations and institutions is critical as well - but without the dedicated work of the chefs, it would be impossible. Korean chefs, both contemporary as well as older generations, have long been contemplating Korean cuisine in its modern form and its place in the global culinary and cultural landscape. The dishes, flavors, and restaurants, as well as their symbolisms, have been garnering more and more attention and interest. Of course, due to the length of Korean history and the importance of specific culinary aspects (such as banchan, fermentation, and techniques) - it has always been deserving of the attention it is just now getting... but I'm glad that it's beginning to receive it at a global scale.
How does Korean cuisine reflect the culture of Korea?
Atoboy's central philosophy is the Korean "communal culture" - the importance that Korean culture puts on sharing. This is represented best in the concept of banchan. Korean cuisine and 'bab-sang' (which refers to the most common form of a meal that always has rice, banchan, a soup, and a protein) shines even when eaten alone - but it really fully blooms when it's eaten as a group, or as a community. This truly depicts Korean culture and its love for community and the act of sharing - whether it's through food, stories, or simply time together.
There seems to be consistent excellence in Korean cuisine, design, and culture in general, why is that?
Korea has long placed great importance in art and culture, ever since the ancient dynasty days. At the same time, Koreans are known to be especially sensitive to trends, especially in aesthetics. Even pre-internet and social media, viral trends and aesthetics were known to spread very quickly and intensely. This is probably due to the culture of sharing and community. In combination, there's a lot of fun ideas and innovative thinking that can develop.
Artistic values run very strongly in your cooking and in your restaurants. Do you express yourself through other mediums artistically?
I think in operating a contemporary restaurant that is innovative, the most relevant experiences stem from other ideas in food and restaurants. But I definitely am naturally inspired by varied art forms and also actively seek out these inspirations. I like to express these interests and manifest them in my own way at my restaurants. I have yet to design industrial products or designs directly, but I do collaborate with the designers that I work with (and many of our design meetings are truly collaborative in that we are partners in ideating, constructively criticizing, and developing any design or product). If I am able to have the opportunity, I would be interested in studying music production and architectural design in a more serious fashion in the future.
Design is more a process or a state of mind, is this your approach to cooking?
Atomix is only a year old this summer. Despite the many amazing achievements we have been humbled by, we are still taking baby steps. We are experiencing many new things as a team and as a restaurant, and it is important to actively seek ways to continually learn so that we can further develop. I believe that we are still in the process of defining what the Atomix style is; the current expressions we are producing are still representative of the process. Whether it's in design or cooking, I believe it's all a process.
You have traveled around a lot from a young age. How have your different experiences informed your cooking?
I think the life lesson that I've come to learn for myself from traveling to many places and meeting many diverse characters and ways of living, is that there is no correct way to live and there is no secret or code to decipher. Life is what you make of it and what you work towards defining it as. As such, I think that the cuisines that are represented at Atoboy and Atomix are hard to categorize in a specific way. Rather, it's an ever-evolving meditation on Korean cuisine in the context of contemporary culture, defined by me and our team. It's not a process to find the answer; it's a process of studying, of learning, of hoping and trying to be a better version of myself, a better chef, and a better restaurant. I think traveling and seeing the world has shaped this way of thinking.
How did this collaborative project with Gaon come about?
Gaon actually reached out to Atomix first. For us, it was a great surprise and also a very humbling moment (as Gaon is a giant in what it represents and leads within the Korean cuisine world). We were so thankful. We may seem to have different expressions or styles in how we represent Korean cuisine, but we agreed that we are both concerned with the same questions. So both teams decided that it would be a great fit and a great event to collaborate. We are very excited!
Why do it?
Gaon is well-known for its deep consideration of the foundations of Korean cuisine; Atomix, on the other hand, is building a reputation for its deep consideration on how we can evolve, or modernize, Korean cuisine in an innovative way. This is just a difference in style of expression; we both have the same strong respect for Korean tradition as well as where the culture is headed. We thought it was a natural, powerful collaboration opportunity.
How will Atomix and Gaon collaborate on this project? What are the strengths of each party?
Of course, the central collaboration efforts are around the food and cuisine. But we are also fully and equally collaborative about the aesthetics of the designs, the details of service, and the message that we intend to leave with the guests. We have thorough conversations around many holistic aspects of the collaboration. We hope that through these events, we are able to express each individual restaurant's characteristics while presenting a unique synergy between the two. We are working to have a seamless experience for our guests, in both our food and service experience. We also want to highlight the undeniably important grains of Korea - especially rice - in unique ways. We considered how to best express the long-standing, central philosophy of harmony between rice and banchan in Korean cuisine.