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Korean chef came of age amid cookery

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Chef Chang-Wook Chung of Korea prepared Korean stew Thursday at MW Restaurant. The celebrity chef was in town filming a show for Korean television.

Chef Chang-Wook Chung is an international man of many talents. Of Korean descent, he was raised in Japan and now serves French fare, accented with Asian influences, in South Korea at his Bistro Chaugi in Seoul.

His culinary journey began when he was a youth, as he spent much of his childhood in the kitchens of his uncles’ Korean restaurants.

“Of my generation, I’m the oldest in the family. The kitchen staff were my older brothers,” Chung said, recalling fondly how they fed him and gave him sodas.

The chef has been in town filming a documentary about Hawaii for Korean television. He has also created in-flight meals for Hawaiian Airlines’ Incheon-to-Honolulu route that will be served beginning Dec. 1.

At age 19, Chung was earning a living as a translator and interpreter of Japanese to Korean, and vice versa. From 2006 to 2007, he lived in the isles “drinking and surfing” while attending the University of Hawaii. “Then I quit UH.”

Upon returning to Japan, he became a dishwasher in Tokyo while being trained in Japanese cuisine, then in 2009, he moved to Korea, where he worked as a cook for one year.

By the time he opened his bistro in 2010, Chung had already taught himself to cook French food. He was also a celebrity chef, starring in two television food shows. The strain of celebrity wore on him, however, and he quit the series.

In 2013, he moved his restaurant, once a two-table venue, to a larger space that now accommodates six tables, a private room for eight and bigger accomplishments.

“There’s no Michelin star for my restaurant yet, but this year I got on the list,” he said. (The Michelin Guide lists restaurants worthy of recognition that have not yet earned a coveted star.)

And in fact, his restaurant is so popular, the wait for weekend reservations is a month. But bigger does not necessarily mean better for this chef.

“At my first restaurant, I shopped at the market every single morning, and I changed the menu every single day. I wrote everything on a blackboard. Now, I change the menu every two weeks.

“The smaller restaurant was more fun. I’ve had many investors come to ask me to make a bigger restaurant,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s more business, but too much is not good.

“Six tables are the maximum for me.”

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