By combining French and Japanese techniques with Korean ingredients, chef Tae Hwan Ryu is creating his own unique cuisine and experience for his patrons. Take a moment and sit down with the chef and take a look inside one of the restaurants in Korea’s growing dining scene.
What prompted you to enter the culinary scene?
I was born in Busan and lived near a coastal city in South Korea. I began a culinary career at a relatively late age of 22 after being encouraged by my father, a marine biologist who loved cooking. My father was very delicate and thorough. He had the quality of desiring an “absoluteness’. I spent a lot of time with with my father in his laboratory surrounded by the sea, so I was raise with a natural respect for nature and an interest in marine life.
My first dream was not to be a chef, but to become an artist. My father, however, loved cooking and had originally wanted me to be a chef. He encouraged me to try and become the best chef that I could be. Instead, I showed and aptitude for fine art and dreamed that I would become a famous artist making films or novels. I was also very interested in literature. I believe that my father, my childhood environment, and my interest in art all strongly influenced – and continue to influence – my cooking.
What is your philosophy behind your cuisine?
My cooking concept is based on a hybrid fusion of Japanese and French cuisine, using Korean ingredients. I believe that true fusion must involve na element of pure originality – this is why ‘uniqueness’ is a very important thing to me. Just as a crossbreed is created through the combination of one purebred and another purebred, so is my cuisine true ‘hybrid fusion’.
The basics of Japanese techniques, French techniques and Korean ingredients are combined to create Ryunique. Understanding nature and natural ingredients, and understanding the fundamental basics of a cuisine are key to originality. These are my founding principles.
What makes you “unique”?
I strive never to copy, but to create my cuisine through creativity and inspiration. I am constantly trying to think in new ways and never imitate.
Where do you find inspiration for your dishes?
My cuisine is made by experiences. Whatever I eat, wherever I go, and whoever I meet could be sources of my creativity. So travel is a valuable experience for me to make more unique foods at Ryunique. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to travel the Nordic countries due to a business trip. It was very memorable and impressive, and provided me with new ideas.
Please tell us about the process behind your Nostalgia dish.
The Quail Nostalgia (2012) has been a much-loved dish at Ryunique for four years. In the dish, I use the entire quail without anything going to waste. The breast of the quail is injected with the highest quality Spanish olive oil, before being massaged well and then sealed into a vacuum. It is then cooked sous-vide and seared on the pan, without using an oven. The quail wings are wrapped in bacon and smoked, before being placed into a desiccator to create a gorgeous, smokey flavor. The quail bones are burnt with mirpoix for a long time and reduced to a quail jus. The garnish of the dsih is made from cooked beets and beet purée. The whole dish is served with a card printed with the story below.
When I walk down a path of old memories, I come across a yearning deep inside my mind. The Southern sea alongside the coast presents me with some unforgettable reminiscences. The curiosities of my father’s laboratory, the freedom of swimming naked after school, and the addictive nature of the smell of the sea and burnt hay come to mind. Originally inspired from my childhood’s rumination, “Quail” is a signature dish of Ryunique, prepared to deliver the value of reminiscences to my customers. The smell of flambant burnt hay brings back one’s memory, and the resultant ashes bring regret.”
What three words define your plating style?
Shape, color, texture.