Former executive chef at 50 Bowery Hotel and Rice & Gold, Jae Lee, has left his stationary culinary life in pursuit of something a bit more nomadic.
Lee, who has over 12 years’ experience in the New York City Culinary scene and has worked under renowned chefs like Morimoto and Dale Talde, began his pop-up series title, “him” 힘 in February after leaving his full-time position. The pop-up is a celebration of his family’s journey to the United States and their Korean heritage.
The series, which kicked off with a two-day, four seat event at Boys Don’t Cry in the Lower East Side was a Duck Roast Ssam and featured Korean-American fusion dishes. “Being a Korean-American I wanted to cook what Korean food meant to me and how I represent the two cultures,” says Lee. “I’m Korean by blood and I became a U.S. citizen last May”.
The Lee family officially became U.S. citizens in May of 2018, their journey began in 1998, “It took 20 years and many years of hardship. But through [my] family’s strength, we’ve accomplished a lot”. The pop-ups are an ode to the heritage and the struggle, a way to share his cuisine and culture with others.
Lee’s family plays an integral part, both emotionally and physically, in the pop-up. His mother cooked alongside him in the kitchen, his brother helped to serve, and his grandmother sparked the inspiration. “My grandmother raised me and my brother growing up and I wanted to dedicate the first pop up I do to her,” says Lee. “The duck roast ssam idea is because it was the last meal I ate with my grandmother in Nowon, Seoul in July 2012, she passed away on December 4, 2014.”
The first event featured different appetizers and banchan, a collective name for small side dishes served with cooked rice in Korean cuisine. Some dishes included Korean bodega rice cakes, black sesame caesar salad, mung bean pancakes, mala ginger-garlic chive duck wings, homemade kimchi, Korean miso soup, tofu with garlic sesame ponzu, roasted duck with pickled daikon sheets and duck fat kimchi fried rice, all served family style at communal tables.
Next up, Lee partnered with Fat Buddha, a trendy restaurant in the East Village, and EatWell Cartell to host a Ramyun party. The pop-up blended delicious food, great music and good vibes, with a DJ spinning throwback jams and homemade lychee martini ice pops. Jae’s menu included two ramyun’s; Neoguri seafood supreme and a spicy prime beef shin, as well as chicken wings seasoned in ginger scallion sauce, kimbap with spam, kimchi bokkeum and egg, rice cakes with beef and a secret sauce.
What’s next for Lee? Plenty. He will be hosting Saigon 2 Seoul with Vietnamese chef Helen Nguyen on April 28th at Rice & Gold at the 50 Bowery Hotel (full circle). Nguyen, who hosts her own pop-ups through her brand Saigon Social, will be partnering with Lee for a Vietnamese Brunch Party on April 28th that will fuse together both Vietnamese and Korean cuisines as well as the unique styles of both chef’s.
The event’s menu will feature five passed appetizers, congee or rice porridge, a Korean rice cake dumpling soup cart, and a whole roast suckling pig to help end the Lunar New York celebration.
Photography by: Photography courtesy Clay Williams