This is a picture of Atoboy chef/owner Junghyun Park at one of last year’s NYC WFF events. I’ve been wanting to highlight Chef JP on my Instagram for a while but I never could fully capture what I wanted to say; my words never felt adequate enough. Why? Because Chef JP was responsible for cooking what probably was the most influential meal of my life. It wasn't at Atoboy though… it was much earlier, when Chef JP was the chef de cuisine of the recently-opened Jungsik in NYC.
Even back then, I was passionate about food. I bought countless cookbooks and poured over the recipes. I stayed up late into the night, scouring Internet blogs to keep myself up-to-date on the latest culinary names and trends. I read all the articles in any food magazine I could get my hands on. I honed my cooking skills, bought fancy kitchen equipment, and purchased unusual ingredients, all in my desire to know more about food.
But despite my passion for food, there was one cuisine I didn't feel the need to really explore: Korean.
Don’t get me wrong—I liked Korean food. It just didn’t seem “special.” (I know, I know…I was dumb back then). Maybe I was just too familiar with it. Or maybe it didn’t seem to have the glamour of French or Japanese cuisine. I don’t know…
That changed when I dined at Jungsik. It was everything you’d expect a fine-dining restaurant to be: white tablecloth, impeccable service, beautifully presented food. But the food! The flavors! The familiar Korean flavors and ingredients I grew up with were interpreted, utilized, and plated in new and different ways. I had never seen this done before and it intrigued and excited me. I had an amazing meal that night. It must have been like eight courses or something–by the end of the night, I could barely finish my dessert and I'm pretty sure I let my friend finish off my wine pairing.
It started a new culinary journey for me. Each time I visited New York City, I’d make sure I’d explore at least one Korean fusion restaurant to see what cool, new thing was happening there. The kind of creativity and ingenuity that was happening in the New York Korean food scene was so unique, something I didn't really see in my home of Baltimore or even in LA (where i had family and visited often). I got to meet some really cool people along the way–Chef Esther Choi of Mokbar, Chef Judy Joo (who I watched on TV often!), Chef Deuki Hong. Some, like Sarah of Kimbap Lab even became friends!
Eventually, it led me to want to learn more about the roots of Korean cooking. Yes, even then, I was able to cook Korean food fairly well. But I wanted to intimately know the stories, history, culture, ideas, and techniques behind Korean cuisine. It’s something I’m still working on but hope to share with you all one day on this blog… in fact, it was one of the motivations behind me making a blog to begin with (and one I had been thinking about for some time now).
Anyways, Chef JP said the name Atoboy comes from an ancient Korean word for “gift” because it’s his gift to the New York dining scene. It’s true…and one that’s received a lot of well-deserved praise and accolades from the New York Times to Michelin Guide.
But his cooking was also a gift to me in that it really, in a roundabout way, made me realize how special and precious Korean cuisine is.
Thank you, Chef JP.
On a side note, Chef JP’s next project, @atomixnyc, just announced its opening date and released its reservations! You’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for what special things are going to happen there!
Here's a video of Chef JP from Behind the Bib on Michelin Guide's website:
And here are some of the dishes he taught the NYCWFF class how to make: