The close Korean equivalent of the Japanese Ramen, Ramyun is a comfort dish enjoyed by Koreans of all social class and ages. At Jeju Noodle Bar their main focus is to allow diners to experience and savor the distinct Korean flavor by using different techniques & ingredients from chef Douglas’s experiences.
Upon graduating from CIA, Chef Douglas Kim embarked on the Crystal Serenity cruise for a trip of his lifetime: 65 countries around the world. Since his return, he has accumulated more than a decade of experience in the restaurant scene at Gordon Ramsay NYC, Nobu – New York Times, Per Se – Michelin, Bouley NYC – Michelin, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare – Michelin, Morimoto NYC, Zuma (London, Miami, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, NYC)
We decided to interview him because of his passion for the noodle and this independence in flavor fusion.
Q. You have has an extensive background in the food industry- what made you decide to create your first restaurant a noodle based shop?
A. I had the space for our restaurant before he had a concept. I’ve worked at various restaurants in NYC, like Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, Bouley, Per Se, and more. I’ve always wanted my first restaurant to be a casual concept with elevated ingredients and food. I thought hard about what I wanted to do, and I realized Korean Ramen or Ramyun, lacked an elevated version. One of the most consumed foods in Korea, was mainly known for its instant noodle version. That’s when I decided to take the challenge of creating and
re-defining Ramyun our way.
Q. What is your favorite ramen that you offer? What is your favorite dish that you have developed?
A. I don’t have a favorite, I enjoy food others make. I am my worst critic so it’s hard to judge my own dishes. To be completely honest, developing dishes is very stressful and not always a very enjoyable experience, so I don’t really have a favorite. (lol)
Q. Have you ever imagined Jeju would be so coveted? How was it like at the very beginning of opening the restaurant compared to now?
A. I had hoped and dreamed, but never imagined we would receive one. I am very lucky, blessed and thankful for garnering this much attention. To be completely honest, our restaurant almost failed at one point. Last year, we would only be busy during peak hours (7:00 PM to 8:30 PM) which is not enough for a restaurant to stay open. Our restaurant is a lot healthier now.
We are more under scrutiny now that we have a star. This results in us receiving more feedback. We would receive great compliments saying the star was well deserved, but sometimes we receive criticism. We actually get some guests who say it’s their first michelin star restaurant, but we don’t deserve the star. How do you compare us to other michelin star restaurants when our restaurant is the only one they’ve been to.
Q. Could you tell us how you incorporate Korean cuisine into this new-American cuisine?
A. I always start with the thought of the Korean dish first. I then apply all the knowledge of techniques and ingredients I’ve learn about throughout my experience, then apply it to the Korean dish. The ingredients and technique does not have to be Korean, and it mainly is not since my experiences are from other cuisines.
Q. How does it feel to be the first noodle restaurant in the U.S. to achieve Michelin star status?
A. We are the first NOODLE RESTAURANT to receive the Michelin star in the stateside. Words cannot describe how I feel. Upon receiving it, I was in disbelief and it took time for me to realize it was reality.
Q. How has the rise of success of Jeju impact you on a daily basis?
A. The rise has impacted the restaurant more than me. I’ve always put in my all for the restaurant and continue to do so even after receiving the star. People talk to me more now, but I’m a very quiet person.
Q. Which is your favorite definition of the Korean Jeju: skill, talent, or ability. Tell us why! We want to get to know you!
A. Our restaurant is mainly inspired by the definition of 재주 (skill, talent) rather than 제주 (the island). The meaning and spelling is different, but the sound is the same. Many Korean guests do criticize us for not having Jeju Island inspired food, but that’s not what we’re going for.
By Wendy Liu, Ramen Route App