Dining Out 3 minutes 14 June 2019

Eating Off Duty with Junghyun Park

We explore where and what celebrated chefs eat outside their kitchens.

"I feel like I was born to be a chef," says chef Junghyun 'JP' Park of Atomix and Atoboy. "Beginning in middle school, I dreamed of becoming a chef. I cooked throughout my high school years, making instant ramen and banchan at home with my mother."

The son of parents who both worked in the industrial design space, Park was born in Gumi, South Korea, and moved to Seoul when he was two years old where he remained until right after college. In pursuit of his dream, Park attended Kyung Hee University to study culinary science.

After graduation, Park set off to hone and finesse his mastery of European techniques at The Ledbury in London in 2007, followed by Cutler & Co. from 2008 to 2010 in Melbourne, Australia, before heading back to Seoul to serve as chef de cuisine at the then new Korean fine-dining restaurant Jungsik. Park then moved to New York City in 2012 to serve as the chef de cuisine at the TriBeCa location of Jungsik, which currently holds two MICHELIN stars. After a celebrated run there, Park decided it was time to open a restaurant of his own.

"It has always been my dream to open my own restaurant—ever since I began dreaming of becoming a chef," says Park.

In the summer of 2016, together with his wife Ellia, Park opened his first restaurant, Atoboy, in New York City's NoMad neighborhood, focusing on modern Korean fare with a unique banchan-style tasting menu.

"With Atoboy, our intention was to open a fine-casual restaurant, where there was an approachable format and set price point so that many guests would be able to explore and educate themselves on new Korean cuisine," says Park.

Following Atoboy, the couple opened Atomix just two years later. Atomix is a Korean fine-dining restaurant that offers two unique experiences: an intimate bar and lounge, as well as a multi-course chef's tasting menu. Atomix received a MICHELIN star in its opening year. The restaurants borrow their names from the ancient Korean word ato, which means "gift."

"The cuisine at Atomix pays respect towards the rich history of Korean cuisine, while striving to inspire the present and the future. . . . Atomix is largely inspired by traditional Korean methods and ingredients that depart from many European fine dining styles," says Park.

Chef Park's next endeavor is an ongoing collaboration series at Atoboy that primarily aims to provide opportunities for Korean chefs based in the country to showcase their vision in New York City. "We are also always interested in trying to make time and space for the many collaboration opportunities . . . with the chefs, restaurants and kindred organizations that we have long admired," says Park.

This summer, Atomix will be welcoming Gaon from Seoul in July and SingleThread from California in August, each with three MICHELIN stars. They will also do a special collaboration dinner at Lyle's in London this July.

(This interview has been lightly edited.)

One of the dishes at Atomix. (Photo by Evan Sung.)
One of the dishes at Atomix. (Photo by Evan Sung.)

What was the last thing you ate?
I went to Racines and had a roasted sunchoke served with coffee and jambon. The crunchiness from the sunchoke paired with coffee and jambon was amazing.

It's your day off. What do you have for breakfast and where?
I rarely eat breakfast, but when I do, it would be pho noodles from Thái Sơn in Chinatown.

Controversial question: Do you believe in brunch?
I rarely enjoy brunch. Due to the demanding schedule of restaurant life, I typically do not eat breakfast. But when the hunger hits, I'll usually enjoy noodles.

What is your 2:00 a.m. go-to food?
I usually order beef soup or noodles from New Wonjo, Kunjip or Dong Chun Hong (a Korean-Chinese restaurant). My typical order there is rice and soup.

What is your local coffee shop and what do you order?
I go to Birch Coffee every day and enjoy a drip coffee without milk or sugar.

Where do you go when you travel to your favorite city?
Seoul. My favorites are Hadongkwan for gomtang (beef soup with rice), Eulji Myun Oak for naengmyeon (cold beef noodle soup) and Miro Sikdang for bulgogi and seafood scallion pancake.

What is the "laziest" meal you put together for yourself this past week?
Leftover family meal after service. At Atomix, we actually prioritize and value our family meals. We try our best to avoid being repetitive and instead create interesting and new menus for our staff.

A typical family meal consists of rice, some sort of Korean soup and other banchan or side dishes to match the flavors. Every Saturday, which is the last day of our work week, we prepare a special menu around a specific theme that I choose. Some of our most recent special Saturday family meal themes were Vietnamese (with house made bún chả) and Italian (we had truffle pasta and bruschetta).

What is your favorite snack food?
Gim (toasted seaweed sheet). It is simple and tasty and pairs nicely with a beer.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Popeye's fried chicken with caviar. I don't like biscuits, but Ellia does, so I always order one biscuit for her. We usually order chicken thighs, half mild and half spicy. Caviar is not a usual condiment we use, but if we have something to celebrate or feel like we deserve a guilty pleasure, we would eat it with Osetra caviar. I love fried chicken anytime.

Photo by Evan Sung.

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