As a seasoned chef, Allen Suh of two-MICHELIN-starred L’impression comes across as confident, jovial and charming. But he is no extrovert, the gentle-mannered chef insists.
He prefers to let his cooking do the talking.
“I’m not good at socialising,” laughs Suh. “So food is my way of expressing myself, who I am, and what I’ve been through in my life.”
The Korea-born chef moved to the US at a young age to further his studies, and remained there almost two decades to work his way up the ranks of top restaurants across the country, including the coveted sous chef position at the three-MICHELIN-starred Eleven Madison Park under Daniel Humm, before coming back to Seoul to open L’impression.
At L’Impression, which debuted in the MICHELIN Guide Seoul 2020 with two MICHELIN stars and retained it in the 2021 edition, Suh cooks with a French base and creative Korean accents drawn from his modern perspective on his own culture.
“We opened L’impression in November 2018. Before that, I had never cooked Korean cuisine professionally, so many things are still new to me. We are constantly studying and experimenting with new flavours, ingredients and techniques, and introducing lots of innovation in our restaurant.”
“Where do I find my inspiration? Sometimes it can be as simple as when I’m enjoying a cup of good coffee.”
For a recent special dining collaboration between L’Impression and Nespresso in October 2020, Suh and his team prepared three collaborative menus featuring 6 courses that pair Nespresso’s premium Master Origins coffees with Suh’s distinct brand of seasonal, modern Korean cooking.
Sustainability on the plate
The meal’s highlight: a main course comprising a trio of root vegetables – celeriac, chestnuts and beetroot – that are currently in season, chestnut puree and Nespresso’s Master Origins India coffee.
“It’s not a vegetarian dish but it is vegetables-driven. I wanted to create a dish around the theme of being sustainable. We reduce food waste because we fully use the whole ingredient,” Suh explains.
He continues: “Whenever I speak with Nespresso, they always talk about sustainability and taking care of the environment. So I wanted to create a dish that emphasises these values.
Nespresso is a well-known brand, but what many people may not know is that they are working very closely with farmers to think about sustainability. They also find ways to reuse their coffee grounds and aluminium capsules.”
Vegetables as protein
To prepare the starring dish, Suh first cooks the earthy celeriac in chicken jus — treating it like a protein so it gets all this meaty flavour, he says —before finishing it on the charcoal grill so it will taste like a piece of beef.
Then he tops it with different variations of beet with different textures, such as in semi-dehydrated jerky form and as dehydrated chips so diners can have a nice crunch when tucking in.
He then covers the intricate creation with chestnut puree, to resemble the classic French Mont Blanc dessert but with an unexpected savoury twist. To give the dish its final touch, Suh tops off the dish with some tuile made from Nespresso coffee, and finishes it with a Nespresso coffee-based sauce.
Consistent high quality
“I like the strong intensity of their Master Origins India blend so I only have to use a little to get a bold flavour. I use Nespresso coffee because it delivers high quality coffee consistently, cup after cup,” says Suh.
A classic combination in French cuisine is to serve a braised protein in a coffee sauce, such as in a venison or beef stew — but Suh did not want to do an ordinary dish, he states.
“I wanted to present something more creative and innovative — something that tells you a little story about who we are at L’impression. Bon appetit and 맛있게 드세요!”