People 3 minutes 19 February 2020

The First Day I Got My MICHELIN Stars: Atoboy & Atomix's Junghyun Park

We get the world's most celebrated chefs to recall what it was like when they got their very first MICHELIN stars.

Chef Junghyun Park of New York City's two-MICHELIN-starred Atomix—and Bib Gourmand-designated Atoboy—wants to fly the South Korean flag high through almost every aspect of his contemporary Korean fine-dining restaurant. From mumallaengi-seasoned rice and makgeolli ice cream to exquisite ceramics, menu cards and interiors crafted by Korean designers, Park hopes that Atomix can be a creative platform for Korean artists and artisans.

“Atomix’s beginnings were firmly rooted in our mission to deliver and translate Korean culture to our guests," he says. "We wanted to tell the stories of Korean traditional cuisine, history, ingredients, techniques; we also wanted to help tell the stories of contemporary Korean designers working and living in modern Korean society.”

In a similar vein, he adds that Atomix is about “paying respect to Korea's traditional cuisine and its history, being inspired by modern, ever-evolving global cuisines and defining what tomorrow's Korean cuisine culture could look like—all at once.”

WATCH THE VIDEO: Behind the Bib – Atoboy
Chef Junghyun ('JP') and his wife, Ellia Park, run Atomix and Atoboy, both in New York City. (Photo by Diane Kang.)
Chef Junghyun ('JP') and his wife, Ellia Park, run Atomix and Atoboy, both in New York City. (Photo by Diane Kang.)
The gastronomy world has always held a special place in Park’s heart. After graduating with a food science degree, the Seoul native took on a globetrotting tour, from Finland to London and finally Australia, where he took on a couple of restaurant apprenticeships to make up for his lack of classic culinary training. After he returned to Seoul, he worked in two-MICHELIN-starred restaurant Jungsik and helped open its New York outpost, which currently holds two MICHELIN stars.

In 2016, Park and his wife, Jeongeun “Ellia” Park, opened Atoboy, a casual progressive Korean restaurant in Manhattan that puts the spotlight on banchan (small Korean side dishes) and infusing French culinary techniques in Korean dishes. Spurred on by its success, the couple opened Atomix, an innovative Korean restaurant, which is a more refined version of their culinary vision, last year. Both restaurants’ names contain the word, "ato," which comes from the ancient Korean word for “gift.”
The first floor bar and lounge at Atomix. (Photo by Evan Sung.)
The first floor bar and lounge at Atomix. (Photo by Evan Sung.)
Some signature dishes from Atomix include bim gugak (fried Korean seaweed chips) with mumallaengi rice and smoked trout roe, Hanwoo strip loin with fermented fruit sauce, dashima and wasabi leaf, and makgeolli ice cream with Chinese black tea syrup, Korean pear and sumac meringue.

So far for Park, 2019 has been a hectic year as “both Atoboy and Atomix are growing at a fast pace.” In May, he also did a four-hands collaboration with chef Vicky Lau of one-MICHELIN-starred restaurant Tate in Hong Kong. "We hope that the coming months will be more of self-reflection, and maturing and strengthening as a team and family," he says.

He adds that Atoboy and Atomix will continue the Korean chef dining series, which introduces Korean chefs to the vibrant dining scene in the Big Apple.
What was your first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide?
My first memory of the MICHELIN Guide was when I was a student in middle school. As long as I can recall, I was interested in food, and I already had dreams of becoming a chef.

Through the guide, I learned about many European fine-dining destinations, and reading about the MICHELIN-starred restaurants felt like a faraway dream that was almost impossible for me to experience. I remember vowing to myself that one day I would eat at those places, work for these places and, eventually, lead and open a restaurant of such caliber.

What was it like when Atomix received its first MICHELIN star in 2018?

The distinction came at such a short time after Atomix opened, so I was managing my expectations and truly did not expect the restaurant to receive a star. I could not believe it when I received the call.

How did you celebrate?

We celebrated with our employees, who worked hard to achieve such an honor in the short amount of time, at the restaurant after our workday was over. It was a great time.
Atomix's seabream hwe dish. (Photo courtesy of Atomix.)
Atomix's seabream hwe dish. (Photo courtesy of Atomix.)
As a chef, what does having a MICHELIN star mean to you?
It was truly a dream come true for me. Throughout the years, I have retained a dream-like sense towards this honor even as I worked my way up the ranks, so it was truly a humbling experience for me. It has taught me that if you work hard, with earnestness and passion, your dreams can become reality. It also motivates me to dream bigger and work harder, and to inspire myself and others.

With Atomix having received a MICHELIN star, how has that impacted your career?
Of course, it impacts our recognition in New York City, which is a great and large market for restaurants and diners. I believe that this is a huge push towards being recognized on a more global scale for many diners and industry guests.

What advice do you have for young chefs?
I would advise young chefs to not work towards MICHELIN stars, even if it is their dream (as was mine). I believe that the focus should be on pushing yourself to your best abilities, to seriously consider what your unique vision and talents are, and to work hard every day. With dedication and honest, earnest work, I think opportunities and distinctions such as the MICHELIN star will come.


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