California is one of the country’s biggest melting pots with San Francisco boasting their own Chinatown, Japantown, and even Russian Hill. However, with the rise of K-Pop, K-Dramas, and K-Beauty, it’s hardly surprising that the latest culinary craze to sweep the tech hub of the nation is Korean. Enter One MICHELIN Star San Ho Won, the brainchild of Chefs Corey Lee and Jeong-In Hwang, a dynamic duo who coupled their European fine dining training—think Guy Savoy, Marco Pierre White, and Thomas Keller, to name a few—with a passion for highlighting the flavors and textures of Korea. “I always wanted to introduce a great Korean restaurant to the city,” says Lee, who earned One-Star at the now closed In Situ at SFMoMA and Three-Stars at Benu, which the MICHELIN Inspectors described as, “an oasis in the center of the city.” [Note: Lee was the world's first Korean chef to earn Three Stars.] However, with San Ho Won, Lee, along with his mentee and executive sous chef at Benu, Jeong-In Hwang, seeks to, “offer familiar and homey dishes cooked with all the care of a serious restaurant.”
Those dishes take their cues from classic Korean flavors typically reserved for more lo-fi settings—think tastebud enlivening sauces and oodles of kimchi—but using only the choicest ingredients. “I see SAN HO WON as a casual restaurant,” explains executive chef Hwang, who previously worked for Pierre Gagnaire, at London’s Sketch, and the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. “Casual usually means cheap, but that is different from how we view casual in Korea. We use premium ingredients, exact cuts of meat for our barbecue, and take no shortcuts in preparation.” Those cuts of meat aren’t prepared table side but rather over a charcoal-fueled indoor kitchen refining the traditional KBBQ experience but without losing any of the comfort. “While the food and experience are very different from those fine dining western restaurants, the organization and systematic approach to how a restaurant functions reflects our training,” adds Lee.
The duo, who started working together in 2016, believe that it’s their background as Koreans with classic fine dining techniques under their belt that make them so in sync. “We share many common reference points, which helps us communicate,” says Lee, with Hwang quick to note, “Chef Lee is my biggest mentor, and his direction and advice help me improve on all aspects of running a restaurant.” After countless accolades and glowing write-ups, what does the pair hope to achieve with their latest venture? “To make the kind of dishes you want to have again and again,” says Lee, with Hwang adding, “I want to continuously work on and introduce our best version of Korean food to the world.”
Hero image: Chef Jeong-In Hwang
© Eric Wolfinger/San Ho Won