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Events, Interview, Michelin, Q&A

Corey Lee

The modern diner, Lee says, isn’t just looking for a meal, but rather, an experience. It means his competition has stratified: smaller establishments, too, are thinking beyond appetizers, mains and desserts, so a fixed price menu can cost $50 just as easily as $500. The question for diners (aside from an assessment of his or her pocketbook), then, has shifted from “What do I want to eat?” to “What kind of story do I want to be told?”

Michelin Man: Corey Lee shares his three-star point of view with Rebecca Tucker of National Post

In Toronto for a Q&A session with David Chang and book signing (May 2015)

In Toronto for a Q&A session with David Chang and book signing (May 2015)

Food is identity. It’s the most reveling thing about you, about a culture, where you come from, how you live, what’s important to you – they go hand in hand.

– Chef Lee is heard saying in a video shown on the 92nd Street Y program on Thomas Keller & Corey Lee on American cooking

In conversation with Corey Lee & David Chang

In conversation with Corey Lee & David Chang

Video: In conversation with Corey Lee, hosted by David Chang

Gallery: Corey Lee’s visit to Toronto

Video: Behind the Cookbook with Chef Corey Lee in Saveur

Video: Corey Lee on Charlie Rose (May 2015) where he speaks about his love of craft – repetition and finding reward in that, reasons for not opening in New York, how he’s not the biggest fan of kimchee and more.

Lucky Peach co-founder and co-editor David Chang calls Corey Lee one of the best chefs on earth:

Corey Lee sits with Lucky Peach’s editor-in-chief Chris Ying to talk about his iconic – and changing – foie gras xiao long baos (aka soup dumplings)

I think cooking’s getting refined all the time as you learn more… Being open to changing it is probably the most important thing.

Although Korea born, Corey Lee’s story is one of a modern American chef (more in the video links shared below). The James Beard Awards Best Chef West nominee even describes his cuisine and approach to cooking – including working among some of the best in the business, and a lengthy stint heading Thomas Keller’s French Laundry) – as being American, all the while taking inspiration from French and Asian cooking (the latter, noticeable in his use of Korean and Chinese flavours). In fact, the owner and chef describes his three Michelin-starred restaurant, Benu, in San Francisco like this:

When people ask me what sort of restaurant Benu is, my first answer is: it’s an American restaurant. It’s open to the influence of all different kinds of cultures…It’s really about finding yourself in your work and understanding that there’s meaning in finding yourself in your work.

– Corey Lee in Phaidon’s Benu trailer from 2015.

Corey LeeChef Lee was in Toronto back in May as part of his international book tour for Benu – a cookbook that plays out as a 33 course tasting menu that attempts to convey a dining experience to the reader. For two nights he was hosted at George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts: first, a dinner at George Brown House prepared by the program’s students, then, a Q&A session with Momofuku’s David Chang who guided the hour long conversation between the chefs.

The topics both chefs discussed included how they met (Corey already being a legend within the culinary sphere), first impressions (it’s a funny one), why they chose cooking as a career, Michelin, and more. (Aside: there is a nod to J. Moore’s incredible knife skills. Go Toronto talent.)

The resulting Periscope (where I opened the channel to any non-present curious food lovers who wanted to tune in, or even ask their questions), here:

Besides his admirable skill and talent, what I’ve found most interesting is Lee’s thoughts on the tasting menu, which he sees as being one large dish. In a time when so many diners turn to casual, non-committal options, one of the continent’s best holds firm to the opposite. The chef-owner argues that it’s through those 18 dishes – and variety in those courses – that the team is able to display what is a truer reflection of what Benu is.

Hear, hear.

More about the concept of personality cuisine, what new American cuisine is, and tasting menus via 92nd Street Y:

About Renée Suen

Renée Suen is a food loving freelance writer and photographer based in Toronto. Her insatiable appetite, curiosity and camera are often found travelling around the world in search of memorable tastes and the stories behind the plate. In another life, she is a PhD candidate in Cardiovascular Sciences.


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