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Dreaming up new ways to serve inspired dishes: Chef Tae-min looks beyond Seongsu-dong for his next project

Feb 21,2020
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Chef Kim Tae-min of Boyer, above, in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul, grinds cheese to finish his pasta dish before serving to the customers. On the rights are some of the popular dishes available at Boyer, a sister restaurant to French style l’enfance steps away in the same neighborhood. [PARK SANG-MOON]
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Now one of the trendiest culinary destinations in Seoul, Seongsu-dong was the place chef Kim Tae-min discovered with his first ever restaurant l’enfance in 2016 before the tide fully came in.

The chef, who has dreams of opening his own neo bistro style spot in Seoul in the next few years, is now leading two kitchens in the area, making his presence in the neighborhood sturdier. l’enfance has been popular since the opening a few years back, and the new Boyer is also filling up the seats fast everyday in the area where the competition is fierce to attract visitors from outside and the nearby residents.

“Food isn’t everything when you make restaurant,” said chef Kim, who had experienced setting up a new restaurant before he started his own thing while working under other chefs. “Finding the balance between what a chef wants to do and what customers wants to experience while eating is the key to keep the restaurant busy based on my own experience.”

Taking in the preferences of the trendy customers, only a few weeks after Boyer was open early last year, he decided to shut down the restaurant for a little bit for a complete face-life of dishes. First he planned to serve all kinds of pastas at Boyer after presenting French-based dishes at l’enfance for years. However, after a few weeks of running, he thought the more modern ambience of Boyer did not make a good harmony with comfortable noodle dishes. It wasn’t an easy decision, but he decided that he needed to go back and build the new menu from the very beginning.

“I could have just closed down the spot for a few days and work on the recipes in a haste, but I thought such move would only work for the short time period,” said Kim who took an overseas trip to check out new tableware and new recipes for something different. “I wanted to put myself in a situation where I’m can create something that’s not so familiar to myself. I wanted something new.”

The move to try running a new restaurant has been a good lesson for him, who dreams of serving a course-meal at a neo bistro style restaurant. The more a la carte menu he serves, the bigger his desire to serve a course-meal to customers gets. He likes the idea of him suggests what to eat to customers visiting his restaurants. He wants to juxtapose ingredients in order so that the diners can have the best experience trying different ones. When he serves a la carte only, sometimes diners choose dishes that have similar sauce as a base, and he’s afraid they might get tired of the taste in the middle of lunch and dinner.

“I like how everything served in the restaurant is intertwined, and I want my customers to enjoy that match of food to wine and food to the ambience and that becomes even more possible when certain food is served in a form of a course,” said Kim.

He is carefully checking what diners want in general and what he can offer to them. He doesn’t want to enter the finer restaurant-heavy Gangnam District, yet wants to build new home in the office-heavy Gwanghwamun area. Because, often the success of the business of each restaurant doesn’t rely on how well the kitchen staff cooks food, yet much on the style of diners that often come to the area the restaurant is located.

“What chefs now need to work on is getting their hands on the practical stuff rather than just picturing the style of food they want to make,” said Kim, adding that he intentionally left a restaurant before to join a team that opens a new one to learn all about restaurant opening.

What he wants to do before getting his hands on opening the neo bistro spot that serves a course meal is being in France at least for a couple of months, or up to a year. He wishes to visit all the places in nature and in the city to get any kind of inspirations, and then spend time working in the kitchens of some of the restaurants and eating in them to get more detailed plan laid out.

“I want to have a simple life for some time away from here, and I want it not to be a travel,” said Kim.

Although what he wants to do in the near future is more outlined, he is still very much open to the idea that anything can change anytime. His desire to open a more comfortable neo-bistro style restaurant comes from his past work experience at one in Australia. He originally wanted his restaurant l’enfance to be one, but changed the plan after he picked Seongsu-dong, the area where the concept he imagined for a long time isn’t so prevalent and popular.

“Who knows, I might be running a fine dining style restaurant when I’m older,” said Kim. “Don’t you think that the restaurant looks more charming when a grandpa chef is in the kitchen directing other staff and making food?”

That imaginary place is going to be the incubating kitchen for young chefs, he plans. He wants to have a place where he doesn’t have to make profit so that many young chefs can get together with him to create something new, something that takes time, energy and money and something not everyone can do.

“One thing I would do is to have lots and lots of half-size wines and many wine pairing programs for one so that even when you come to my restaurant with a friend who doesn’t drink, you can enjoy a sip of good wine,” he said.”

“You do soju with grilled pork belly automatically and fried chicken is always with beer to even coin a word chimaek. Then why don’t we make a new combo and do more wine to western-style food?”

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]