Pain de Papa's second act

By Korea Herald

Famed baker Lee Ho-young launches new bakery-cafe in Coex

  • Published : Feb 28, 2014 - 19:36
  • Updated : Mar 4, 2014 - 10:30
Pain de Papa’s “nurungi” campagne (bottom), “natoda” bread (left) — which is crafted from a tomato-based natural starter —and “no words needed” bread (top) — which is made with a raisin-based natural starter. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

Pain de Papa owner-baker Lee Ho-young is something of a celebrity amongst local bread folk. Well, actually, he is a star.

Ever since his small, butter yellow shop was featured in a food show that scouts out wholesome and earnest eateries, Lee has seen a boom in business.

Now hoards of health-conscious patrons come to snatch up his delicious, crusty loaves of naturally-leavened sourdough and tangy rye bread, a potential thorn in the sides of loyal customers who have been frequenting his store from the get-go and now find themselves rushed to grab their favorite bread before it sells out.

In fact, even before the TV show, bread lovers already knew about Pain de Papa and its natural starters, which Lee uses to craft his baguettes, pain de campagne, pain au levain, “nurungi” campagne and tomato, cranberry and raisin-filled bread.

It comes as no surprise then, judging from Lee’s expertise in naturally-fermented French bread, that Poilane -- that famed Parisian bakery -- was the place that opened his eyes to the world of bread.

Over a decade ago, Lee was taking a quick trip through France as part of a break from studying pastries and desserts in Japan. Then he entered Poilane, had a nibble or two and was transformed.

“I felt I needed to make bread like that,” the 47-year old veteran baker said, talking about how he was immediately drawn to Poilane’s trademark pain au levain, a sourdough bread crafted from a natural starter. 

Pain de Papa owner-baker Lee Ho-young specializes in artisanal loaves like the whole wheat-infused “nurungi” campagne pictured above. 
(Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

Lee was attracted to the idea of a natural starter, which would enable one to get one’s bread to rise without the aid of commercial yeast. It was this moment, the moment when he encountered an age-old bread-making tradition that he realized a newfound passion.

After his transcendental experience, he switched his field of expertise from dessert to bread and opened Pain de Papa on Seoul’s Garosugil more than six years ago, where he crafted traditional French bread like pain de campagne, baguettes and pain au levain from natural starters and organic flour.

Lee’s baby pain au levain really seem to reflect that initial “aha” moment he had when he first bit into that naturally-fermented loaf of Pain Poilane.

That short flute, not quite baguette, not quite campagne, with its hard, crisp crust and chewy, resilient yet fluffy innards, seems to pay tribute to the classic French bread aesthetic, the palate-pleasing beauty that can be achieved with flour, water and salt.

Lee also put out wholesome whole wheat loaves and his own spin-off of traditional sourdough with nutty “nurungi” campagne, a crackly, whole wheat-infused marvel that goes great with butter and preserves.

Lee then opened a second shop in Seoul’s Mokdong area before deciding to shutter it and focus on his flagship store.

While he received steady press for his artisanal loaves, it was after his little bakery, which he christened Pain de Papa to signify his desire to create healthy bread for his daughter, was featured on television that he saw a notable jump in customers.

Then, in 2012, Pain de Papa slowly started its move to a new outpost, a stone’s throw away from its original location near Garosugil.

Now, that the shop has settled into its bigger location in Sinsa-dong, Lee is ready to spring his second major act, a bakery-cafe in Samseong-dong’s Coex.

“We will open on March 1,” Lee said, while keeping on eye on people flitting in and out of the kitchen and putting the finishing touches on the soon-to-open eatery.

The new shop, which Lee is opening with a partner, was four months in the making, two months of which Lee spent learning basic French cuisine so he could realize his dream of using his bread to create food.

At the Coex boutique, Lee plans to showcase up to seven different kinds of sandwiches, two to three cakes and eventually soups and salads.

“People can have breakfast here or take it to-go,” Lee explained how he was targeting office workers looking for a place to grab breakfast, brunch or lunch.

Sandwiches, which will range from a ham-and-cheese filled panini, croissants and shrimp and chicken variations, should be ready when the store opens this Saturday.

Since strawberries are in season, Lee plans to showcase a berry-and- fresh cream cake along with tarts as well.

As befits a cafe, Dutch and espresso-based coffee brewed from Coffee Libre beans will also be sold at the new shop.

While his flagship store focuses on naturally-leavened, wholesome breads, the second outlet, Lee says, will sell a more diverse array of bread and pastries.

That does not mean Lee will deviate from his mainstay, bread crafted from natural starters, organic Canadian flour and domestic whole wheat flour.

According to Lee, about a third of their bread will be the same as that sold at their flagship store, while the remaining two-thirds will reflect the personality of the Coex shop.

“I can do different things here,” Lee said. “I will go for a different feeling here.”

Pain de Papa

C103, Coex, 159 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

(02) 551-5232

Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Sandwiches cost 5,000 won to 8,000 won, bread 1,700 won to 8,000 won, coffee 3,900 won to 4,900 won

By Jean Oh (