Onetime Maison de La Categorie executive chef Lee Hyung-jun has momentarily stepped away from his French fine dining roots to open Epicerie Collage, a deli-style eatery in Seoul’s Hannam-dong.
A departure from the more upscale French-style eats he showcased at Bon et Beau and La Categorie, the new cafe-meets-grocery store, which opened on June 27, features healthy salads and jazzed-up Greek yogurt.
“It was what I wanted to do,” said Epicerie Collage chef and co-owner Lee, 32, explaining why he has not only moved away from the food he presented at Bon et Beau and La Categorie, but has also deviated somewhat from the brasserie-style eats he most recently showcased at Maison de La Categorie.
“I think it was just a natural progression for me as I grew older,” Lee said of zooming in on hip health foods like quinoa, kale (which he also worked with at Maison de La Categorie) and Greek yogurt.
|Epicerie Collage’s hummus-topped Greek yogurt (clockwise, from top left), carrot, quinoa and kale, and beet with|
Gorgonzola and walnut salads, red pepper compote and feta-topped Greek yogurt (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Lee explained that over the years he started to develop a penchant for fresh vegetables.
“I like the vegetables au naturel, with that bite, that crunch.”
To that end, Lee has fashioned a repertoire of appetizing salads that can be ordered as a combo of three for a respectable 12,000 won.
Quinoa ― gluten-free, grain-like seeds adored by fans for its fiber, protein and iron content ― is served as a salad with a chiffonade of kale and dressed with lemon juice, zest and olive oil.
Roasted beets are adorned with chunks of pungent Gorgonzola cheese and crunchy, crisp caramelized walnuts, while grated carrot is simply dressed with orange, grapefruit and lemon juice.
Lee also serves a couscous-based tabbouleh, seasoning his couscous with cumin when cooking it before finishing it off with lemon juice, parsley and tomatoes.
Pulses also make an appearance in the form of chickpeas in the housemade hummus at Epicerie Collage.
The hummus ― which is made from scratch with tahini and garlic ― can be ordered by itself or over a bed of the thick, slightly tart Greek yogurt that Lee sources for Epicerie Collage.
Topped with Kalamata olives and lemon zest, the hummus goes great with the yogurt, where each cool spoonful, punctuated by the salty olives and citrusy bite of the zest, is amped up by the creamy tang of the yogurt.
Then there is the red pepper compote and feta, one of the many topping options, like the hummus, that one can order with one’s Greek yogurt.
Lee divulged how he tried to make his red pepper compote like a chutney, first charring the paprika, peeling off the skins, bathing them in red wine vinegar, garlic and olive oil before slowly reducing it all with some chopped onions and brown sugar into a sweet, savory jam that goes perfectly with tangy yogurt and crumbly feta cheese.
In addition to all these salads and yogurts, one will find a mishmash of eats, including but not restricted to risotto, one-pot meals and crepes.
“We don’t stick to one country’s cuisine,” Lee said, citing inspiration from staff meals enjoyed while working in Australia and England along with time spent in France digging into countless cups of yogurt topped with caster sugar.
The overarching concept of the space seems to stem from Lee’s culinary beginnings at the prominent culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris.
“I couldn’t start my day without an espresso,” Lee recollected his mornings in Paris, before he headed off to class. “I couldn’t function until then.”
Wanting to recreate that morning experience, Lee envisioned Epicerie Collage as a place where people could wander in, check out salads and other goods before taking a seat to sip some coffee, dip into some yogurt and chew on some bread.
Lee has not abandoned his roots, however, and serves French cuisine at sister restaurant Sous Marin, located below Epicerie Collage.
|Epicerie Collage opened on June 27 in Seoul’s Hannam-dong.|
1F, 31-3 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Prepared salads cost 3,000 won to 8,000 won, an assorted salad of three costs 12,000 won, Greek yogurt with or without toppings costs 3,500 won to 11,000 won
By Jean Oh (firstname.lastname@example.org)