A well-known culinary personality with an illustrious career, Hong Shin-ae is a refreshing and warm presence in the celebrity food community whose opinion and food knowledge has made her stand out amongst her peers.
Seoul-born Hong first came to recognition as a blogger, food stylist, restauranteur and food researcher which led to many cookbooks and TV shows. Educated at the New School in New York City and Yonsei University where she earned a graduate degree in business administration, Hong shares a bit of her extraordinary life with The Palate.
Celebrity chef Hong Shin-ae (Salt Restaurant)
The Korea Herald: You have a very charming restaurant in Gangnam called Salt. How did you acquire the restaurant, and is it true that you use all mainly domestic Korean ingredients to make your Italian dishes, like homemade bottarga? Cured fish roe is an ingredient beloved by Koreans and Italians and it is a great example of the connection you make with food. Can you share some of your philosophy -- where you get your ingredients and how you execute some of your dishes?
Hong Shin-ae: Thank you for describing my restaurant as “charming.” I try to fill the space with many personal items that I already have in my home so people feel comfortable and relaxed. It is as if you are visiting my own private kitchen and dining room.
I cannot tell you that all the ingredients are 100 percent domestic Korean but I try very hard for it to be. As a Korean food researcher I am specific about the differences and promote the good things about local ingredients so using domestic ingredients is not only a good choice but also the best way to express proper taste.
I believe that using seasonal local ingredients are always the best but sometimes it is really hard to find the right thing at the right time. My solution is to meet many good importers that can provide a variety of items year round. For instance salmon, Korean local salmon is only available one month during the fall season, but large and high quality Alaskan or Norwegian salmon is offered steadily. I use Korean salmon for a certain period of time and also a large Norwegian variety during the off-season.
Flaming pork roast (Salt Restaurant)
: Where do you find your inspiration in food? Are there certain ingredients or cuisines that push your creativity? Hong
: Most of the inspiration comes from “tasting new food.” Visiting many local restaurants or street markets are a very big help. Also one of my TV programs called “Wednesday Gourmet Club” can be greatly influential. The assignment is to visit an unknown restaurant and it is always a big challenge for me. KH
: What are your favorite Korean dishes to eat or foods that you are most nostalgic for? Can you name any favorite restaurants or places to visit in Korea or abroad? Hong
: I still think that my mother is the best cook. Especially her dumplings, which are like nothing else in the world. She uses Korean green squash and a bit of pork, and soft tofu for the stuffing. This is a North Korean-style dumpling called hobak mandu. I grew up with this type of food and used to be a good helper in her kitchen. For this reason dumplings have become one of my beloved foods. There is a North Korean restaurant named Banryongsan in Gangnam that I strongly recommend. I am a huge fan of their dumplings and noodles and am a regular customer.KH
: You have had quite a colorful career in food, and life in general has been very good to you. How do you manage it all ... family, restaurants, media demands, etc. How do you stay balanced with such a busy work schedule? Hong
: It is really hard to stay balanced as a mom and a career woman. For a few years I never stopped working but it was not healthy for my family and business. I could not take good care of both at the same time, so I decided to take a break every Sunday starting a few years ago, just like any ordinary person would do.
Every Sunday, I try very hard to stay away from my cell phone and hit the road with my children and do something adventurous. We usually visit a newly opened restaurant or the local market to see and taste the seasonal ingredients and foods. This short trip can have a very good educational impact on the children, as well as myself.
By Christine Cho (email@example.com
Interior of Salt Restaurant (Salt Restaurant)
9, Sinsa-dong, Seoul, Seoul, South Korea
Monday–Saturday: 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Christine Cho, a Korean-American expat in Seoul, has been eating and cooking her way around the world for 16 years as a private chef. -- Ed.