The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Chef goes on shining without star

Chef Ryu Tae-hwan pays homage to hometown Busan with ocean-themed menu for summer

By Im Eun-byel

Published : July 11, 2019 - 16:40

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For foodies familiar with Seoul’s fine dining scene, it has long been a mystery that Ryunique does not yet have a Michelin star.

It seems like the contemporary fine dining restaurant has every quality it needs to be awarded the much-coveted star. But its name has not made the list for the past three years.

Led by chef Ryu Tae-hwan, the fine dining restaurant in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, studies the arts of French and Japanese cuisine while incorporating a Korean flavor and using local produce. 

Chef Ryu Tae-hwan (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald) Chef Ryu Tae-hwan (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

Like other high-end restaurants, Ryunique serves up delicate, sophisticated works of art that satisfy the palate while pleasing the eye as well.

In the kitchen, chef Ryu exudes masculine charisma, with a strong Busan accent and a muscular physique. It is hard to believe he is the man who creates these exquisite dishes.

“The restaurant’s name means unique dishes made by Ryu. It was my mother who named the restaurant. I am bound to the name,” the chef said during an interview with The Korea Herald at his restaurant.

“I have taken out a patent for my style of cooking, calling it ‘Hybrid Cuisine,’” he said, referring to the way he creates a contemporary dining experience with local produce.

Ryu often travels the country to find the right produce. The trips are important for the chef, as it is a chance to meet with producers, learn their thoughts about the produce and also understand the terroir.

This summer, the Busan-born chef pays homage to his hometown with a selection of dishes inspired by the ocean.

For an amuse-bouche, Ryu reinterpreted dried fish, pairing shreds of dried anchovy, monkfish and other kinds of fish with a light foam of soymilk. 

(Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald) (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

Onion mousse soup brings out the subtle sweetness of fresh onion. Paired with corn ice cream that contains monkfish pate, it offers an interesting clash of tastes in the mouth. 

(Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald) (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)
(Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald) (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

A petite salad with tosazu jelly, containing katsuobushi, piques the appetite.

(Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald) (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

Another dish that shows the chef’s exploration of the ocean is a soup of pink butterfly shells. The broth is enhanced with powdered white beans. The soup can be paired with a sea eel sushi piece, carefully wrapped in thin laver.
(Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald) (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

(Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald) (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

Though those ingredients are not especially sought after in the summer, Ryu thought he would take up the challenge.

“I just thought I would challenge myself. See what I can do with this produce in this weather,” he said.

Ryunique (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald) Ryunique (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)
In addition to Ryunique, Ryu has two more eateries in southern Seoul: Normal by Ryunique and Rooftop by Ryunique, the latter place a bistro at the Galleria Department Store.

“I am often compared to a fashion designer. Designers often have their namesake label, an haute couture line, and also run another label to target the masses,” Ryu said. “Ryunique is often visited by foodies who come from overseas, from Hong Kong to Singapore and Europe.”

What makes the diners from overseas even more special is that Ryunique is not listed in the Michelin Guide. For foreign foodies, Michelin is the foremost guide for a gourmet trip.

Ryu says his restaurant has always been recognized overseas for its experimental touches. He added that he is no longer swayed by the allure of the star.

“I am now over it. For the last three years, I stayed in the kitchen, focusing just on the food,” he said. “Rather than going after (the star), I should just try to be myself and think about how I can make people -- the majority of a minority -- happy.”

By Im Eun-byel (