Chefs David Chang and Corey Lee Discuss Their Culinary Passion

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TORONTO — It’s not often that a Michelin-star rated chef interviews another Michelin-star rated chef in front of a live audience, but, for Momofuku’s David Chang, the chance to interview Corey Lee — one of his favourite chefs, and one of the U.S.’s most renowned toques — was too good an opportunity to pass up. Last night, the two culinary greats came together before a live audience of food aficionados, media and culinary students from George Brown College (GBC) as part of the school’s “In Conversation” series.

Lee was in town to promote his first cookbook, featuring recipes from his award-winning San Francisco restaurant Benu, an eatery that’s garnered three Michelin stars. Interestingly, the cookbook is presented in the format of a 33-course tasting menu.

The renowned perfectionist boasts an impressive résumé, having worked with some of the industry’s greats, including Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, who he describes as his first true mentor. “Keller was interested in me beyond the restaurant,” says Lee, who worked with the toque for almost a decade before launching his own restaurant.

Like many chefs, Lee entered the restaurant industry almost by accident. “I thought if you worked hard, you’d get ahead.” He soon realized that time goes by so fast in the kitchen, and it’s an exciting place to work. Still, his parents were never enamored with the idea of their son working in the restaurant industry. “I’ve been working in restaurants 20 years, and my parents never want to come to my restaurants,” he quipped to chuckles from the crowd. In fact, when he told them he was thinking of being a chef, they responded by saying, “Hell no!.”

Nonetheless, after years of helming kitchens, experience has given Lee confidence to take more risks. “It allowed me to focus on creativity,” the Benu chef said, adding that he draws inspiration from his Korean background and more. “What inspires me has changed. Earlier, it was more literal things like ingredients; today I’m inspired by less tangible things — the spirit of an area, architecture.”

While Lee was influenced by French cuisine and admits it still rules many kitchens, because “it’s documented and has a structure,” he says the industry is going through a transitional period. He noted that travel is influencing cooks to fuse various cultures to create their own unique offering. “Chefs all over the world are focused more on locality. The world is smaller, we speak the same language. When we start incorporating tastes from around the world, we start the dialogue,” Lee said.

The interview was one part of Lee’s Canadian experience. Earlier this week, he attended a dinner at the Chef’s House, where GBC culinary students interpreted and prepared a four-course menu in his honour.

 

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Rosanna Caira
Rosanna Caira is the editor and publisher of Kostuch Media’s Foodservice and Hospitality, and Hotelier magazines. In her capacity as editor of Canada’s two leading hospitality publications, Rosanna directs the editorial and graphic content of both publications, and is responsible for the editorial vision of the magazines, its five websites as well as the varied tertiary products including e-newsletters, supplements and special projects. In addition to her editorial duties, Rosanna also serves as publisher of the company, directing the strategic development of the Sales and Marketing, Production and Circulation departments. Rosanna is the face of the magazines, representing the publications at industry functions and speaking engagements. She serves on various committees and Boards, including the Board of Directors of the Canadian Hospitality Foundation. She is a recipient of the Ontario Hostelry’s Gold Award in the media category. In 2006, Rosanna was voted one of the 32 most successful women of Italian heritage in Canada. Rosanna is a graduate of Toronto’s York University, where she obtained a BA degree in English literature.

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