Chef Woongchul Park graduated from Le Cordon Bleu London in 2010. Originally from South Korea, Woongchul gained his Culinary Arts Major at college before travelling to the Boston USA for work. After discovering a love for traditional French cuisine, Woongchul decided to move to the UK, attending Le Cordon Bleu to study the Diplôme de Cuisine.
It was while studying at Le Cordon Bleu that Woongchul would meet his future wife and business partner, Bomee Ki, who studied the Diplôme de Pâtisserie. After graduating, he went on to work at The Ledbury and Koffmann's, before returning to work in South Korea.
Woongchul and Bomee returned to London in early 2020 to open their restaurant, Sollip, near London Bridge. Unfortunately, lockdown hit in March meaning for several months they adjusted to operate as a Korean grocery from the restaurant before opening to guests in August. Now they serve a menu marrying European and Korean cuisine, combining their cultural heritage with their culinary training. Here, Woongchul discusses his unusual culinary journey from bread lover to restaurant owner.
When did you realise you wanted to become a chef?
"When I was 12 or 13 years old. I started to like eating bread every day and that made me interested in making breads and pastries. A year or 2 later, I had a chance to try to make them myself one day and immediately realised it wouldn’t be for me as I was a quite inattentive and didn’t like to measure and wait for ripening which is essential for both bread and pastry. So, my concern moved naturally to cuisine afterwards."
Why did you choose to come to Le Cordon Bleu London?
"After graduating with a Culinary Arts Major in S. Korea, I went to a Hyatt hotel in Boston, USA to work for a year. At that time, I realised that I wanted to learn more about classic French cuisine from the very beginning, at a real school of French cuisine. At the same time, I didn’t want to learn a new language as I wanted to have different experiences. That’s why Le Cordon Bleu London was the best option for me as it’s in England which is just next to France and I knew that there are so many great chefs, including French chefs, in London. Of course, London is one of the most global cities in the world and which means there are many top restaurants that I could experience."
How did the knowledge gained from the Diplôme de Cuisine programme help your career?
"I could look back on what I learned before at college more meticulously and I learned the classic French cuisine which became the basis of my cooking style."
Was it always your goal to open your own restaurant?
"Actually, I had never wanted to open my own restaurant before I met Bomee, my wife. I just wanted to become a head chef somewhere that I could cook what I wanted. I wanted to be a great chef, not the owner of a restaurant."
What inspired the concept behind Sollip?
"Naturally, both of us have trained in French cuisine for most of our experiences and I liked it. But the fact is, we are not French or even Western. Even though we like the cuisine, no matter how hard we trained or tried, I thought other chefs would be better than us because they have grown up with it - it’s their soul food, their mom’s food. Plus there are so many great chefs cooking French or European in London as we all know!
So, we wanted to show off something only we could do in London. And in our view, there were not any really sincere Korean or Korean inspired restaurant in London. As we are Korean, we have of course been growing with Korean foods from Korean moms even though we both like French cuisine a lot. That’s the biggest reason we decided our concept and secondly, there are so many nice and attractive ingredients in Korea but the people here and in the world don’t really know about it. We wanted to bring our good ingredients, crockeries etc. to show the people here and I believed that could be our own strong point as well."
Has opening your own business been everything you expected?
"Of course not. Funds, Interiors, Building works and the Pandemic. We were supposed to be opened in March but, due to the pandemic, we had to open the end of August 2020."
What would you say the best thing is about being a chef?
"Getting to know the happiness of eating and drinking well. You learn how joyful it is to eat delicious food and nice bottles of wines with your loved ones. Those things can’t be bought with money but come with learning from experience."
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
"Get to know what you would like to learn and what you would like to do in the future. And make yourself a goal, not far in the future but, a little by little in the near future. Believe in yourself as you know yourself better than anyone else."
What does Le Cordon Bleu represent for you in one word/sentence?
"Mother School of Classic French cuisine."
What does your average day look like?
"When I work, I get up about 6:40 am and make a simple breakfast for my family. We send our kids to school about 9 - 10 am and go to work. We start by doing some paper work and checking all the deliveries from our suppliers for about 2 hr. Then we start working in the kitchen and service starts at 5 pm. We finish work at around 12 - 1 am and come home."
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
"Solving any general problems with any suppliers including electricity or something other than cooking."
What part of your job are you most passionate about?
"Service time and tasting others’ delicious foods."
Finally, what are your plans for the future or any final words?
"In terms of my plan or essential goal is happiness. Happiness all the time, every single moment doing what I like with my family, friends and who I love."