Mr. Bong Cheon Lee
Owner Chef of Korean Dining Bongsikdang
& French Pastry Shop Brillant
Diplôme de Cuisine 2015
What made you study French Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu Sookmyung?
After majoring in restaurant management at university, I started my first career in the restaurant industry by running a Korean restaurant in my hometown of Haeundae, Busan. At that time, various media outlets introduced the 160-seat restaurant, and it was quite successful for five years. However, unfortunately, it had to be closed due to a lease issue. In this situation, I pondered the future direction and finally decided to improve my cooking skills, as I felt that my cooking technique was relatively not as good as my management of the business and service operations. I chose Le Cordon Bleu-Sookmyung because I could learn authentic French cuisine without going abroad.
What do you do right now?
After graduation, I went to France, graduated from pastry and culinary arts school, and gained experience at a Michelin three-star restaurant. I also worked at Michelin three-star restaurants in Spain, the U.S., and Japan. Currently, I run a restaurant called Bong Sikdang and a French pastry shop named Brillant in Busan.
What was the biggest challenge in running a family business in the food and beverage industry, and how did you overcome it?
Running a business with my family was a unique experience of challenge and opportunity. I believe our business was able to develop more successfully because all family members work with a strong sense of responsibility and affection. Of course, sometimes if there is disagreement, we need to try to understand each other and coordinate. But these experiences seem to have strengthened the bond between family members in the end.
How have the French culinary skills you learned while working in the field helped you run your store in Korea?
We are running the restaurant by adding the French cooking techniques I learned to the original menu of my mother's Korean restaurant. For example, we use Korean ingredients like jujube, cooking them thoroughly for 3 hours and straining them through a fine sieve and pitting the seeds to make jujube soup using Bechamel sauce, 9-hour chicken broth, and various stir-fried vegetables. Bong Sikdang has been a restaurant loved by local seniors for 20 years. Since we usually host family gatherings and important family meetings with in-laws, we set the menu according to the preferences of our guests. Most of our guests come with their parents, as they can enjoy both Western and Korean food in our restaurant.
How are you using the culinary knowledge and skills gained from Le Cordon Bleu-Sookmyung Academy?
Through various working experiences at restaurants of different cultures and with chefs from all over the world after graduation, I realized that a chef's strong fundamental cooking skills are essential for making good food. As I learned the basics of French cuisine from talented chefs at Le Cordon Bleu-Sookmyung Academy, I was able to grasp opportunities to gain experience with excellent chefs in restaurants around the world. Those experiences have shaped who I am today. The legacy from Le Cordon Bleu has helped me to serve food with the best teamwork, especially by teaching the basics of cooking to my employees and delivering accurate skills to kitchen staff who are not professionally trained in cooking.
If you are interested in a cuisine genre other than French cuisine, what is it?
While studying at Le Cordon Bleu Sookmyung Academy, I learned Japanese and Italian cuisine, confectionery, and chocolate to understand various food cultures simultaneously. Personally, I like the dessert field the most, so after graduation, I went to Paris, France, to learn various skills at a pastry school. Most restaurants use bread from other bakeries, but I grow my own natural sourdough ‘levain’ and use it to make a variety of grain bread. Among the many dishes at Bong Sikdang, grain bread is one of the most beloved items by customers.
What was your most memorable moment during your school days?
I remember the school days when I worked really hard, going to school earlier than others to secure a front seat for the class, studying hard, and practicing a lot to get a good practical score. It was a wonderful experience to have a fierce but pleasant competition in good faith. The memories of those times are a great asset to me. What I value most now while cooking is the passion, delicate care, and endless practice that I learned at that time. The hard work of that time gave me the confidence and skills to face any challenges today and an attitude to always learn new things.
Do you have your own way or philosophy to overcome challenges in running a food and beverage business?
Bong Sikdang is a restaurant mainly for large gatherings and was full almost every day. However, it was one of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. As large gatherings were prohibited, our restaurant faced risk. One day, my wife suggested opening a dessert shop focusing on takeouts. My wife, who learned pastry at the Paris campus of Le Cordon Bleu, opened the pastry shop 'Brillant'. Some customers even say that the products of Brillant are tastier than the French ones, and it was a huge success during the COVID-19 crisis. After enduring the crisis and as COVID-19 started to subside, people began to come to Bong Sikdang again. Unexpected difficulties are bound to arise in business. I believe that my attitude of trying to look at situations from new and different perspectives has helped me overcome difficulties when I first experienced the failure of my first business after college and operational challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any advice for those planning to start a business?
The most important thing in starting a restaurant business is employee management. The first step is to find reliable and competent employees. As a business owner, you need to know every detail and be prepared to lead your staff. You can lead the business in the right direction without being swayed by difficult situations only when you have a deep understanding and the ability to do so. After all, strong leadership and passion are key to a successful entrepreneurship.
What are your goals and future plans?
I would like to do my best to maintain the current state as long as possible. Bong Sikdang is a restaurant greatly loved by local people, with a menu set according to the atmosphere of the customers and neighborhood. However, Brillant, a French pastry shop run by my wife, is quite different. I believe it is a place that offers luxurious interior design and high-end pastries that provide the best taste in the world. We are also trying to create interesting collaborations between Korea and overseas. We aim to be a place that can impress our customers, always doing our best and continuing to take on new challenges.
What is Le Cordon Bleu to you?
I've learned from numerous culinary and pastry institutions, but the best choice was Le Cordon Bleu. If I had to choose just one place, I would definitely recommend Le Cordon Bleu with confidence. I was able to build strong fundamentals and learn the core of cooking. Le Cordon Bleu was the best choice without any regrets.