Mr. Byungouk Yoo
Head Chef of Contemporary Korean Dining BOURQUE
Diplôme de Cuisine 2014/French Wine Master Class 2016
Why have you chosen Le Cordon Bleu-Sookmyung Academy to learn French cuisine?
I initially pursued a major in architectural design, influenced by my father who worked in the field of architecture. However, during the 1997 financial crisis, my father's firm faced financial difficulties. In response, my mother, who had previously been a full-time housewife, took the initiative to manage a Paris Baguette store to support our family.
This experience naturally sparked my interest in establishing my own business in the food and beverage industry. As I ventured into various enterprises such as Japanese ramen, Chinese hotpot, and Andong noodle restaurants, one of my acquaintances who was studying at Le Cordon Bleu-Paris recommended the academy to me. Recognizing that I had committed to forging a career in the restaurant business, I ultimately concluded that gaining a solid culinary education would be immensely beneficial.
This realization led me to choose to study cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu-Sookmyung Academy.
What did you do before taking the cuisine course?
Even as I was engaged in work related to architectural design at my father’s firm, I always harbored the desire to make a living by pursuing my true passions. I had several hobbies, and one of them was fashion. I used to work in the men's wear team at the fashion company Handsome, which owns the popular brand Time. Additionally, I ran a Japanese ramen store after work. As a result, I led a busy life akin to those who juggle multiple jobs these days.
What did you do after graduating from the academy?
While maintaining the food and beverage business I had established, I embarked on expanding my ventures into new domains by incorporating the French cuisine skills I acquired at the academy. Subsequently, I initiated the establishment of restaurants, cafés, and sandwich shops. At present, I hold the position of executive chef at a Contemporary Korean dining establishment called Bourque.
What was the most significant change you experienced after completing the program at Le Cordon Bleu?
Firstly, I believe my perspective has significantly broadened. It has already been 9 years since I undertook the cuisine program at Le Cordon Bleu. During the course, I was introduced to and worked with ingredients I had never encountered before. Initially, there were demonstration classes that familiarized us with the ingredients and cooking techniques for the upcoming day. We observed the chefs creating dishes right in front of us, and then proceeded to learn by witnessing the culinary process.
Through this iterative process of becoming acquainted with new ingredients, observing their preparation, sampling them, and subsequently attempting to incorporate them into dishes independently on multiple occasions, I cultivated a culinary approach. When presented with a novel ingredient, I now instinctively engage in mental contemplation and visualization. This practice greatly assists me when confronted with unfamiliar components or when crafting new menu items. This methodology empowers me to approach new ingredients and menu development with confidence and to create my own distinctive culinary techniques.
How does the culinary and wine knowledge you acquired at Le Cordon Bleu benefit your current career as a chef?
As the saying goes, learning never disappoints. When I undertook wine courses and delved seriously into studying wine, there existed a preconception that chefs were exclusively adept at cooking. Consequently, among my peers in the wine program, only a limited number also possessed culinary skills. However, in contemporary times, chefs dedicate substantial effort to cultivate expertise in complementary fields, such as the study of alcoholic beverages that harmonize best with their dishes, achieved through tastings and pairings.
This trend extends beyond chefs; in Korea at large, there has been a significant surge in wine appreciation, particularly when compared to 7-8 years ago, leading to a concurrent expansion in the market. The knowledge and experiences I have accumulated thus far not only enhance my day-to-day pursuits but also deepen my appreciation for both culinary and gastronomic culture.
What challenges did you encounter when merging traditional Korean cuisine with other styles of cooking, and how did you overcome them?
The most formidable aspect revolved around preserving the innate flavors of Korean ingredients to the fullest extent. To elaborate, when crafting a sauce to complement a primary ingredient, I aimed to ensure the sauce remained harmonious without becoming excessively dominant or overwhelming. The sauce I fashioned took inspiration from the foundational Velouté sauce in French cuisine. After subjecting it to filtration through a chinois étamine and fine-tuning the seasoning, I arrived at the desired balance. Similarly, in the realm of desserts, my approach involves utilizing locally available seasonal fruits to fashion compotes, which I then incorporate in diverse manners to enhance the dishes.
When you decide to develop a new dish or change the menu, what is the process you go through, and what factors do you take into consideration?
I change my menu according to the seasons since Korea experiences four distinct seasons. Influenced by my mother, every morning before heading to work, I visit the Garak Market to observe the arrival of ingredients from various regions.
What is your most memorable experience from the academy?
What stands out vividly from my time at the academy is the intense competition to secure a favorable spot in the practice or demonstration room. Each of us had our preferred locations, and I recall being so determined that I would take shorter breaks than my fellow students just to secure the spot I desired. After classes, during my journey back home, I used to review and rehearse the lessons I had learned that day. I firmly believe that the dedication and diligence fostered in this competitive atmosphere have profoundly influenced me and contributed to shaping the person I am today.
What are your preferred wine and food choices as a chef? And what influenced your selection?
As a chef, I have a deep affinity for various meats and red wine. Specifically, I find great pleasure in savoring Jokbal and Bossam, both prepared without overpowering spices. To accompany these delicacies, I hold a particular fondness for Pinot Noir wines hailing from the Bourgogne region. These dishes hold a special place in Korean cuisine, and as my appreciation for wine has grown, so has my enjoyment of pairing them together. When I'm cooking in the comfort of my home, one of my go-to dishes involves sautéing pork and applying a delicate layer of soybean paste. This creation is paired with arugula seasoned with a touch of salt, pepper, and balsamic dressing, creating a symphony of flavors and textures. Regarding wines, I have developed a specific affinity for the Pinot Noir variety crafted in Pommard within the Côte de Beaune region, located south of Bourgogne. Additionally, I hold a similar appreciation for selections from Nuits Saint-Georges, situated in the Côte de Nuits to the north. These wine choices hold a particular allure to me due to their nuanced and distinctive qualities that harmonize impeccably with my culinary preferences.
If you have any creative ideas or experiment with wine and food, could you share?
First, feel the natural taste of the ingredients and try to think of wines that will match, then select a few to try and pair with them. For example, if I have made a mild menu, I try to make a sauce which is not too strong that will go well with the dish, and then taste them with wine. Pairing wine with Korean food is especially difficult.
Do you have any tips for alumni and future alumni who would like to launch their business?
I think the most important thing is to figure out in which direction you would like to build your career. After that, try to gain various experiences in the field or business of your interest and make a final decision later. Think about what you are confident in and what you are good at and make the right choice from there. Especially in these times, I would recommend you think and reflect on these things.
What are your goals and plans?
I am committed to continuing my studies and putting in diligent effort to refine my skills in crafting exquisite Korean dishes. My aspiration is to introduce the distinctive Korean cuisine curated by Byung Ouk Yoo to a wider audience, thereby sharing the essence of this culinary artistry with more individuals.
To me, Le Cordon Bleu is?
To me, Le Cordon Bleu has been the turning point in my life. As someone who entered the food and beverage industry prior to learning how to cook professionally, Le Cordon Bleu is the institution that instilled in me the mindset and attitude required of a chef. It's the place that compelled me to lead a more dedicated life than anyone else. Thank you.