Ah, “fusion”—one of the most overworked words in the culinary world these days. Lately, it’s being used to describe everything from a plate of shrimp and grits that with a simple drizzle of white truffle oil can fetch $15—Nouveau Southern!—to really small portions of just about every cuisine under the sun—Mexican tapas! Vietnamese tapas! Ethiopian…O.K., we’ll stop here before we crack a politically insensitive joke that gets us fired under public pressure à la Grant Woolard. The point is, “fusion” may be a losing a bit of its credibility. Thanks to Korean-born, French-trained Chul Kee Ko, the new executive chef at Ten, however, some authenticity might be coming back to the vocab, at least in our locale. Ko, who came to us straight from French-fusion Mecca Jean-Georges in New York City, started about a month ago as a successor to Executive Chef Bryan Emperor. Ten’s menu of modern Japanese warm dishes and sushi and extensive selection of sake hasn’t changed much under Ko’s direction just yet—initially, he’s made a few changes, such as reworking the Chilean sea bass and lamb chop recipes with slower cooking techniques and French sauces—but we suspect you’ll see evidence of even more French flare and technique fused with the Japanese ingredients in the coming months.
Myth buster: Chul Kee Ko, Ten’s new executive chef, proved to his European chef superiors that a Korean could master the art of French cooking.
Ko got his culinary start in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he’d arrived as a non-English-speaking 20-year-old in the 1990s to pursue college. A few ESL classes later, Ko says he realized that cooking was his true calling. After a stint at culinary school to learn some chops, Ko worked his way up in several traditional French-style restaurants in Vancouver, often to the amazement of his European chef superiors who were skeptical of a Korean’s ability to—in the parlance of Julia Child—master the art of French cooking. And though master he did, Ko says he soon realized that by nature and nurture—Ko grew up around his parents’ Japanese restaurant in Seoul—Asian cooking was where he really could excel. He spent the next several years bouncing back and forth between traditional French and Asian kitchens, first in Vancouver and then in New York City, where he’d followed his new spouse, until Ko says he finally kind of admitted defeat to ethnic cooking biases and said to himself, “I’ll never be a French chef in New York.” Newly enlightened after 17 years in the biz, Ko began looking for a new Asian restaurant gig as well as a new, more friendly town in which to raise his two young boys, when Michael Keaveny, Red Light Management’s director of restaurant operations, came up with the Ten offer.
But while you may be able to take the chef out of the French kitchen, you can’t take the French kitchen out of the chef, so look for upcoming new menu items, such as braised short ribs with Japanese mushrooms and other Franco-Nihongo fare, to make their Ten debuts soon. Ko says he also hopes to add a lineup of desserts as well as a few lighter, healthier options (think brown rice) to Ten’s menu in the future.
Speaking of Koreans, the Korean restaurant we’ve been telling you would take over the old Ludwig’s Schnitzelhouse space on Fontaine Avenue is finally coming to fruition. It’s called Arirang Restaurant, and general manager Ho Lee told us as of press time that the place was scheduled to open, provided final health inspectors were satisfied, this past Saturday.
And finally, a shout-out to Beer Run on Carlton Road for being named one of the “100 Best Places to Drink Beer in America” by Portland, Oregon-based Imbibe magazine. Beer Run got props for its “knowledgeable and friendly” staff and “regular tastings [that] inspire experimentation and learning.” That’s right—at Beer Run it’s not just happy hour, people, it’s serious study!