Interview: Award-Winning Chef Sun Kim Talks About Korean Cuisine Overseas

Named winner of the 2021 American Express One To Watch Award selected by the organizers of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, Singapore-based Chef Sun Kim of the award-winning restaurant Meta talks about the rise of Korean cuisine and its influence on the culinary world.

Born in Busan, South Korea, chef Sun Kim has taken the Singapore dining scene by storm with his unique culinary style at his award-winning restaurant, Meta.

Opened in 2016, Meta – a shortening of metamorphosis – celebrates authentic Asian flavors and high-end European cooking techniques. Meta was recently the recipient of the 2021 American Express One To Watch Award as part of the online ceremony for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 on March 25th.

Selected by the organizers of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, in collaboration with its regional experts, the American Express One To Watch Award is presented to a restaurant that is outside of the main Asia’s 50 Best list, but is identified as the rising star of the region.

Journey From Korea to Singapore

The progressive menu reflects Kim’s cultural upbringing, travels, and influences.

His interest in cooking began as a teenager while working in his mother’s restaurant in Seoul and, in 2011, he traveled to Australia to enroll at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney.

Feeling a strong affinity with chef Tetsuya Wakuda’s philosophy upon reading one of his books, Kim secured a job at iconic Tetsuya’s in Sydney, where he worked under the tutelage of the culinary legend.

“Korean food is underrated as a global cuisine. People think Korean food is just kimchi and spicy food, but there is a lot of depth and flavor and different textures that need to be unraveled.”

In 2014, he was seconded to Wakuda’s award-winning Waku Ghin in Singapore, eventually calling the city-state his home.

Since Meta’s launch, Kim’s culinary style has evolved and matured, drawing increased inspiration from his Korean heritage, alongside the delicate artistry of Japanese cuisine and his education in Western cooking techniques.

Admired for its technical expertise and creative flair, Meta’s menu distinguishes itself with subtle flavors, elegant presentations, and inspired combinations of seasonal ingredients, as evident in Chef Kim’s Kinmedai dish, featuring foie gras, shimeji mushroom, and black truffle.

Having relocated to an airier location at 1 Keong Saik Road in October 2018, the restaurant features low tables and a cozy four-seat counter, creating an intimate atmosphere.

Jeff Liebsch over at Haps Korea Magazine recently spoke with Chef Kim about and waqs kind enough to share it here with our readers.

Congratulations on your win once again with Meta. What would you say have been the keys to your success so far?

Thank you for the congratulations, I am truly honored to receive this award. I have to thank my strong team for always supporting me and for always staying motivated through the years.

It’s been a hard year for everyone with COVID-19, so how have you dealt with everything that has gone on this year business-wise?

During the lockdown period in Singapore, we started delivering hearty Korean food, and that really got people talking about Meta. It made them want to try our menu when the restaurant was opened for dine-in again.

Has this time inspired you to create any new dishes or come up with any new business ideas?

During lockdown, there was a lot of time to think and plan upcoming menus. We do have a few items that we elevated on our current tasting menu that we did for the delivery menu to remind us about the tough times we got through.

It’s interesting that you have said in a 2019 interview that “you feel more comfortable being overseas than in Korea.” How has that influenced your cooking? Would you say that it’s the lifestyle outside of Korea that has enabled you to become more creative with dishes?

I think learning about the different cultures in the countries/restaurants that I’ve worked in is a key factor to Meta’s succession. It allowed me to learn the different produce that is available in different seasons and use the produce in a way that makes the produce shine.

One argument you sometimes hear in Korea, especially when talking about food, is that Korean food should always be prepared the traditional way no matter where you are. Do you think that Korean food overseas should be localized in order to keep growing in popularity?

I think that there are certain things that do need to remain traditional so people from other cultures can get a taste of Korean food. But there are things that can be tweaked where it comes to traditional food, and that’s where I would like to change people’s opinions.

Image: Finn Partners Box Asia

Would you say that Korean food is underrated as a global cuisine?

Yes, Korean food is underrated as a global cuisine. People think Korean food is just kimchi and spicy food, but there is a lot of depth and flavor and different textures that need to be unraveled.

Are there any plans to introduce any new Korean menu items at Meta that you haven’t served before?

Yes, there will be. I want to pay further homage to my heritage. Being born in Busan, the seafood is outstanding, and I would like the customers to know. I want customers to know the flavors I grew up with like the Jeju Abalone dish on the menu. It’s one of our signatures.

Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us and our readers. One last question — Where does a Michelin star chef go out to eat? How much would you say you eat at home versus going out to eat?

I mainly eat at local hawker centres as there is a wide variety of food you can choose from in Singapore, you can never get bored of it. Hawker culture in Singapore has now become on the list as a Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

This interview was republished with the permission of Haps Korea Magazine.

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