Foodie spotlight: James Chun
Influence: Left Coast restaurant co-owner
Featured in Groove Korea: May 2014
James Chun and Angela Shin fell in love with food made with love. The affair started with the “culinary mom-and-pop joints” and gorgeous produce in their native San Francisco, and crossed the Pacific with them in 2013 with the opening of Left Coast Artisan Burgers in Itaewon last October.
Why Seoul? Chun and Shin swapped cities in order to reconnect with their Korean heritage, but the move wasn’t without its difficulties. “Once we stopped making comparisons to the States and learned our way around,” says Chun, “it got a lot easier.” With no formal restaurant experience, the duo added another member to their craft burger dream team: French Culinary Institute graduate Norah Chun, a veteran of the Ritz-Carlton and other fine dining establishments in the Bay Area.
Confidence in Left Coast’s chef and menu leaves Chun unfazed by the heavy competition in Seoul’s restaurant scene. “I just try to focus and have passion behind my work and don’t worry too much about competing with other restaurants.”
He sees the proliferation of Korean burger joints as a good thing, drawing parallels with the evolution of the American hamburger. “Burgers used to be just considered as diner or fast food, but now you can have chef-inspired burgers with fresh, high-quality ingredients anywhere in America. That is the difference we wanted to bring to Korea.”
This authentic attention to detail in creations like the cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucy keeps Left Coast packed, but there’s something less obvious at work in the shop’s success — and it’s, like, totally about a left coast state of mind. According to Chun, a laid-back Californian approach challenges the “overly structured, un-genuine or straight unfriendly” dining experiences that one often encounters in the capital. “We love Korea and living in Seoul, but while you’re in Left Coast Burgers we want it to feel like you’re dining at a local spot in California.”
So what does James miss most about life in the States? No surprises here: It’s still all about food. “I miss local delis — Ted’s Market for the pastrami on Dutch crunch — and taquerias, like El Farolito for the carne asada burrito and super suiza. When visiting the smaller restaurants in San Francisco, you get great-tasting authentic food and a sense of pride for the community and history from the owners and patrons.”
Gourmands across Seoul are falling in love now, too; and with any luck, the restaurant’s “left coast state of mind” will continue to drive demand for relaxed dining in Korea, one well-made hamburger at a time.
More info www.leftcoastkorea.com