“Adventure. That’s why.” Chef Gu Jin-kwang says, smirking, in response to my question about why he first moved to London nearly 15 years ago. He’s sitting in front of me wearing a traditional chef’s white double-breasted jacket and black dress pants, and a flash of mischief appears underneath his otherwise reserved demeanor.
I ask how he got started, expecting an inspirational story from his childhood, but he merely shrugs. It was just a part-time job in college and he grew to like it.
Up until a few years ago, Gu worked as a sous chef all across London, gaining experience with French cuisine for more than a decade. The highlight of his time there was when he worked as senior chef de partie at the highly acclaimed Le Gavroche, which is the only restaurant in the UK to receive three Michelin stars.
Working there with chefs Michel and Albert Roux was a main source of inspiration for him, he says. Their work, along with English pub culture and Gu’s own philosophy on French dishes is what he claims made him what he is today.
Since his return to Korea, Gu has been studying local ingredients and traditional cooking techniques to develop his own French-Asian style.
Now, he works at the popular Prost Pub & Grill located behind the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon, part of the same complex as Glam Lounge and Club Mute. It’s a great restaurant for all occasions and the location makes it a prime spot for nightlife. The menu features pasta, burgers, Mexican brunch, eggs benedict, seafood and dessert (Gu is also a talented pastry chef), and a lengthy drink menu.
While Prost is known as a traditional pub, Gu’s expertise is turning it into more of a gastropub, serving high-end food and offering an extensive drink menu. He says that he’s very aware that many people come to Prost specifically for the drinks, so he takes extra care when pairing the dishes with certain beverages.
One of the dishes is a plate of mouth-watering, oven-roasted barbecue pork ribs made with a homemade sweet and sour sauce, and served with fried rice and crispy pork skin. It’s the same dish he made for Sam Kass, the senior policy advisor for nutrition policy and former personal chef of U.S. President Barack Obama, when Kass visited Seoul in July.
To challenge himself, he makes trips to the seaside or mountains every so often to sample the food made by the locals there.
“Instead of trying to follow trends, I travel outside of Seoul and try the ingredients,” he says. “I want to see what’s special about this or that area and what kinds of food they provide. It could be meat, vegetables, seafood or other ingredients and I create a new menu out of it. That’s my challenge.”
He says that since the Prost menu is seasonal, he needs to know what flavors are currently being used around Korea. Based on what he finds, he creates the first version of a dish. Then he brings it to his chefs at Prost and together they decide what works best for the course they will ultimately serve in the restaurant.
His innovations show in his dishes. Head to Prost this summer and you’ll even find Salmon Gravlax, his personal favorite, which is a Nordic dish consisting of raw salmon cured in sugar, salt and dill on a bed of radicchio salad and balsamic dressing.
You’ll also find Singaporean fried noodles with chicken breast, prawns, bean sprouts, bacon and his very own spicy sauce. The portions are not very big, so your best bet would be to split a few dishes with friends to get all the different varieties of flavors and textures available.
Dishes made with this much care don’t come cheap, but you also get what you pay for. The food is of a quality that’s much higher than your average pub. And the menu is always changing, so the ingredients are sure to be fresh.
As for where Prost is headed, Gu says that he sees it becoming the pub to go to in Seoul. With its impressive menu of food and drinks, he’s sure to reach his goal in no time.
Prost Pub & Grill is located out of Itaewon Station, line 6, exit 1.
Find it on Facebook at fb.com/prostpubandgrill.