Vancouver’s Chef Han Is a Master of Korean Soul Food

by Samantha Bacchus McLeod
Chef Han’s menu is as intricate as his career and his personality is as classy-simple as his presentations. Incorporating a mosaic of Japanese, French, and true to his soul Korean food, he creates dishes that are a harmonious blend of profound depths in flavours. Known as a true master of Korean Seoul food is our very own Chef Han of Kosoo Restaurant + Raw Bar.  Building on a foundation of his passion for the cuisine of Korea, Chef Han uses the multifaceted layers of French cooking and the artistry of Japanese presentations. He incorporates British Columbia’s fresh ingredients and the pure goodness of Mediterranean influences to infuse his unique West Coast style Korean comfort food. The PTF team caught up with this busy chef to reflect on his recent travels and what’s next for Kosoo Restaurant. You just returned from a trip to Korea and the Philippines, did you miss Vancouver while you were away travelling for all those months? Well yeah! I mean I was happy to visit my family and travel around, try out new things, you know, get inspired. Back in Korea I just enjoyed the foods my mom cooked for me, as I told you my mom’s food is filled with love, love, love. My mom’s food is really good Korean soul food filled with love, and that is what I put in my dishes. But yes, I missed my friends and family, and the clean air, oh yes, I missed the Vancouver air…when I got back I was like wow! I can breathe now. Has the street food scene changed much since your last visit to Korea? Oh yes, you know the world changes very fast. The world just moves fast, I mean I was almost lost in a subway in my own city, I was like oh, where should I go? The street food, you see street food used to be very limited not too long ago, but now, like wow! The variety is crazy. International foods are everywhere on the streets and in the restaurants too, of course. But what I could see was the core of the street food is still alive, our soul food, our Seoul food is vibrant and alive. Any one street food you couldn’t live without? Tteokbokki, Korean rice cake and so much more. I mean, Korean street food is one of the best and that is why I wanted to bring some ideas back here. So yeah, Tteokbokki is one of the most iconic street food and that is why I brought that idea to Vancouver, just to make Tteokbokki, just to make Korean rice cake. I have 2 dishes, one is the original rice cake, and the other one is much like western friendly rice cake, it is in a rose sauce so it’s like a pasta. This is Vancouver, the West Coast and we love our seafood so I used some prawns and mussels and I am hoping the locals love it. Do you love it? Yeah! (Laughter) Tell us about the Seafood Rosé Rice Cake dish on your new menu. So, we have two different rice cakes in this dish, one is a typical Korean rice cake, and the other one has cheese, and of course we have seafood and now everyone loves rose, in wines, sauces, sake so I thought why not, why not make everything from scratch, on the foundation of my soul food, so we created the rose sauce right here so of course there is some green chili in there too. I made this rose rice cake a week ago and the customers love it. As a chef what inspires your creativity? Everything in life inspires a chef’s creativity, eating out, new ingredients, new friends, new cultures, places we live… …My menu was very West Coast Food fusion focussed but since I got back from Korea, my restaurant went back to my Seoul food, which is the foundation of my restaurant menu, but I can still twist it with other influences. Mostly our new menu is about Seoul, our souls, traditional Korean food. Because when I was in Seoul I was kind of disappointed with one thing, most restaurants think business so their menu items feel like business, you know? There seemed to be effort and love missing in the food. For example, when I would visit a restaurant while I was there, I would order and eat it but there was that basic element missing, Korean soul. And I think I can do it, I can put my love and soul into the dishes so why not do it? So, to live up to my own expectations I came back and talked to my chefs and we all brought our childhood memories and our home cooking and we made about 10 dishes of our homemade Korean foods and that is what we have on the menu now. Our new menu is launched! Does using local products alter the flavours of authentic Korean food? Well in Korea the most important aspect of any dish is fresh ingredients so here in Vancouver we have the best, the freshest ingredients so just like in Korea. When we use fresh ingredients, the result is beautiful and authentic. Is seafood your passion? I love everything including seafood but because I live in Vancouver and I love local ingredients I promote local ingredients, and seafood is a big part of our culture and cuisine then I try to incorporate fresh local seafood and fresh local meat equally into our menu. I mean, mostly Korean food is meat focussed so what I do here is work with both seafood and meat while staying to our true soul food. Are you accepting reservations for Christmas gatherings and events? Reservations are coming in yes, of course we are. We love to welcome everyone. But Christmas day and New Year’s Day, everything is shutdown, except for the West End. So, we are open for Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I am thinking of opening 24 hours. I know it is going to be tough but I am thinking we should.  There are so many people without family in Vancouver, here we make our friends our family, so many students, working adults, I mean Vancouver is multinational, multicultural and there is no ageism here, well, not in the food scene. Bring your family, bring your friends and just celebrate the holidays together… skip the prep, skip the cooking and skip the dishes. For Christmas day and New Year’s Day do not be home alone. We are waiting for you at Kosoo, I promise when you are here you will have no regrets, only great food and memories. Any plans to expand the Kosoo concept? We are thinking of the next step of Kosoo’s Korean cuisine. We have options to open another Kosoo, or even another style of Kosoo. We are thinking downtown, city centre, for offices where we might make lunch boxes. Or maybe just open this one for 24 hours, who knows? Three favourite places to eat in Vancouver?  Of course, I love Provence Marinaside Yaletown, and I like Bao Down Gastown, and Kingyo on Denman. Favourite movie? What is a movie? (laughter) Name a favourite song? Many Korean songs. You are not even going to understand it, but I love the old songs that brings a smile on my face. Shout out? Seoul, do not forget to add the soul and love to your foods! Chef Han is a master at balancing Seoul and Vancouver by bringing the two cities’ authentic culinary characteristics alive on his plates at Kosoo Restaurant + Raw Bar. Check out his restaurant at 832 Cardero St, Vancouver, BC. Try it, it is so worth the visit. See you soon at Kosoo. The PTF team.    

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