Hip Korean food chef Deuki Hong — and 2015 Eater Young Gun — is ready to go out on his own. The Momofuku and Jean-Georges alum recently left his chef role at the New York outpost of popular Korean barbecue chain Kang Ho Dong Baekjong to start a new hospitality group that he envisions as a talent agency for young chefs, regardless of the kind of cuisine they cook. The first project: a casual restaurant focused on fermentation, Korean and otherwise, that will open as early as next year. It won’t be like hit LA fermentation-based restaurant Baroo, whose chef Kwang Uh is a friend of Hong’s, but it will explore fermentation techniques in food, Hong says. "I want to thank Baekjong," Hong says. "But I’m ready to do my own thing."
The biggest part of the endeavor is the hospitality group, which Hong refers to as a sports or talent agency. Chefs from across the country will be a part of the group, sharing resources and finding new platforms to cook. He has no intentions of building it into a stalwart in the same vein as Major Food Group or Union Square Hospitality Group, and he doesn’t want it to be "the Deuki Hong show."
Instead, he sees it as "an incubator for chefs." "Hopefully it’s like an Avengers of the food world," he says. He already has a few people interested in joining, though they’re not ready to announce it yet. Some of the chefs are people he’s met as he traveled the country for his cookbook, Koreatown, and it will ultimately be composed of a small group of people who believe in the vision.
Despite the group’s basis in chef talent, the core tenant of the new group is a rejection of the chef-driven restaurant. The idea is to focus on a unique guest and dining experience, Hong says. "Let’s keep the focus off the celebrity-ness and chef-ness," he says. "It’s great, but at the end of the day, we’re here to serve you guys." He admits that he’s benefitted from the chef-driven mentality, but he wants to move beyond it. "I feel like we just gotta go back to the customers and people we serve," he says.
As for the first restaurant in the group, it will likely be downtown and will definitely have Korean influences. Hong will be visiting Japan and Korean next year to learn more about fermentation techniques, but expect to see fermentation of food that’s more common in Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America as well. Other restaurants from the group won’t necessarily be Asian, Korean, or even full service. "You could do Korean food, you could do Italian food," Hong says. "We want to support chefs who are extremely talented."