Chef Jae Jung — a fine dining veteran who worked for the late New Orleans chef Leah Chase and most recently as the sous chef at Upper East Side French restaurant Café Boulud — is gearing up to introduce a novel concept to NYC: a Korean-Cajun delivery-and-takeout-only restaurant.
Through Kjun, which is set to debut on most major third-party delivery platforms like Grubhub and Doordash, on April 1, Jung plans to showcase a fusion of Korean and New Orleans cuisine with a focus on Cajun food. This can be seen in dishes like Kjun fried chicken. In it, pieces of chicken are marinated in a mix of buttermilk and gochujang, and then dusted with a homemade Cajun spice mix, before the chicken is deep fried, twice. Jung then finishes off the dish with a drizzle of gochujang and honey.
Then there’s the gumbo, which Jung says is one of her favorite items on the menu. “I tried a lot of gumbo in NYC, and I just didn’t like it,” says Jung. “It just wasn’t the right consistency.” Jung developed her recipe based on observing Chase make it at her legendary New Orleans restaurant Dooky Chase, where she worked as a chef’s assistant for six months in 2010. “I called her my Creole grandmother,” says Jung on working with Chase. Instead of a traditional hot sauce that is served on the side with Creole gumbo, Jung serves her version — which features chicken and andouille sausage or seafood — with a side of okra kimchi.
Chase was instrumental in Jung pursuing her solo project, she says. While at the restaurant, Jung says Chase would frequently talk to her about the similarities between New Orleans and Korean food, including the consumption of rice dishes, and pickled foods, among others. During her time there, Jung recalls how Chase once encouraged her to cook a Korean buffet meal for the diners at the restaurant. “She was the type of person who no matter whom she served she was always the same,” says Jung. “Working with Leah was life changing.”
Jung says her mother was as significant of an influence as Chase. Jung grew up in Seoul, South Korea, where her mom ran a kimchi restaurant. She would often help out in her mother’s kitchen, and it’s what prompted her to pursue a career in restaurants, she says. “I really liked the energy in the kitchen,” says Jung. “Seeing my mom make a connection with the guests, I thought it was so much fun.”
Her mom’s recipe for a three-month fermented kimchi now finds its way into Jung’s jambalaya, where she folds the fermented cabbage into the rice dish. Prior to launching Kjun, Jung says she was experimenting with recipes using her friends as her test subjects. One successful outcome from these experiments was a tomato kimchi that Jung plans to serve with silken tofu. This particular kimchi recipe is based off of the pickled green tomatoes she would make while working at acclaimed New Orleans spot Restaurant August.
Jung left Korea in 2009 to pursue her dream of working in a kitchen and began a program at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. An externship in New Orleans motivated her to move back to the city after graduation. Aside from her time working with Chase, and renowned New Orleans chef Michael Gulotta, while he was still at the helm of August, Jung also cooked at acclaimed French-Southern restaurant Herbsaint.
The idea for Kjun was partly inspired by her time working with Chase, but it was cemented during a series of pop-ups Jung began collaborating on with the pop-up restaurant company Dinner Lab. In cities across the U.S., Jung says she threw pop-ups for the Dinner Lab between 2012 and 2015, serving up Korean-New Orleans fare, and picking up positive feedback along the way.
In 2014, after four and a half years working in New Orleans, Jung says she was ready to move. “I was getting too comfortable,” says Jung. “I needed a new challenge.” So, Jung packed up and moved to New York City, where she gained more experience in fine dining with stints at Le Bernardin, the Nomad Hotel, and most recently at Cafe Boulud, where she was the sous chef until she left in November 2019.
Following an extended visit to her family in South Korea during the early part of the pandemic, Jung returned last fall to begin developing her delivery and takeout concept in earnest. After months of experimentation — including at least “30 different attempts to make really good fried chicken” — Jung is ready to debut her concept in New York. After a preview event at Yondu Culinary Studio in South Street Seaport district on Monday, Jung is gearing up for Kjun’s launch on major third-party delivery companies next month.
For now, the deliveries will be limited to the Upper East Side, where Jung lives and works out of a commercial kitchen in the neighborhood. She says she’s hoping to expand the delivery radius in the near future, and eventually hopes to open a restaurant near Central Park. For now, though, she’s just excited for more people to try her cooking. “I wake up craving my fried chicken,” says Jung. “That’s how I want people to feel about my food.”
Aside from the third-party apps, orders can also be placed by DMing the Kjun Instagram account, and pick-up is available at 345 East 62nd Street, between First Avenue and the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge Upper Roadway.