One of Momofuku’s top stars and one of the few women to be named an executive chef at the acclaimed restaurant group is leaving. Chef Eunjo Park, widely known for launching the instant hit Kāwi in Hudson Yards, is departing the company four months after taking over the Ssäm Bar reboot at the South Street Seaport. She will be replaced by current Noodle Bar at Columbus Circle chef de cuisine Kris Brumsted, Momofuku has confirmed. Park’s last service at Ssäm Bar is Saturday, September 4.
“We’re sad to confirm that chef Eunjo Park is leaving Momofuku,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Jo has been a force at Momofuku, from her days at Ko to opening Kāwi to taking over Ssäm Bar. She is taking time to care for herself physically and mentally. The well-being of our chefs is most important to us and we support her completely.”
Park is a celebrated chef responsible for spearheading the short-lived yet critically acclaimed modern Korean spot Momofuku Kāwi at Hudson Yards. The restaurant, which opened 10 months before the pandemic hit, was declared “a bright spot in the mall’s otherwise bleak dining landscape” by Eater critic Ryan Sutton, while New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells showered praise on the restaurant in an early two-star review. Previously, Park had spent time cooking in other top fine dining spots including Momofuku Ko and Per Se in New York and Gaon in Seoul, South Korea. Park did not return requests for comment for this story.
In the midst of the pandemic, Kāwi stayed dark for over a year — like many of Hudson Yards’ restaurants — before shuttering for good last March. Momofuku then announced that Park would be moving on to lead the kitchen at Ssäm Bar, one of the restaurant group’s early crown jewels, which was relocating from its original East Village spot to the swanky South Street Seaport development.
The reboot, which opened in April, has not been off to a smooth start. The restaurant — known for its brash and ambitious lineup of small plates and a rollicking bo ssam — was a shell of its former self in its new, mall-esque location, Eater critic Sutton found this summer. Park had opened Ssäm Bar with inventive kimbaps and rice cakes, both of which earned her acclaim at Kāwi, but the dishes either disappeared off the menu or fell flat at the new location. Park had to scrap the kimbaps due to staffing shortages, and replaced them with items that missed the mark, including a “flavorless” beef tartare that was “like eating nothing wrapped in herbs for $29,” Sutton wrote. The rice cakes, originally offered in multiple preparations, were whittled down to one $48 truffled cacio e pepe option likened to “a tasty but middle-of-the-road mac and cheese” while the popcorn shrimp “appear to be cribbed from a local Tao.” (The cacio e pepe rice cakes are now $32, according to the restaurant’s latest menu.)
A Momofuku representative told Eater at the time of the review in July that the restaurant was still evolving, and would add back more dishes after more staffers were hired. They also plan to launch tabletop grilling and put more vegetarian options on the menu.
Ssäm Bar isn’t the only restaurant weathering changes in the Momofuku empire. Veteran Ko chef Sean Alex Gray left the long-running tasting menu restaurant in May after over a decade and was replaced by incoming executive chef Esther Ha, who previously worked as the restaurant for four years. Celebrated Sydney restaurant Momofuku Seiobo, helmed by praised chef Paul Carmichael, closed in June. Many of the company’s fried chicken chain Fuku’s physical locations are not open in NYC — with the exception of a shop in Hudson Yards — and the brand now operates almost exclusively out of delivery-only ghost kitchens. Founder David Chang was embroiled in his own controversy as staffers were calling out toxic workplace behavior in kitchens across the country during the pandemic.
As Park departs, former Noodle Bar chef de cuisine Brumsted has been installed as the next leader of the restaurant. Brumsted is a Momofuku veteran; prior to his stint at the Columbus Circle Noodle Bar, he was the chef de cuisine at Momofuku’s five-year-old D.C. restaurant, the lauded CCDC, which shut down permanently in May 2020.
“We’re excited that chef Kris Brumsted is taking over the kitchen at Ssäm Bar,” the company spokesperson said. “He’s been with us since day one at Momofuku CCDC and moved to New York to run the kitchen at Noodle Bar Uptown. In his new role, he’ll be working closely with former Ssäm Bar executive chef and current Momofuku culinary director Max Ng to shape the future of the menu.”
Update, 4:45 p.m.: Due to an error in information disclosed by Momofuku, an earlier version of this story identified Eunjo Park as the first woman to lead a restaurant with the company. That is incorrect. That designation, according to the company spokesperson, goes to Paula Navarrete, previously the executive chef at Momofuku Kojin and Momofuku Daisho in Toronto. Eater regrets the error.
Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.