After 18 months of pop-ups, delivery dinners, and a brief interlude to compete on Top Chef, chef Jae Jung is opening a permanent spot for her popular Korean and Cajun pandemic pop-up Kjun on September 19 at 154 E. 39th Street, near Third Avenue, on the edge of Murray Hill and Midtown East .
The veteran chef — who formerly worked for acclaimed New Orleans culinary legend Leah Chase, and several fine dining heavyweights in New York, such as Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin and Daniel Boulud at Cafe Boulud — most recently spent a year and a half hurtling around Manhattan, churning out fried chicken, tomato kimchi, and jambalaya from whatever health department-approved space she could find. Jung sees the permanent spot as a place to dig into her headlining pop-up dishes — the shrimp and grits cradled in a shrimp dashi; the cast-iron jalapeno honey cornbread — and keep up a whirlwind of new ideas on the menu that were impossible to execute without a permanent spot. “Literally, I just want to continue to cook,” Jung says. “I did six different locations for the pop-up. Oh my god, it was so painful.”
Aside from Kjun’s crowd-favorite hits, Jung is making room for new items on the menu like a sweet tea-brined pork chop katsu with rice and red beans and ramen with collard greens for colder months. There will be a couple of lunch specials available, including a fried chicken set with kimchi slaw and a gochujang hot honey sauce. Jung is also putting together a grab-and-go area stocked with a variety of Korean banchan and other side dishes.
From the get-go, Kjun was buoyed by a strong fan base for Jung’s inventive menu that mixed Korean and Cajun ingredients and techniques. Jung says a customer found her the location, a cheery little 15-seat, counter-service restaurant. “They were like, ‘You need to start cooking; I need to eat your food,’” Jung says. “They were very passionate about finding this location.”
Jung is also rolling out special weekend events starting with a Korean night market with mung bean hush puppies and rice cake chopped cheese on Sunday, October 22, in collaboration with chef Jae Lee of Korean American restaurant Nowon in the East Village.
Kjun joins a spate of new restaurant openings across the country that are embracing chaos cooking with wild, rollicking menus that are a far cry from the much-criticized fusion food of past decades. To Jung, the restaurant is an expression of her background and training that can’t be replicated elsewhere. “A lot of chefs are against fusion food but I am not against it,” Jung says. “It’s two cuisines coming together and I think it is really beautiful — but you have to understand these flavors and culture backgrounds thoroughly.”
Kjun is open from Monday to Thursday, 12 to 8 p.m., and Friday to Saturday, 12 to 9 p.m.
Kjun’s lunch and dinner menu: