Taste Bud Profile
Ellia Park has such a powerful presence. She is a much-awarded restaurateur at some of the most coveted seats in New York City, but aside from the accolades, her focus is always on hospitality. I have enjoyed Ellia's hospitality in her restaurants (and it is something to be experienced!) but even when we did our interview, she invited me in as though we were sitting in her living room. Her memories of growing up in South Korea were so vividly described, and I really felt transported listening to her speak.
Ellia Park: I grew up in Seoul, and my mother stayed at home. She loved feeding us. She prepared breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks every single day, and I think her happiest moments were when she was feeding us. I could tell how much she enjoyed when I ate well, and when I would tell her how delicious it was. One of my favorite memories is something very simple—it was a Sunday evening, maybe 6pm when the sun was starting to go down, and my mom making grilled fish for us. Someone was playing tennis outside, and we could hear that, and it smelled so good—I feel like I can envision that exact moment, my mom, the sky, the food, because of how it made me feel. It just felt like love. Everyone loves Korean barbeque, but Korean people love fish. A warm bowl of rice and soup with grilled fish was my favorite comfort food. With the two restaurants, my husband and I don’t eat anything at home. But we make that dish here for our restaurant family meal, our family in New York.
JP and I love art in all forms, so here at the restaurant, I really care about all of the details. The menu cards are very important, I think, for the chef. If a painter makes a picture, you can hang it on your wall and look at it anytime. If you are a musician, your music can be listened to again and again. But when a chef makes a dish, it disappears in a moment. So we want to memorialize that moment for our guests, and for ourselves too. That’s why we made these cards with the images on them—yes, it’s partly to explain the dish and to educate the guest a little bit, but it’s also art. So when you see it later, you can remember and relive the moment you had with us and our food. We talk about our memories on the cards too—when I smell fish cooking, I remember how I felt when I was young. I hope that the guest can feel that way too when they smell this in our restaurant, and then through that experience and these cards, maybe have a good memory of us and the food for themselves as well.
Kids love to play. Getting them to do an activity like picking fruit or working in a garden connects kids to food, and it’s how I would like to teach kids to respect the ingredient itself, before it is covered in sauce or transformed into something else. But also, you can have a little fun adventure when eating your food too—banchan is good for this. Banchan is such a fun way for kids (and adults!) to enjoy Korean food. Why does pizza taste good? Because you have a base of sourdough with the tang of tomato, sometimes salty cheese, sometimes fresh basil, it’s all tasty individually and together. With banchan, you have a bowl of rice with cold vegetables, a little meat, warm soup, and so many other little bowls to try—you can enjoy so many different flavors, at different temperatures, different textures, all in harmony with the rice bowl. And they get to create it themselves. Korean food is all about harmony, which is not different from why pizza tastes good! I hope that people will try it and enjoy the harmony of our food too.
When I think about the Taste Bud Pledge, and I see this book here in NYC right now—it just makes me happy. I think it’s such a good way to teach kids about all the cultures of the world. I think about our food, maybe it’s different for some people or new to some people, but they come here to taste it, to try it. And they come back, and they tell other people to try it too. This makes me incredibly happy.
Happiness is the key for everything we do. Whoever comes to our restaurant, we want them to feel like they are coming to our home. We designed it to make it beautiful and comfortable, and the most important thing for us is that you have a cozy, inviting place to enjoy good food, and have a beautiful moment for yourself. This is a happy time you chose to spend with us, and that matters to us.