Blunt Inquiry - Kyumin Hahn

Chef de cuisine at The Merchant Tavern - St. John's NL


What is your idea of a perfect restaurant?
Jeepers.  Something very small, without limits.  Maybe a restaurant that doesn’t totally have a set ethos.  That way we could change and do whatever the heck we wanted.  The base would be simple.  Organically grown vegetables and animals raised by ourselves.  This way we could have a sense of animal husbandry and control of quality.  Lots of natural wine, mostly magnums.
In Newfoundland we can serve wild game, moose, rabbits and partridge.  However we are not allowed to serve any migratory game birds – Canadian geese, snipe, ducks, turr.  I would have that changed immediately.  A perfectly roasted wild duck or snipe is something everyone needs to experience at least once in their life. 

What is your greatest fear at work?
Honestly, I think just any sort of severe injury involving staff.  Cuts/burns.

Which working Chef do you most admire?
Still Michael Stadtlander.  He is the best kind of crazy with the largest heart.  Michael continues to be one of Canada’s strongest leaders when it comes to sustainability and organic agriculture.  I feel most chefs take for granted the groundwork he paved for all of us Canadians.  Foodstock, Chef’s Congress, Singhampton project.  I would say half his charity work and donations are known, the other half he makes anonymously.

What part of work ‘you’ do you most deplore in yourself?
Chilling and Grilling.

What would instantly make you fire someone?
I’ve yet to actually have someone let go, or fired.  But for me it would be any sort of employee abuse, or any direct unhygienic practices..gross.  Someone using the washroom and neglecting to wash their hands.

What was your most extravagant purchase for your restaurant?
We recently purchased a charcuterie curing chamber from Stagionello.  This helps us keep precise measurements on temperature, humidity and P.H. for all our charcuterie and salumi.  Crucial for the beginning fermentation and curing process on all our meat s and even hot dog sausages.

What is your favourite food journey?
Definitely my first trip to San Sebastian.  Mugaritz, Arzak, Asador Etxebbari, all in one week.  You get there and immediately start eating all the most amazing pintxos all day.  Grilled fishes, and also very good beef, drink dry Cidre, gin & tonics and then surf in the hot sun to rebuild your appetite.  Tough life.

What words or phrases do you most overuse at work?
I had to ask the staff for this one, haha.  I know I always say groovy, or not groovy.  I think that’s better than saying something’s shit.  Probably I say that too anyway.

What do you regret most after all your years in the business?
Haha….. Umm, I’m trying to think I’m happy?  I’m going to try and not let this question ruin my being.  Haha.

What do you love most in about this industry?
It’s all about the camaraderie.  Restaurants are sometimes like big sports teams in that sense.  And as much as I love the creativity and general appreciation for good things, imagine not being able to share it with anyone.  I love being able to do so and we have a good time.

What is your current state of mind?
See below.

If you could change anything about the restaurant industry where you are, what would it be?
This is obvious, especially for St. John’s.  We have a lot of amazing ingredients which we are so grateful for.  It’s certainly what put us on the map.  But at the moment our service industry and support from the city is f&^%ing retarted.  We have no program for any sensible type of recycling.  Or composting.  I would say we spend 20% of our energy doing our own recycling and composting, driving it dialing to the dump outside of town or having a local farmer friend come and pick up the compost.  I can tell you not every restaurant is doing this.  For an island that primarily ships all it’s produce in, we are taking valuable renewable resources and turning it into toxic waste at our dumps.  Then people ship in chemically treated fertilizers to revivify the land.  It drives me mental.  Happily, I can say we are leading the fight to have this changed.

What do you consider your most essential ingredient?
Salt….  Is that a lame answer.  Chunky, who is right next to me finishing lunch service says love.  What a guy.

The work/life balance struggle is real.  How good of a juggler are you?  Tips?
Newfoundland has been my blessing.  I really love cooking…. But I love fishing more.  Newfoundland and Labrador have the greatest Atlantic Salmon fly fishing rivers in the world.  Sitting on a river with a bottle of white burgundy chilling next to you will cure anything.  I promise.

What is your most treasured kitchen tool?
Ya, I have this one knife which as a gift from my first chef.  Now it’s two inches shorter and the handle is starting to ware away.  I think it’s a good symbol as to how many onions we cut into squares.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Imagine a total collapse of the Atlantic salmon population.  This would mean no fishing.

When you finally retire, were will you live?
I’ve always known this.  Six months in Canada, catch the fishing season and beginning of hunting season, then to Australia’s south coast.  Surf, hunt, fish and drink natural wine.  Also, my partner Mia is from Australia.  I don’t know if life could be any better.

What is your most marked characteristic?
People say it’s my facial expression.  I can be pretty serious at times.  But at least this saves the sake of pointless conversation.

What is the quality you most like in a chef?
Leadership, efficiency and vision.  There is so much to learn from someone who is open and can lead a team.  Along with a strong vision, those are the kinds of chefs that will continue to propel this industry.

What is your greatest inspiration/motivation?
Friendships.  Life is just so good when you have great friends.  I would do anything for my friends and family.

Superman or Spiderman?
Lee Wulf.  The greatest fly fisherman of all time.

What is the first thing you remember cooking?
I think mustard potatoes.  My Mom is honestly such an insanely amazing cook.  She’s like a Korean encyclopedia.  When I was a kid I had no interests in making kimchi, I had the two best kimchi makers in the world, my Mom and grandma.  So I made mashed potatoes instead. 

Beck or Clapton?
Willie, Waylon, Ken, Johnny – all the original outlaws.  Sorry.

You have to cook Escoffier’s death row meal.  Menu?
I would probably cook what I would want to eat.  Probably a perfectly roasted piece of moose rib eye, with lots of fat and salt.  A very hot bowl of rice, Korean style.  Has to have some beans and mixture of whit and brown rice.  With the rice, all types of Korean banchan (these are typical Korean side dishes).  
And last, some type of kimchi and seafood soondubu Jjigae, still boiling in the pot.
No dessert needed.
 
Favourite kitchen word or phrase?
Our team started to coin this phrase at lunch,
“Fries in the sky.”
That’s the last stage for picking up a table, and for me it’s the first restaurant I’ve worked where we serve fries.  The fries are amazing.  But overall, I just find it fun and amusing.
This is best when you have on a white coat, white apron and paper hat.  Diner style.

 

The Merchant Tavern