While a majority of the collaborators that Chef Jose Garces has welcomed to his Chef in Residency program at Volvér have been newbies, Chef Alex Yoon has certainly been around the block.
The Philly born Korean chef has not only run the kitchen at South Philly’s Little Fish BYOB on S. 6th Street for the last eight years, he’s owned it for the last six. He also has worked alongside the legendary Georges Perrier at the one-time Walnut Street capitol of French cuisine, Le Bec Fin.
With that, the young Yoon brings his Korean-inspired fish dinners – as well as some surprises on the short rib, Maitake mushroom and fried chicken tip – in residency at Volver from now until June 12, all in time to celebrate Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month. Plus, any money Yoon raises will go to a new restaurant concept that he has in the works.
Metro recently sat down with Yoon to learn more.
Who did you learn to cook from and what was the big homespun/homemade dish?
No one ever taught me how to cook. In the Korean culture, men were not supposed to be cooking in the kitchen. I watched the people around me in the kitchen and that is kind of how I learned to cook. The big homemade dish within my family would be our Korean Army Stew. This is Spam, Kimchi, and Ramen. This was a dish that was cooked a lot in my household.
What did you learn about food, food prep, master chef-ing, French influence, Philly restaurants and such from Le Bec-Fin and Georges Perrier?
When I was at Le Bec-Fin I learned a lot of good habits in the kitchen and how to do things the proper way such as organizing your time, your station and especially how to work a station. Everything that I had to learn foundation wise, I learned at Le Bec-Fin.
What are your strengths, your flavor profiles and your signatures as a chef? What do you love to cook with, and for, most?
I would say that my strength is freestyle, which is cooking with what I have. When I first started cooking, I had to cook for my younger brother, which I had done for a very long time. I had to use what we had in the kitchen. I guess I would say that my flavor profiles are a mix of French, Italian, American and Korean.
What can you say about taking over at Little Fish, your eight-year evolution, and your rep for seafood? What are you doing to make it unique?
I first started working at Little Fish in 2014 and then I bought the restaurant in 2016. I can say that it is very challenging operating a restaurant and a lot of people do not understand that. Even if you are a chef, being an owner of a restaurant is a whole different ball game. To make Little Fish unique I basically tried to take what was already working in the restaurant and then try to implement small details that I felt enhanced the service for the restaurant. Food wise, I put my personal touch on the classic dishes. For me, I like to respect the classics but I ever so slightly have tweaked it to how it should be presented and taste.
How do you know Jose Garces and what is the allure of the Volver residency?
I am expanding beyond Little Fish because Volver has new reach for me, allows me to reach a clientele beyond the small walls of Little Fish. I want to do more, do something aside from Little Fish while also still owning Little Fish. I first heard of Garces through Iron Chef. He’s a pretty chill guy, but he knows what he wants and he’s focused on that. He has a goal he wants to obtain and he wants to bring people along for that ride with him. So far, I really like it. They have a really great team over there that makes me feel comfortable about other people preparing my food. Volver is also a very beautiful restaurant.
The genesis of the meal you have going at Volver, how did it come together?
Some of the dishes I chose to be on the menu at Volver are classic dishes from Little Fish, dishes that I know are good. These are dishes that I thought would be good ones to introduce to the general crowd at Volver. Some of the other dishes are ones that are more a representation of the direction I am trying to go in, Korean food. I already know that I can do seafood, and I want to push at Korean food along with Little Fish. I make all the dishes, and at the end of the day we all get our ideas from somewhere. My whole thing is I have tasted these dishes before and they are a great idea and I build off that. I am hoping to reach more people and hopefully I can find someone who thinks I have the potential to open another restaurant.