Korean Chameleon: Mina Park of Sook
In the March issue of Hong Kong Tatler, we sat down with lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Mina Park before one of her now-legendary Korean pop-up dinners at French restaurant Serge et le Phoque. She’s the creator behind Sook, a project that grew from her simple love of feeding friends and family into a multi-faceted culinary powerhouse that has spawned spontaneous and exciting collaborations with not only Serge, but Ping Pong 129, Stack, and celebrity chef Bobby Chinn.
This month, Park is playing official food curator for Chai Wan Mei, one of the satellite events happening during Art Basel in Hong Kong. We took some extra time to chat to her in more detail about Sook’s past, present, and future.
Hong Kong Tatler Dining: You only moved to Hong Kong four years ago, but now you’re making real waves on the local dining scene. Tell us more about your background?
Mina Park: I was born in the United States in Virginia, so I'm originally a southern belle. But my family moved frequently because of my father's work. So we roamed around North America and lived in places like Boston, Los Angeles, Toronto, Ohio, and Saint Louis. I studied in Boston and New York, worked in New York for a while, and then continued with my nomadic life by moving to southern France, London and now Hong Kong.
HKTD: How did you get into cooking? Who taught you the principles of Korean (and general) culinary arts?
MP: My late mother was a stunning cook and hostess, as was her mother, so the love of cooking and entertaining definitely is in the blood. I spent my childhood as my mother's tiny sous-chef, helping her to prepare our elaborate Korean family meals and feasts for her frequent dinner parties. Her Christmas parties, from the food to the flowers and lighting, were legendary in our circles.
She taught me so much about taking care and time to prepare a gorgeous meal and atmosphere for the people you love. She was a painter, so the enjoyment of food was as much visual as it was about taste. One of my treasured possessions that she left me, the kind I would dash into a burning building for, is her patchwork notebook of recipes she gathered over the years for her parties. It's on my bookshelf now in Hong Kong.
HKTD: You’re taking part in Chai Wan Mei again this year – what’s your take on how art and food are intertwined?
MP: In many ways, food has become very high culture in contemporary society. Food appreciation has supplanted art appreciation. Nowadays, people visit restaurants in the same way that people used to visit museums. You have chefs such as Rene Redzepi and Ferran Adria who are regarded more as artists than the traditional idea of a chef. Then you have artists who are making names for themselves using food as a medium. It's only natural that food would be a feature of Chai Wan Mei during Art Basel. This year, we will not only be serving food, but design students supervised by the artists MAP Office have created these ingenious, working food carts which we will feature during Chai Wan Mei.
HKTD: You mention that there are many aspects of Korean cuisine that we haven’t been exposed to yet. What are they and what ingredients/dishes are you wanting to share with us?
MP: I have so many ideas of different aspects of Korean cuisine to introduce through Sook. Some are based in the street food culture of Korea, where people eat and drink in plastic tents on sidewalks, others are inspired by the clean, plant-based Buddhist temple cuisine, and then there is the seaside where my mother's family come from where people eat everything that can be found in the ocean. Korean food has a lot more to offer than Korean barbecue and bibimbap.
HKTD: You’ve done collaborations with local food entrepreneurs, from the Chinese New Year dinner at Ping Pong 129 to private supperclubs with Eat Ethio. What’s the event you’re working on next?
MP: I'm doing a one-night pop-up at Stack where I'll serve a family-style Sook menu and the twins, Josh and Caleb Ng, and I are collaborating on creating a dish together. Stack is such a beautifully designed, cosy space, that I'm really looking forward to cooking and serving dinner there.
Videography by Tyrone Wu
Photography by Andrew J Loiterton
You might also like: