Growing up in the United States as an immigrant, Cho Eun-bit was surrounded by tastes from cultures across the globe. This inspired her to pursue International Studies at Ewha. Now, in Seoul, she owns two fine dining restaurants, Flower Child and Wildflower.
“Eating borscht at my Russian-American friend’s house, learning how to bake a Thanksgiving turkey at my teacher’s house, and queuing with friends to grab burritos at a Mexican taqueria were all a part of my everyday life as a child,” Cho said.
“These experiences taught me one thing - great food is great despite cultural differences. It doesn’t matter where it’s from or where you’re from. Great food transcends boundaries.”
This exposure and experience in the U.S. played a significant role in her philosophy of food and style of cooking.
“I don’t like to restrict myself to a specific type of cuisine, technique, or flavor,” Cho said. “Instead, I love discovering new flavors and playing with those discoveries to create dishes and combinations no one has ever tried before. Although I admit that not everything turns out to be spectacular, it becomes stepping stones into the unknown.”
As New American cuisine is a culinary style that revels in freedom and is often oblivious to boundaries, Cho decided to serve it at her restaurant, Flower Child. New American cuisine is a genre of cuisine started in the U.S. to identify the wave of modern cuisine coming from the nation’s newest generation of culinary experts. Cho believes that it is a style that suits her well because it allows her to share everything she has absorbed along the way.
Attempting to recapture her childhood memories of hiking after the rain, she created a dish called ‘Forest after the Rain.’ Textures inspired by the soil were recreated with herb crumbs, tree trunks were represented by burnt and glazed pineapple slices, and burdock roots reflected the cool weather. This year, as a recognition of quality, Cho’s Flower Child has been included in the 2020 Michelin Guide for restaurants across Seoul.
After successfully operating Flower Child, Cho felt a yearning to also reinterpret Korean food infused with unfamiliar flavors and styles. Her second resultant, Wildflower was born.
“Seoul has become a vibrant and dynamic place,” Cho said. “With its growth, its cuisine has also changed. Seoulites have embraced the influx of global cuisine while hanging onto more familiar memories of their mothers’ dinner table. With Wildflower, I wanted to create dishes to excite this bold new generation and surprise them with new flavors or new execution of familiar ingredients that remind them of the food they loved as a child.”
Ragu pasta made with smoked red pepper paste, fish topped with seaweed fulvescens and citron sauce, and injeolmi meringue are some of the dishes served at Wildflower.
When asked about her future plans, Cho eagerly listed them starting from opening a more fastcasual restaurant that focuses on delivery to making a YouTube channel where she can share her thoughts on food and tips for cooking. In the long-run, she would also like to work with the Korean government in highlighting the richness of Korean ingredients from different regions.
Cho’s last remark was on how she was able to define her own mold by starting her own restaurant. Back in America, while perfecting her craft, Cho was surrounded by male chefs who were often tough and covered in tattoos. At that time, she felt the pressure to shed her femininity and act more masculine to be recognized as a chef. However, today, she says that her soft-power of her femininity is what gives her cooking a decisive edge.
“Instead of suffocating the aspects of my cooking that make me a woman, I have honed them,” Cho said. “I weave my love for delicate flavors into a sprig of mint subtly nestled in between two bolder flavors for a smoother transition. I show my appreciation for beauty and nature in a flat slate stone I picked up on my last hike, now used to display my customer’s dish. That dish is my voice and the customer’s joy is my success.”