In this interview, Ben Baek shares some of the challenges of setting up a restaurant for the first time and his love for Korean cuisine.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
I run Coré the Korean Cuisine at Tropicana Avenue. I’ve been working for an investment relating company in KL for 10 years. I like to observe things around me. It has always pleased me to find new restaurants that inspire me. It is fun and compelling when you like the dish you ordered and at the same time are fascinated by the bathroom washbasin and the background music.
A few years ago, I went to the southeastern part of Korea to have some local food there. It was merely a food trip and I could say it was one of the best trips as far as my taste buds are concerned. After I came back from that trip, I wondered, why my only option for Korean food in Kuala Lumpur was BBQ, nothing else.
I love BBQ, but sometimes when you want to have other Korean dishes too. Sometimes I just want one complete Korean dish with a good ambience and K-pop music videos on a screen. I love K-pop but don’t want to watch it with my family having a meal. I was pondering that for a while and now ta-dah, here I am with Coré.
What’s one of the scariest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
I had never experienced taking orders before I opened the restaurant. On the very first day of opening, I didn’t key a customer’s order into the system, not one, but TWO times in a row! They waited 30 minutes for one dish. When I had to face them to apologize for the second mistake, I had to repeat myself like five times, “You can’t cry now. You can’t cry now.”
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part of my job is seeing something that I imagined become real. I find it very cool to actually see the outcome. The worst part is that turning your imagination into physical existence costs a lot, in many ways.
What is one of your favourite meals at Coré?
One of my favourite dishes at Coré is Gang Daen Jang Ssam (grilled pork belly with wrap-leaves) with Kimchi Jjigae. I know salad and grill pork belly both are the least favourite dishes to DIY at home. Kimchi soup is just a soul-food to most Koreans.
The perfect day off would be…
A two-hour morning workout and going to a café to chitchat with my wife. Later, watching Netflix when it’s dark.
What does Ben Baek do for fun?
I tried a latte class and also yoga classes a couple of weeks ago. Both led me to the realization that my body doesn’t really communicate with my brain that much. I like to dance crazy at home alone. It’s fun but not in the daylight.
What’s one of your favourite food and beverage pairings?
Merlot and cheese. Haemul pajeon (seafood pancake) with makguli. Latte with my wife.
What’s your view on the food and beverage scene in KL?
The F&B industry in KL moves very fast as a result of changing dynamics in demographics and consumer patterns. It is now, not so hard to find a good restaurant around you if your phone still has enough battery to search for it. The market dynamics could turn out to be very challenging and also opportunistic at the same time for the F&B service providers as the source of information is abundant and people’s attention doesn’t stay long enough for you to take a pause to make decisions. After being part of this industry, I just wish all the people in the field the best of luck!
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
For now, we have a bit of a mixture of dishes that could be familiar and very new to Malaysians. I’m thinking of putting something more adventurous, but very Korean on the menu.