Korean fine dining in a Singaporean car showroom: chef of 3-Michelin-star spot in US curates new restaurant’s menu

Would you deliberately make your way to a car showroom in a far-flung neighbourhood in Singapore to eat dinner? In all likelihood, no – but perhaps you would change your mind if you knew that Korean-American chef Corey Lee is the maestro orchestrating the menu.

The Seoul native grew up in the United States and spent almost a decade working at three-Michelin-star restaurant The French Laundry under restaurateur Thomas Keller in the Napa Valley. His own restaurant Benu, in the US city of San Francisco, earned three Michelin stars in 2014.

Na Oh, where Lee is consulting on the concept and menu, is no ordinary Korean restaurant. It is set in the S$400 million (US$295 million) Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Centre Singapore in Jurong West, which supports research and development and showcases the Korean automotive brand’s manufacturing innovation.

One of the highlights here is a two-storey vertical smart farm where robots, rather than humans, are responsible for planting seeds, transplanting seedlings and harvesting.
One of the highlights at the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Centre Singapore is the two-storey vertical smart farm that will supply Na Oh. Photo: Hyundai Motor Group

Lee will have access to different crops produced in the fully automated hydroponic gardens – such as ice plants, Romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, Japanese mustard greens and kale, and, in the next phase, chrysanthemums, nasturtiums, perilla and marigolds.

Unlike the contemporary Asian tasting menu at Benu, Na Oh will serve a prix fixe menu – a complete meal for a fixed price – with options for the main course, based on modernised hansik, or traditional Korean food.

“I believe the best way to honour traditional cuisine is to make sure it stays relevant to people by making it as delicious as possible through continued learning and modern know-how,” says Lee.

Cooking traditional food, however, does not mean that one has to rely on age-old techniques to make it. Lee adds that he will “embrace all the advances” in cooking and technology “to deliver the best versions of traditional dishes” at Na Oh.

Lee says his Singapore menu will “share many of Benu’s methods, and there will be some shared sensibilities”. Photo: Robert Beck

Lee, who sees himself shuttling between San Francisco and Singapore to ensure that the menu development is executed perfectly, says Na Oh will be staffed by a management team that trained with him in San Francisco.

This includes Korean chefs and managers, as well as one of Lee’s former sous chefs – who hails from Singapore.

If you are wondering if any Benu signature dishes will appear on Na Oh’s menu, Lee is quick to say: “All the dishes we offer will be developed specifically for the new restaurant.”

His approach to development, organisation and execution means that his Singapore menu will “share many of Benu’s methods, and there will be some shared sensibilities”.

Lee and his team are currently putting the finishing touches to the Korean dishes featured on the menu.

“I noticed on my visits to Singapore that samgyetang [ginseng-flavoured stuffed chicken soup] is very popular among locals,” Lee says, noting at the same time a dearth of establishments offering this traditional dish, complete with a home-made broth.

“I’m sure that local gourmets will appreciate trying this traditional dish prepared with the fresh flavour and texture that comes with cooking from scratch at Na Oh.

“We’re also developing a 100 per cent made-to-order buckwheat noodle for our naengmyeon [cold beef noodles], featuring a broth made from dongchimi [radish water kimchi] and long-simmered beef stock.”

Instead of serving the noodles with the braised beef used for the stock, Lee says he will be adding thinly shaved beef strip loin cured in sea salt.

“I think the slightly tangy and irony flavour of cured beef enhances the refreshing, cool quality of the naengmyeon that we go crazy for.”


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