MJ Hong grew up in South Korea and was always surrounded by fresh Korean cuisine. When he immigrated to Philadelphia in his early youth, the passion his mother had for food became evidently clear as her cooking flourished. Hong’s parents owned and operated a restaurant that fed the whole family’s love for cooking. In a way, food helped connect Hong’s family to their roots.
“That’s pretty much when I caught on. I would cook recipes and use cooking styles from her traditional family style of cooking,” Hong said. When he got older, his push to work within the culinary scene did not weaken. After traveling through Europe and Asia to learn new techniques and then managing Korean and Japanese BBQ restaurants in New York City, Hong perfected his cooking methods and experiences to commence his own food journey.
He was also immensely inspired by the purity of at-home cooking — how he could control exactly what kind of ingredients go into his cuisine. After his father was diagnosed with colon cancer, this passion for fresh food grew even larger. The saying “you are what you eat” became a reality for the Hong family. They began to cook with all-natural and fermented ingredients in an attempt to improve the health of the entire family.
The Korean BBQ Chef is a concept that originated from this drive. After officially launching in February, the Hongs have already received many positive reactions to their in-home dining experience despite being so new to the food scene. “We booked our first service in March and received positive feedback which could not have made my mother any happier. It feels great to have so many people enjoy her cooking — it is as though she’s everyone’s mother,” Hong said.
According to Hong, The Korean BBQ Chef is Colorado’s first in-home Korean cuisine experience. He treasures the intimacy of enjoying meals at home surrounded by loved ones. He believes that this idea is one that reigns above going out to eat and sitting at a restaurant. Hong also wants to share with others the true beauty of Korean food and how it is full of fresh ingredients. “Korean barbecue kind of turned into this all-you-can-eat buffet style with lower quality meats and ingredients. I really want to show that Korean food is high-quality and more of an upscale cuisine,” Hong said. “I want to introduce Korean food to everybody and how healthy and awesome it is to enjoy with your family.”
The pre-fixed menu for Hong’s private dinner service is highly customizable to any dietary restrictions or needs and is crafted with guaranteed fresh ingredients. This experience includes various types of meats, soups, appetizers, beverages and banchans, which are traditional Korean side dishes. Start with some crispy Korean fried chicken wings or savory Kimchi pancakes then indulge in tender pork belly, spicy pork, Bulgogi and more. Each dish is served with multigrain rice and spicy or non-spicy cold noodles. “I want to introduce new foods while explaining them and be there throughout the whole experience,” Hong said. “So it is more of an interactive experience rather than just sitting in a restaurant eating.”
Everything from the prep, cooking and cleaning is taken care of by the Korean BBQ Chef. It is truly a great way to have a unique experience with the family while understanding that the food you are consuming is the best of the best. Hong caters to all in Colorado and is ready to serve each and every family. Hong’s mom, Sunny, also travels with him, making the whole adventure a family affair.
This 90-minute service runs for $120 a person for a minimum of six people. “My favorite part is the convenience that I can offer people. They can just hang out in the comfort of their home. We’ll set up, feed you and clean everything so you do not have to worry about anything at all,” Hong said. So far, KBC has been hired primarily to serve individuals in private homes. They are sincerely passionate about this type of service — bringing people all over Colorado a sense of Korean culture. No matter where you are in the state, the Hongs will come to you.
Hong believes Korean food should be enjoyed with your loved ones by your side and is meant to bring a diverse freshness to every dish. Hong and his family have perfected this complicated art and are thankfully here to share it with all of us Denverites.
To contact the Korean BBQ Chef and or find out more details, go to thekoreanbbqchef.com.
All photography by Roxanna Carrasco.