Ones to Watch 2018: Hana Chung
Line Cook, Vista Ramen
Why Watch Her: She’s cooking circles around all the dudes in town.
If the restaurant inside Hana Chung’s mind was a dinner party, you’d so want that invite. The table would be crowded with everyone from her Korean-born parents to her pizzaolo husband and the buddies she’s met inside the long list of local kitchens on her resume: folks from Byrd & Barrel and Juniper swapping stories with her current Vista Ramen kitchen mates.
The music would be loud and the guests would be louder; wafts from the kitchen would be salty, sweet and acidic. The food: “hardy, home-ish” Korean dishes her mom and grandma used to make her back home. “Right now, food is kind of weird, almost segregated,” Chung said. “You have your really fancy food that only a small percentage of people in St. Louis can eat. I think there’s a market for good, local food that everyone can afford, and that’s my main goal.”
Despite her high-profile resume, Chung had one request when she began at Vista. “By choice, Hana kind of wanted to get back to just cooking. She’s a line cook here,” said Vista chef-owner Chris Bork. “That’s her position, but she’s a lot more than that. She will cook circles around a lot of the dudes that I’ve known. She’s just hardworking, and you could see instantly – Hana knows how this works.”
In an industry known for tempers that flare higher than kitchen fires, Chung has the rare gift of an easygoing attitude. “She was with us toward the end of Randolfi’s,” said Mike Randolph, chef-owner of the now-closed restaurant. “Those were some pretty hairy times. She kept us sane through really long hours and short staffs those last weeks. She would leave these little notes of encouragement around the stations for the cooks. She was a positive influence at a time when we really needed one.”
So, what’s next for Chung and her Korean street food spot dream? For now, Chung is learning more about her craft and spreading good vibes wherever she goes. “How can you not be happy when you’re in the kitchen dancing to Aretha and making food you like?” she asked. Preach.
Stacy Schultz is a longtime contributor to Sauce Magazine.
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