Seoul Cheesesteak with thinly sliced beef and kimchi relish. Panko breaded kimchi rice balls stuffed with gooey cheese and a sriracha aioli drizzle. A Ramen Burrito. The fusion of these flavors might sound like an unconventional combination for most of us. But for Sue Keh Bennett of Bite Me Gourm•Asian, these are the basis of the nostalgic sweet, sour, and salty Asian flavors that remind her of her favorite childhood dishes.
When Bennett was 18 months old, she left Korea with her mother to move to New Jersey. As a result of the drastic change, her mother fell into a spout of depression. Bennett shared with us that she was afraid to wake her mother in the morning. So, when she would get hungry as a kid, she would run downstairs and grab what she could find in the kitchen: Wonder Bread, American cheese, and her mother’s kimchi. Bennett would build a sandwich out of the ingredients, and that became the beginning for her love of fusion sandwiches.
Bennett first wet her feet in the culinary industry by opening MA’S Italian Kitchen in Burbank. Despite the restaurant’s success, her heart was always set on creating her own sandwich shop. Drawing from her Korean roots, she opened Bite Me Gourm•Asian in 2019 with a focus on crafting hearty, juicy, messy sandwiches with Asian influences.
We sat down with Bennett to learn more about her love for feeding people and her celebration of Korean flavors at Bite Me Gourm•Asian.
What’s the story behind Bite Me Gourm•Asian?
I’ve always tried to stay authentic to who I am and cook from the recipes that my mother and grandmother taught me. I wanted to keep those flavors without sacrificing anything. At the same time, I wanted to introduce them in a way that can be familiar to people. Like a cheesesteak, everyone knows what a cheesesteak is, but I wanted to add my own twist to it.
How did you and your business partner, Isaias, meet?
When I was managing my first restaurant, MA’S Italian Kitchen, Isaias was the manager. No one knows a kitchen more than he does. He’s fast, loyal, the best of the best. He worked side by side with me in immensely stressful situations and we worked well together. He always knew that the sandwich thing was what I wanted to do. I told him if he wanted to join me, I would make him my partner. Now here he is, stuck with me!
For him, learning Asian food and Korean food is a whole new experience. He’s learning all the flavors and techniques. Once you give him the foundation of it he just runs with it. He finds a way to make it faster, easier, and better. I’m constantly learning from him and trying to keep up.
What’s the secret to crafting the perfect sandwich?
To me, a sandwich is big, meaty, and messy. That’s how I’ve designed our sandwiches. For the ingredients, a lot of what I use is what I grew up watching my mom and grandmother use. I don’t like to stray from that. If I don’t feel good about it, I feel like the food will taste different. It’s like when you’re cooking in a bad mood versus cooking in a good mood. It makes a difference, even if it’s the same recipe. I’m a firm believer in that.
Does your mom have a hand in any of the recipes?
My mom still comes in here like she’s the kimchi Queen. She wants to see everything, double check, come back a couple of days later to make sure it’s fermenting correctly. Being a home cook, you don’t write down a recipe, you just throw it together until it tastes good. Especially for my mom who’s been doing this a long time, it has been a challenge to figure out the Kimchi recipe.
If it was someone’s first time at Bite Me Gourm•Asian, what would you tell them to order?
Either the Seoul Cheesesteak, Bang Mi, Honey Butter Fries, or Kimchini.
The Seoul Cheesesteak is the best selling sandwich. It’s how we introduce people to what we do here. Since it was the first sandwich as far as the concept goes, it makes sense to try that first. Everyone knows what a cheesesteak is, but we add our own twist to it. It has a Kimchi Relish that gives it an added spice factor. It was the first sandwich as far as the concept went, it makes the most sense to introduce that to people.
And what about your personal favorite?
My favorite sandwich, because there’s such a nostalgic factor to is, is the Jajang Bbang. It’s a Chinese-Korean noodle dish made with a salty black bean paste. It’s a very popular Korean street food. It became popular a long time ago for the workers and coal miners in Korea. It was cheap, affordable, and filling. Jajang Bbang is something that is a staple as far as Korean food but you go to a Chinese restaurant to get it. It’s comfort food, it’s nostalgic food.
I wanted to make a meatball sandwich, so I made Asian meatballs, and we put the Jajang Bbang sauce on it with fresh cucumbers. Without the cucumbers, the dish is not the same. So if you ever get the noodle dish, you need to get the cucumbers on it because it adds a freshness on the heavy sauce.
What would you like customers to know about your restaurant?
All I want to do is to feed people. I want people to know that you can eat a sandwich for dinner and not be disappointed. If you don’t want a sandwich, we also do options of putting the food in a bowl over rice. You can’t do carbs? I got cauliflower rice for you. You don’t want a bowl and want an easy handheld? I’ll put it in a burrito for you. We’re pretty versatile. We’re always trying to stay true to who we are but still move with what is happening in the food culture to stay current.
Bite Me Gourm•Asian
Address: 2108 Colorado Blvd, Eagle Rock, CA 90041