Handsome Rice, a Korean fast-casual restaurant located in Murray Hill, has turned our attention to the internationally famed Chef Hansong Kim. Hansong started his culinary career in Korea, where he quickly rose through the ranks and became a bit of a celebrity chef – publishing multiple cookbooks and making frequent television appearances. He still wanted to learn more, so he immigrated to the United States to attend Johnson & Wales University and develop his skills even further. Now, Hansong is happy to be living a simpler life; bringing a “healthified” version of Korean cuisine to NYC.
Tell me about Handsome Rice.
Handsome Rice is a fast-casual modern Korean comfort food restaurant. There are a lot of Korean restaurants in New York City, but we are serving modern Korean food – not fusion. In New York City, there are a lot of other cultures — Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, Thai…but Koreans are not making modern Korean food. They changed it because as immigrants, they needed to survive in New York City so they changed the flavor. But Handsome Rice serves the same flavor as in Korea.
One thing I love about your restaurant is that it’s a tiny space — there are maybe three bar stools and it’s really well-designed. What kind of experience do you want to create?
Thank you. When I opened up this restaurant in New York City, the land price was extremely high. I wanted to split a large space [into smaller spaces]. And I wanted to use brighter colors. When you think about Asia’s restaurants – Chinese, Indonesian, Thai – you probably think of dark colors – but I wanted to change it to be a little brighter.
So tell me a little bit about your story before you came to the United States – how did you get your start in the culinary field?
I was born in Korea and was a chef in the Hilton and Sheraton hotels. I was young, I mean 24. That life was pretty good and those were big hotels.
Our hotel had 10 restaurants and 200 chefs. And few years later, I quit the job and then I published four culinary books and then I hosted my TV show and a lot of TV programs.
What made you decide to give up that path to come to the States?
Yes, everybody said it was crazy, because I received a lot of money through all the TV shows, from the book company, and a lot of work in consulting. But time goes so fast, so if I did not quit my job, I’d still be in Korea. I wanted to spread this good experience to all of the young Korean chefs here in New York.
What else do you hope to achieve in your time in New York?
One of my final goals in New York City is — if you pick up a tuna roll, it’s probably over $10, maybe $12 or $13. But if you buy some chicken fried rice at the Chinese restaurant, the New York City people pay just under $10. People have no idea about Korean food. If they know these ingredients were very good, they would pay [more]. But they don’t know about Korean culture or Korean food. “What is a Bulgogi?” Everybody knows what a tuna roll and a salmon roll is and how tasty it is — but Chinese food, Korean food, and Indian food, they never know. So, I want to change that. I want to give more information about Korean food.
To hear more of Hansong’s story, check out Season Two, Episode Nine of the Open Belly podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.
133 E 31ST St. New York, NY 10016
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Images by Alyssa Broadus & Chris Dolt | Edited by Emily Neudorf & Kristen Reames