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Ask Chef

We asked chef Chae about running the Most Sought-After Korean Restaurant from Home.

Chef Jung Eun Chae

How did you initially get into cooking?

In my early twenties, I was seeking a new adventure, craving a change of scenery from my hometown. After weighing a few options, I decided to come to Australia to study at William Angliss. Cooking had always fascinated me; I loved the process of combining ingredients to create amazing flavors. More than anything, I enjoyed hosting meals where friends and family could gather and have a great time over a thoughtfully prepared meal. Fast forward 20 years, and here I am, still thoroughly enjoying cooking.

How did you start this unique concept restaurant?

The idea of an intimate, private dining experience had been simmering in the back of my mind since my early days of cooking. With this in mind, I pursued my career in fine dining. Then, in 2019, a minor car accident led to an ankle injury, forcing me to take some time off. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to pursue my long-held dream. During the pandemic, the concept felt particularly timely as people were avoiding large crowds and showing increased interest in healthy eating and natural fermentation.

CHAE opened from a Brunswick apartment in 2019

What’s the advantage of running a small restaurant from home?

Operating from home offers numerous benefits. It allows us to minimize overhead costs like rent and utilities, enabling us to focus more on the quality of food and service. This cost efficiency lets us provide a high-quality, exclusive dining experience at an affordable price. The home-based setting also allows for a more intimate dining experience where I can interact closely with guests, offering personalized service and fostering a deeper connection. Running the restaurant from home gives me greater control over operations, including maintaining traditional Korean cooking methods without compromise. This flexibility is essential for creating an authentic culinary experience. Additionally, without the pressures of managing a large staff or covering high overhead costs, I can dedicate more time and resources to perfecting my dishes and maintaining high standards of quality and authenticity.

What is the biggest difference in using homemade sauces compared to store-bought sauces?

As an avid amateur photographer, I often liken store-bought sauce to using a camera with automatic settings: you can equally achieve great results relying on preset adjustments, similar to controlling the proportion of pre-made sauce in your cooking. On the other hand, homemade condiments are similar to creating your own camera settings. You have the flexibility to fine-tune the umami, saltiness, depth of flavour, and texture, much like adjusting detailed elements of camera settings based on light, mood, and colour. This personalized approach reflects my unique business setup, allowing for intricate culinary artistry. The deeper and richer umami of homemade ferments is unmatched. Korean condiments, for instance, involve extensive preparation, including months to years of fermentation and aging. I find the entire process—from crafting them to patiently waiting for them to mature—extremely rewarding. Moreover, making my own condiments ensures they are free from artificial ingredients, flavours, or preservatives, giving me full control over their quality and taste.

Homemade condiments crafted using traditional recipes and technique add enormous value to CHAE dining experience.

How did you decide to focus on Korean cooking?

Korean cuisine is what I felt most comfortable with, and it came naturally to me. It was the culinary domain where I had an edge over other chefs in the Australian dining scene because I grew up with it. I understand the subtle nuances and context that typically develop when you're raised eating this food.

What makes seating only six people so special?

Since opening CHAE in an apartment in Brunswick, I experimented with serving different numbers of guests, ranging from two to eight. After some trial and error, I found that six was the perfect number. It's a number I feel extremely comfortable with, allowing me to fully engage with each guest and provide personalized customer service. I always knew it would be an even number of guests because, more often than not, my guests come in pairs.

What Does the Future Hold for CHAE?

Despite experiencing high demand for our dining service, I don’t intend to expand beyond six guests, two days per week. The personalized service and quality of the experience are what our guests appreciate, and it's the reason they come to CHAE. Instead, we are planning to produce our traditional Korean condiments on a larger scale and make them readily available through retailers. This way, the Australian audience can enjoy the true, authentic Korean flavour and incorporate it into their kitchens.

In addition, we will continue to share our culinary culture and heritage with our audience through various forms such as workshop, books and online content. This will help them gain a better understanding of Korean cuisine and its rich traditions.

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