Long gone are the days of behind the scenes pot-stirring cooks. Now, chefs are culinary rock stars. They are young, connected visionaries who see their career both in and out of the restaurant. Take Chris Oh—founder of Seoul Sausage Co, Co-founder of Hanjip, managing partner of Escala, the co-owner of Nomad Kitchen, the winner of multiple TV competition shows, a partner in Johnnie Walker’s “Keep Walking” campaign, and a budding TV personality, author and clothing designer. His goal is to bridge previously unrelated markets together through new culinary traditions.
All it took for Chris to get to this point was a straight up genuine love for food. Sure that’s cliché for any chef, but for Chris, this passion could not be ignored. As a kid, he would watch his mom navigate through their kitchen. And when he and his baby brother would come home from school, he would make meals with whatever he could find in the fridge. Think of it as “Chopped” with ingredients like Kraft cheese slices, top ramen noodles, and hot dogs. After years of being creative and learning from mom, he wanted a formal education. But with only one sentence into a culinary school presentation, his parents shot him down. So he appeased them – went to college, and opened a real estate company and car wash business. His entrepreneurial spirit earned him beaucoup bucks, but still something was lacking. Then five years ago, he took a leap of faith.
He sold his businesses, his home and his life to fill a void 382mi south. He landed work in kitchens all over Los Angeles where he learned new skills, honed his creativity, and developed his palette. Although this is what he wanted, the entrepreneurial spirit he left behind was itching.
One night when he was watching one of the late night TV shows, he saw the success of Kogi – the Korean/Latin food truck sensation – and realized that he could do that better. He thought, “people love Korean food and people love sausages so let me put them together.” He tirelessly did the R&D, learned how to make sausages (via YouTube), and used friends for product testing. After so many hosted barbecues with Korean sausages, he earned a spot at the Los Angeles Street Food Festival held at the Rose Bowl. Together – with just a grill – they conquered one of the biggest events in LA, boasting the longest lines and up to three-hour waits for their patrons. They created a demand for Korean sausage that quickly spread across the city and social media. So much so that Chris was receiving inquiries everyday with people asking where they could have Seoul Sausage Co. It wasn’t long after that the entire nation followed suit.
In between, he’s cultivating new projects all over California. Even with all of that – he even got the approval of his parents – he’s still not where he wants to be. The end goal is pretty simple: live on the beach and sell Coronas and spam musubis all day. Until then, he’ll continue working on being the “Jay-Z of the food world”.
When you sit with Chris, you’ll understand why he’s a perfect fit to this new standard of cool. Most of the time he’s in flip flops and shorts, with drink in hand, likely talking about the debauchery he experienced the night before. Then he switches topics to food. And it’s eloquent dialogue leaving listeners to believe that this guy is really meant to be in the kitchen. Chris now sits at the center of a cultural revolution and he got there by breaking the rules in every way.