Benu: Corey Lee
“Food is identity. It’s the most revealing thing about you, about your culture, where you come from, where you live,” said Corey Lee in a short fill interview by Phaidon Press. If indeed identity goes hand in hand with food then Benu, one of San Francisco’s most lauded restaurants is a mirror reflection of Corey Lee, the top head chef there.
Corey Lee, born in 1977 from South Korea, moved to the United States where he started his career that traversed over 20 years working at some of the most celebrated restaurants in the world that in New York City, Paris, and London. Before Corey Lee opened Benu, which is situated in a quiet street in South of Market (SoMa) district, San Francisco, in August 2010, he was already an esteemed figure with a respected reputability having worked for Thomas Keller at Per Se and as Chef de Cuisine at The French Laundry for nine years where he was recognized with a James Beard Award.
Since the opening of Benu, he quickly climbed the Michelin ladder attaining three Michelin stars, which basically translates to the most coveted distinctions in the world of restaurants. In 2012 Benu launched off with two Michelin stars only to be awarded a third star three years later in October 2014. The following year, 2015 Corey Lee authored a cookbook Benu, Phaidon published which speaks to his journey as a chef and his team, elaborating the evolution of his food and the nature of the menu offered at his restaurant.
Benu is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday with reservations accepted up to two months and offers a tasting menu of around 17 courses featuring a wide variety of seafood and vegetables including some meat courses and of course dessert. For atmosphere, music plays in the background of the carpeted restaurant with a plainly decorated dining room of well spaced out tables that can seat around sixty diners. When it’s time to eat the food plays a concerto of its own with Corey Lee conducting each movement as it speaks to his individuality that marries the modern American cuisines skilfully with Korean ingredients and flavors.
With an option of having wine with your dinner, Benu has a wine list that contains 300 selections with an accent on France, California, Germany, and Austria served by a deeply knowledgeable and friendly sommelier. The tasting menu kicks off with a usual adventurous starter of a thousand-year-old quail egg with ginger, a potage of cabbage, cream and bacon, which uses a Chinese based traditional preserving technique. It goes on to tease and please the palate with authoritative flavors and innovative texture combinations of dishes such a dish of sea urchin, okra, and nori to faux shark fin soup, all of which is well executed by a superbly erudite team of waiters, with each meal steadily paced.
Benu is a place of discovery and re-discovery. It is open to multicultural influences be it in its approach to technique or flavor which attests to Corey Lee, as a food pioneer of our time