Words by Amanda Kennedy Images Supplied
A glance at Chae’s Instagram will instantly seduce with images of photogenic produce bursting with life, handmade dumplings and all manner of fermenting treats. In one scene, whole cobs of corn are hanging from their husks. The corn silk destined for tea, the husk to ferment nuruk (a traditional Korean fermentation starter) and the kernels will be made into makgeolli (a milky, lightly sparkling wine). This ‘waste nothing’ attitude guides chef Jung Eun Chae’s approach to food.
After years working in some of Melbourne’s top restaurants, including Cutler & Co and Lûmé, it was a car accident that precipitated Chae’s move to open her own home-based micro restaurant in her Brunswick apartment. With a focus on fermentation, health and sustainability, she began to introduce a select dining public to the wonders of Korean cuisine miles beyond bibimbap and bulgogi.
Quickly, the six seats at her compact restaurant became as hard to get as toilet paper in a pandemic. The unique set-up allowed Chae to minimise her outgoings and focus on the quality of food and service over profitability. Finally outgrowing the premises, Chae and her partner decided to make the move to Cockatoo, an hour east of the city in October 2021.
‘This is our first time living in a house. From mowing the lawn to gutter cleaning, every day is a new learning curve. I was very surprised the power goes out quite frequently around here. I think we’ve experienced three to four power outages, the longest one being five days. We purchased a powerful, reliable generator and had a cutover switch installed so we can provide a seamless service in case of power outage.’
Power supply has not been the only hurdle they have faced in the quest to give their restaurant a new home.
It was a bumpy ride leading up to the registration of food business because there hadn’t been precedents, at least in our council. I had to show our past operations in the Brunswick apartment to convince this actually is a thing. Overall, they are very helpful and we are so glad we got there in the end.
Once they are able to finally throw open their doors, guests will be able to enjoy a five to six course Korean seasonal degustation meal to the soundtrack of the hills, birdsong at no extra charge. The exact menu will reflect seasonal foods inspired by trips to the market, embellished with house ferments, and the fundamentals her mother still sends from South Jeolla province in southern Korea.
Long-term plans include fermentation workshops. ‘Kimchi is widely known for its taste and health benefits. I thought it may be a good idea to share some of my tips on how to make authentic Kimchi. I definitely would like to create a space where I can share my knowledge with like-minded foodies and ferment enthusiasts.’
Plans are to open as soon as council permits are all squared away, so keep an eye on the website with reservation details to be found here. Meanwhile, we suggest you be inspired by a deep dive into the Chae Instagram account.
WHAT: Chae Restaurant
WHERE: 33 Mountain Road, Cockatoo
WHEN: Saturdays & Sundays lunch at 1pm, dinner at 6pm
MORE INFO: chae.com.au
We wish to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.