Fusing cultures, fusing flavours

Michael Yeh recalls the spicy soup with kimchi his "housewife" mother made him as a child in Korea. He doesn't even enjoy Korean food that much, but he still can't forget those traditional, homemade meals.

Michael Yeh recalls the spicy soup with kimchi his “housewife” mother made him as a child in Korea.

He doesn’t even enjoy Korean food that much, but he still can’t forget those traditional, homemade meals.

Even the Korean restaurant he recently opened on the corner of First Avenue and Wood Street doesn’t replace those memories.

But that’s OK – he wasn’t trying to replicate his mother’s culinary delights.

Instead, the restaurant fuses Korean food with North American food, hence the name Fusion.

The eggs Benedict served at breakfast comes with a patty of Korean meat, marinated differently than the traditional meat served with the egg dish.

The hamburger features a homemade patty but with a touch of Korean ingredients: soya sauce and sesame oil.

The Korean lunch entrees are less spicy that those you might find served in Korea.

That’s because Yeh, Fusion’s owner, is aiming to please all guests, not the tiny Korean community in Whitehorse

“We try to make people comfortable,” said Yeh as Neil Young’s voice growled over the speakers.

To accommodate Canadian tastes and styles, Yeh serves individual dishes. The typical Korean way would be to have several serving plates in the middle of the table that everybody shares.

Chopsticks are only set on the table if requested by the guest.

And the servers are taught how to properly serve specific dishes, like the Bibimbab.

It’s steamed white rice topped with fried egg and beef. Beside it are sauteed and seasoned vegetables and a small bowl of chili pepper paste. Each part is carefully placed and nicely displayed on the plate.

Rather than eating each part separately, Yeh drizzles the entire plate in the spicy sauce and stirs it all together with two large spoons.

“It looks good at the beginning. Not when you mix it,” he joked.

Even if the mash of meat, vegetables and rice isn’t so pleasing to the eye, the guests have really been enjoying the food, said Yeh. So far, there have been no complaints.

Yeh credits head chef Alex Choi for the positive feedback.

Choi has 20 years experience working in five-star Korean hotels.

He has high expectations and a particular way of doing things.

And it makes Yeh curious.

Because the beef has different sauces on it, it can’t go on the grill.

“But when you try those meals, it tastes like barbecue,” said Yeh. “So I ask him, how did you cook it?”

Choi fires the frying pan on the grill to get the barbeque taste.

When the restaurant first opened, store-bought patties were used for the hamburgers. But soon, the chef insisted on creating his own.

It makes for a juicier, more flavorful burger, said Yeh. But it’s more time-consuming.

“It might take a little longer to get the food out, but overall, I respect his way. People like it.”

“It’s for the client,” the chef often tells Yeh.

On average, Choi spends over five hours a day in prep-mode. Fusion opens at 7 a.m. but he’s there at 5:30 to get ready. After the restaurant closes at 2 p.m., Choi often sticks around until 6 or 7 p.m. to prep for the next day.

“Right now, people don’t see how we do in the kitchen. Overall, for the long-term period, it could make a big difference in your restaurant business,” said Yeh.

But the health inspector recognized Choi’s hard work in the kitchen.

In the previous restaurant, the inspector admitted he would never eat there, said Yeh. But when he saw Fusion’s clean kitchen, he said he would be back soon for food.

Server Liz Benoit, who has been in the restaurant business for 13 years, admitted Choi is the cleanest chef she has ever seen, said Yeh.

When the restaurant first opened at the beginning of June, Choi’s ways frustrated Yeh.

“Now I understand his view.”

It’s been over a month since Fusion’s opening but Yeh isn’t focused on making profit.

“I just want people to try something different.”

Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at larissaj@yukon-news.com

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