Korean-born, American-raised chef Corey Lee presents Benu’s eclectic cuisine


Corey Lee, Benu published by Phaidon 2015 / phaidon.com
BENU SF. 22 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco CA 94105, USA / benusf.com

Benu is housed in a historic building that dates back to 1922 in the heart of San Francisco’s SOMA district. Korean-born, American-raised Corey Lee is the chef and owner of Benu, one of America’s most celebrated restaurants, and one of only a handful to receive three Michelin stars. In 2015, Phaidon published Benu, a collection of recipes and essays that explores the restaurant’s food, influences, and people who make it possible with forwards by Thomas Keller and David Chang.

An interview with Benu’s chef Corey Lee, the ambassador of modern Asian cuisine
Portrait photo of Corey Lee.

Corey Lee says “As a chef, you need to be able to find value and satisfaction at a very basic level–working with your hands to make something nutritious and satisfying for someone else. Cooking is a skill that becomes sharpened through years of training and practice. There are many different paths to follow as a chef, but they all involve lots of repetition to hone your craft.”

Lee brings his background to bear on the food at Benu creating an eclectic, creative, Asian-inspired American cuisine that explores identity, culture and belonging. In recognition of his work and influence, he became a goodwill ambassador for the city of Seoul, Korea, an honor given to leaders in various fields. His career has spanned nearly 20 years of working at some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the world, including a tenure as head chef at The French Laundry.

Corey Lee, Benu published by Phaidon 2015 / phaidon.com

“Our cooking at Benu is a combination of new and familiar. We reference a lot of classical preparations and traditional techniques, but constantly strive to evolve and refine them. Ultimately, we try to provide the guest with new experiences and do so by exploring the harmony between many different types of cuisines.”

Arriving to the restaurant you can see how these two aspects are attracting the attention. The concrete from the façade and the entry that clearly represents the classic Japanese carpentry. Walking through the door of the restaurant it can be appreciated how a central cube creates two corridors toward the central lounge that incorporates both decorative elements as well as the bathrooms and the warehouse, creating a continuous and open flow very typical for the architecture of the Eastern country. On the aesthetic level we can see how a Japanese village street has been reinterpreted through different modules, traduced here into a market, pharmacy, doors and windows. The rooftops in turn interpret the most contemporary and rational part with a clearly Japanese inclination.

Benu. Street View. Photo by Eric Wolfinger.