January 29, 2023


Food loaded for bear

Meet the Man Bringing Traditional South Korean Eats to Colorado

Due to the fact J.W. Lee moved to Colorado 15 years in the past, the South Korean–born chef-operator guiding Seoul Hospitality Team has released many Coloradans to the flavors and dishes of his property region. In Aurora on your own, Denverites can feast on late-night Korean eats at ThankSool Pocha K Pub, which serves comforts like spicy stews and soju (a apparent rice liquor) bite into a juicy dumpling at Seoul Mandoo or cook their individual meats on tabletop grills at Seoul K-BBQ and Hot Pot.

But Lee’s most recent venture—which he opened in LoDO in 2020 and expanded into an empire of a few spots, which includes one with a brewery in Lafayette—is his speediest-developing notion but. For every single outpost, Lee, who was born in Gangneung, South Korea, crafted a menu that blends standard Korean flavors like gochujang (a spicy pepper paste) and kimchi with American staples like sandwiches and french fries, all of which are tied alongside one another with a common dish beloved by both of those People and Koreans: fried rooster.

Lee has a prolonged record in the hospitality field and properly trained in South Korea. He moved to the U.S. in the late 1990s, when he claims, currently being a chef was not a prosperous profession in his residence nation. But he figured out that it was attainable to make a respectable profession in the kitchen area Stateside.

“When I was a chef in Korea, our nation was even now sort of inadequate at that time, and the expectation as a chef was not genuinely great,” Lee suggests.

He moved to California, which has a significant Korean population, and took jobs at sushi dining establishments there and in Chicago right before moving to St. Louis to open the very first Wasabi Sushi Bar in 2003.

“So, at that time I decided I desired to be handled [respectably],” he suggests. “[So I thought], if I go to the United States, I can be a person of individuals cooks, and then I [can] achieve the American desire.”

In 2007, he brought Wasabi Sushi Bar to Lakewood, his initially restaurant in Colorado. In 2016, he started off serving ramen, sushi, and Japanese fare at the to start with Menya Noodle Bar, which has because expanded to 4 spots close to the metro region. In 2017, he was prepared to dive headfirst into Korean cuisine and bought Seoul K-BBQ and Hot Pot. “I [felt] like I can do extra,” Lee states. “I have much more talent and ambition than sushi.”

Lee isn’t just sure why—perhaps since of the world acceptance of K-pop and availability of Korean films on streaming services like Netflix—but considering the fact that then, fascination in Korean foodstuff has developed, particularly in Denver. Even though a handful of Korean fried rooster dining places have cropped up in Aurora in the previous five several years, Lee desired to open one thing downtown, away from the cluster of existing eateries. In 2020, Mono Mono opened on Blake Street, serving fried rooster dishes motivated by the shatteringly crispy chicken he grew up consuming back again in South Korea.

Offerings at Mono Mono Korean Fried Rooster. Photo by Hannah Morvay

In South Korea, fried hen is nearly as ubiquitous as kimchi and soju. The convenience food may perhaps have been released to South Korea for the duration of the U.S. armed service existence in the Korean War, but it was accelerated for the duration of the 1980s and ’90s when Korea was released to the rotisserie oven and the 1st Kentucky Fried Hen outposts opened in the nation. All-around the exact time, cooking oil and rooster also grew to become a lot more cost-effective, and fried rooster franchises took off. Now there are reportedly 2 times as several fried rooster places to eat in the region as there are McDonalds or Subways. And Lee says the food is central to the Korean way of existence.

“Korean fried hen to Koreans…can be a meal, it can be a snack, it can be buddies with drinks, or beers,” he states. “It goes effectively with so many distinct instances.”

We questioned Lee what he needs people understood about Korean fried hen, and what to order at Mono Mono. Below are his ideas.

Fried rooster bao at Mono Mono Korean Fried Hen. Image by Hannah Morvay

The Rooster

Mono Mono’s fried rooster, significantly like Korean bulgogi (thinly sliced, barbecue beef), is all about the marinade. Soon after the chicken soaks for 24 several hours, it is coated in a crispy batter or left in the pores and skin to generate a crispy, crackling breading.

“That is the main big difference from other chicken eating places,” Lee suggests. “A whole lot of chicken restaurants fry the fresh chickens there are not numerous marinations. But because I’m doing Korean barbecue, that’s all about the marinations, so we arrived up with the strategy for a marinade.”

Friends can choose from a bevy of sauces to coat their bird—including soy garlic, scorching and spicy, teriyaki soy, or teriyaki sizzling glaze—or skip the sauce altogether for a plain fried rooster crunch. The rooster is generally served either as an appetizer on a pillowy bao bun with hoisin sauce and slaw, as a plate of simple-and-crispy or sticky-sweet wings, or as a combination of fried drumsticks and tenders. Admirers of handhelds can buy the chook involving two slices.

Lee’s beloved hen: the plain, crispy battered tenderloins and drumsticks, coated with spices. “It offers you a kick,” he claims.

Kimchi Fries

Kimchi, the fiery, fermented cabbage-and-radish dish, is 1 of Korea’s most very well-recognised foods and is commonly served as a tangy facet to principal dishes like fried chicken or bulgogi. When Lee began opening Korean restaurants, he needed to introduce additional Korean meats to Us residents. What superior way than by means of french fries? Lee suggests he was encouraged by having meaty nachos at a baseball recreation, which prompted him to generate a kimchi-topped fry basket covered with scallions, aïoli, and bulgogi. These days, he says, the kimchi fries are Mono Mono’s most well known appetizer.

Lee claims objects like the kimchi fries (and Mono Mono’s also-well known bulgogi nachos) introduce Korean food stuff to individuals who might be hesitant or unfamiliar with it. “It’s an effortless way to test out [the ingredients] and then if they [aren’t as] intimidated, they can test Korean barbecue,” he says.

Spicy Rice Cakes

Rice cakes at Mono Mono Korean Fried Chicken. Photo by Hannah Morvay

Rice cakes, steamed parts of rice flour dough, are a single of Korea’s most revered street foodstuff. Lee employed to take in them as a baby on his way residence from college, and attendees at Mono Mono can get the exact same practical experience by way of Lee’s chewy rice cakes that have been simmered in a gochujang sauce right until they’re infused with sweet and savory spice. “It’s incredibly very simple,” Lee states. “But it has tons of taste.”

Wash it Down

Beers at Mono Mono Korean Fried Rooster. Picture by Hannah Morvay

Korean fried rooster fanatics tend to concur: The greatest pairing for the spicy and salty meat is a chilly,crisp beer, and Mono Mono just started off brewing their possess variations out of the Lafayette locale, which opened in early 2022. While Lee is only earning two home-designed suds at the moment—a juicy, citrusy, double-dry hopped hazy IPA and a crisp K-Pop Pils rice lager—both pair flawlessly with a spherical of hen.

1550 Blake St. 3014 E. Colfax Ave 599 Crossing Dr., Lafayette