At just 27, Esu Lee boasts an impressive portfolio and helms one of the hottest tables in Paris. The South Korean-born, Australian-trained chef’s restaurant C.A.M. is popular with the fashion crowd, like Opening Ceremony’s Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, who sing praises of his Asian-style seasonal sharing plates and natural wines. During his recent visit to Singapore for Martell HOME Live Episode 02: A Taste Of Home, he chatted with BAZAAR about his culinary journey which has taken him across the globe—from Sydney where he studied at Le Cordon Bleu, to Hong Kong where he worked with renowned chef Dan Hong at his restaurant, and back to his roots in South Korea where he learned temple cuisine from Seon Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan. The quick success of C.A.M left Lee feeling overwhelmed. “I felt like I was running a 100-sprint all the time,” he explained.
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To re-center himself, Lee briefly shut down his restaurant and embarked on a journey of self-discovery which found him learning traditional vegan Korean dishes at a Buddhist temple in Korea. “Temple cooking is more about understanding where the food comes from and connecting with nature, whereas in Australian cuisine, you don’t get that.” Recharged, Lee returned to France, bringing with him newfound cooking philosophies and flavours, which he incorporated into his menu when he reopened C.A.M.. And after a static two months, it was business as usual. The restaurant started seeing a lot of customers from Los Angeles, which made Lee curious. “I really wanted to know why these people loved C.A.M., and why they loved the vibe.” So, together with business partner Phil Euell, they took C.A.M to the City of Angels.
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“There must be some connection between Paris and L.A, so we decided to go there and find out what the connection was,” he says. Together with the founders of Opening Ceremony— who were regulars at his restaurant in their visits to Paris during fashion week— Lee successfully brought C.A.M to L.A. as a pop-up event which Lim and Leon helped curate. The positive reception to his cooking there prompted Lee to consider franchising his restaurant in California. “We’re talking to people in L.A. now about opening C.A.M. there. I’m very excited to see what’s to come in a different country though.”
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