The Citiblog

Meet the Chef Quietly Building a New York City Empire
December 1, 2023, 2:52.51 pm ET


Photo: Melissa Hom

His name is Sungchul Shim, and while it’s not a household name just yet, chances are you know one of his restaurants, especially if you are a lover of Korean food which is super-hot at the moment in New York City.

From Michelin-starred Kochi to his hand-roll restaurant, Mari, in Hell’s Kitchen, Chef Sung you could say is on a roll. With a fine dining background from such establishments as Per Se, Bouley and Neta, Chef Sung opened his first solo restaurant, Kochi, in 2019 with a nine-course tasting menu of skewered dishes inspired by the Korean Royal Court.

More recent endeavors include Don Don, a retro yet upscale Korean barbecue restaurant inspired by South Korea’s after-hours eating and drinking scene. And then there is Mari Ne, a more laid-back version of Mari, where you can consume delicious hand rolls a la carte along with huge Korean dumplings at a rather tiny counter just steps away from bustling Times Square.

We recently had a chance to interview Chef Sung about that growing empire and his plans for the future:

CITITOUR: You have been on a tear with the opening of new Korean restaurants, in addition to Kochi. Tell us about the inspiration behind two of them, Mari Ne and Don Don. What should diners expect?

CHEF SUNG: Both of these restaurants provide foods that are staples of the modern Korean, at Mari Ne I wanted to share the Korean causal soul food that all Koreans enjoy from their childhood to share in a bit of fun fast and quality environment, providing the freshness of the best rolls from Mari but in a more accessible environment and setting. At Don Don I wanted to bring high quality cuts of dry aged pork found easily in Seoul to the New York market. Don means pork as well as money in Korean and so I was looking to share a part of my Korean culture.

CITITOUR: Both restaurants seem to be aimed at attracting a new generation of diners. How is it working? One Friday night we noticed the wait was several hours to get a table at Don Don.

CHEF SUNG: We feel very blessed and excited to be able to share the best quality food at a more accessible price point in a lively and bustling atmosphere.

CITITOUR: We noticed Kochi maintained its Michelin star this year. What goes into keeping the menu fresh and attracting new visitors?

CHEF SUNG: The seasons are a huge inspiration I also collaborate weekly with all of my chefs to see what is new and inspiring to them as well.

CITITOUR: You recently introduced a new fall menu at Kochi. What are some of your favorite dishes?

CHEF SUNG: My favorites are the Sweet Pumpkin soup and the eggplant Twigim.

CITITOUR: Your restaurants tend not to be in Koreatown. Is there a reason for that?

CHEF SUNG: I love going to Koreatown but I wanted to help share Korean food to more people, to the local New York neighborhoods.

CITITOUR: Do you have any other New York City projects in the works? What can diners expect in 2024?

CHEF SUNG: We are working on opening a Steakhouse! We will be offering a menu that incorporates my Korean heritage and my love for the American, global flavors of my new home country.

CITITOUR: Aside from your own restaurants, what foods do you enjoy eating? And what are your favorite New York City restaurants?

CHEF SUNG: Noreetuh has always been my go-to and a favorite, on the daily you will see me grab a hamburger from Shake Shack or a Shin Ramen.

We’d like to thank Sungchul Shim for taking the time to grant us this interview and wish him, and his team, much success in the future.