Last month, Miyoung Cho and Han Park closed their Little Korea restaurant on South Claiborne Avenue. Next week, their daughter Joyce Park is opening up a Korean barbecue-focused offshoot, Little Korea BBQ (2240 Magazine St., 504-821-5006). Joyce is a classically trained pianist who was working with pop musicians in South Korea before she decided to take over the family business. She spoke with Gambit about Korean food and the new restaurant.
What made you decide to leave your career as a pianist to open a restaurant?
Park: I went to school in Philadelphia, and while I was there my parents moved down to New Orleans and opened up the Little Korea on Claiborne. When they first opened, they needed help, so I took off a semester to come down and help them in the beginning. When they said they were closing, I decided to take over. I wanted to do something that meant something to me and my family. I love cooking, because my mom was always cooking something at home. If I didn't become a musician, I probably would have become a chef. Music is a talent I have that I can't really lose, so I figure that I can always go back to that later in my life. I always wanted to work in the food industry (at some point), but I thought, "I'm single right now. I have no commitments to make, so maybe this is the right time for me to marry my restaurant." It will be my husband, my baby, my family. My parents are still supporting me back in the kitchen, so it will be a smoother transition. But it's still a lot of work.
What's different about the new restaurant?
P: I like the space a lot more. Basically, everything is going to be upgraded. We'll have more variety for the tabletop grill selection. ... My parents always wanted to serve good, high-quality food to their customers, and so I want to keep and maintain the basic idea that my parents had and add on to it and make it better. We'll have a large meat selection, bibimbap, soups and our Little Korea signature dish, spicy oxtail. There will be a full bar menu and Korean shaved ice. I think the (Korean food scene) is growing, but the Korean community in New Orleans is still very small. I want people to come in and enjoy the Korean culture when they eat. There's a lot of Creole restaurants, a lot of Japanese, a lot Chinese and a lot of Vietnamese (restaurants) but there's not a lot of Korean.
What was your favorite childhood dish?
P: I would guess probably kimchi. It's one of the banchan dishes, which is part of the sides. A lot of people think it's a free appetizer, but it's not. It's ... meant to complement your dish. Kimchi takes a lot of time and a lot of love. Everything takes time. It's not just eating fermented cabbage — it makes me remember when my grandmother used to make it. I love it spicy. And it's really healthy for you.