Julie Koo took an unconventional path to her culinary pop-up business. Following a career in the fashion industry, the Los Angeles native moved to New Orleans. Koo, who is Korean, runs the Korean steamed bun pop-up BuKoo Buns (www.facebook.com/bukoobuns) at Pal's Lounge every Tuesday. This month, Koo is popping up at Lot 1701 on Oretha Haley Castle Boulevard on Sundays, and she'll take over the kitchen at Barrel Proof Jan 22. Koo spoke with Gambit about Korean food.
What inspired you to start a steamed bun concept?
Koo: I worked in fashion while I was living in L.A., and I had no intention of doing food. But I spent more time at home cooking the food I missed, so I was focusing more on Korean food and the pop-up just came about, and (Los Angeles) inspired me. After all the bars close, there are all these hot dog stands and L.A. dogs are really popular. ...
In New Orleans, Korean food is not very common. I wanted to introduce those flavors in a very relatable way. Vietnamese food is very popular here, so I tried steamed buns around (town), but they all have Vietnamese or Chinese flavors. I wanted to switch that up and incorporate Korean flavors.
How does your Los Angeles upbringing and Korean heritage influence your menu?
K: I was born and raised in the states, and my parents really immersed me in American culture, even though they didn't speak English too well. My mom owned a lot of (Korean) restaurants, so I ate a ton of amazing Korean food growing up. A lot of the recipes that I do (now), I'll do with cookbooks and from researching recipes online, but a lot of the flavors I base on what I can remember growing up. ...
Personally, I don't like Asian fusion. In a lot of what I see, I think the other half (of the dish) overpowers the Asian cuisine and ingredients. I like the traditional flavors and dishes. With the culture behind it, too, there's a story that's being told through the food and cuisine being shared.
You find that here on the West Bank with Vietnamese (food), because there is such a large Vietnamese community. But I think it would be great to see that with other Asian cuisines as well.
I love cooking and I have been focusing on Korean flavors. I do a Korean barbecue (version), but I also do vegetarian options and most of them are vegan friendly. The most popular dish is the barbecue beef, or, bulgogi bun, and that's served on the bun with a spicy chili paste, green lettuce, onion and an Asian vinegar dressing. I've had a spicy pork butt, a few chicken dishes, some noodles and seafood; I try to mix it up pretty frequently. There's a spicy curry; I also have glass noodles with a ton of veggies and noodles, and kimchi pancakes and zucchini pancakes. All of them are things that you would find on a typical Korean family's dinner table.
How do the drinking cultures in Korea and New Orleans compare?
K: A lot of (Korean food) translates very well to bar food. Korean culture in general, includes a huge drinking scene. ... With that, of course, there's a lot of bar food and a lot of great street food.
The concept is to fuse the drinking culture here in New Orleans with really good food from another culture. Some people don't know about Korean beer and liquor, and I think that would be cool to introduce eventually.
It's funny, cheese, Spam and tiny hot sausages are things that we always think of as American ingredients, but Koreans love them. They translate very well to bar food. I've been experimenting with some things like that ... as one of the fillings in the buns.