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Tablescapes and Synthetic Sharks - By emily-wilson - April 10, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Tablescapes and Synthetic Sharks

Kwangjuyo ceramics (Courtesy of the Asian Art Museum)

For Corey Lee, the most important thing about eating in a restaurant — beyond the food, that is — is the “tablescape.” So Lee, the three-Michelin-star chef at Benu, Monsieur Benjamin, and In Situ, gets all his wares from the Korean ceramic company, Kwangjuyo.

Founded in the 1950s by the father of the current CEO, the company is iconic in Korea, Lee says — as recognizable as Tiffany’s blue boxes. Lee knew he wanted to work with them because of its history.

Corey Lee (Courtesy Asian Art Museum)

“He wanted people to be proud of their culture,” Lee said of Kwangjuyo’s founder. “Korea has a long history of ceramics and pottery, and he wanted to bring back that tradition. Korea went through real hardships and lost all the arts. So this was a way to bring it back. The patterns and colors are very Korean and very much linked to Korean aesthetics.”

In an event at the Asian Art Museum this Thursday evening,, Lee talks about Korean dining and ceramic traditions with Kwangjuyo artist Daeyong Kim and creative director Lucia Cho, who guided Seoul’s Gaon to receive three Michelin stars.

Lee partners with Kim on making the ceramics for his restaurant, sketching out what he wants for the final product. The company deals with the pragmatic aspects of stability or how to fire something, Lee says.

Some of the ceramics Kwangjuyo artists have designed for his restaurants include a dish for custard with a synthetic shark fin soup on top. It needs to be a certain size to make the portions work and to steam the custard, Lee says. Plus, the whole thing is shaped like a dorsal fin to bring the dish together.  Another vessel he mentions is shaped like a vase, holding ice cubes at the bottom to serve a bouquet of herbs and raw vegetables near the end of the meal.

“Sometimes people come into the restaurant and they say, ‘Oh, what amazing Japanese bowls,’ ” he says. “The craft in that part of the world is sort of unknown.”

Tasting Menu: Kwangjuyo Ceramics and Corey Lee, Thursday, April 13, 7-8 p.m., at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., $5 plus general admission, asianart.org