Chef Jae Jung has worked in some of America’s greatest restaurants, from August in New Orleans to Le Bernardin in New York. She recently participated in a dining experiment called Story Course where she prepared a meal that was, literally, a lifetime in the making.
Her story, dubbed “How Do You Hug a Tiger,” tells chef Jae’s journey, against her mother’s wishes, from South Korea to America to become a chef.
“She’s a very strong, intense person. … Korean moms are pretty tiger moms but she’s a super tiger mom,” Jae told CBS News contributor Jamie Wax.
Each chapter is revealed through diners reading from a script, which is followed by a course. “Chapter One: Rooftop Sauce” was inspired by the chili sauce Jae would watch her mother make morning and night on the rooftop of their apartment.
Story Course was conceived after Adam Kantor, who’s currently on Broadway in “The Band’s Visit” and Brian Bordainick, whose Dinner Lab experiment put diners in direct contact with up-and-coming chefs, were introduced by a mutual friend.
“We were actually fortunate enough to host a Passover Seder that was really interactive,” Bordainick said. “And it was through this telling this story of Exodus, this migration story and looking at ways to bring it to life.”
“We’re living in New York City. It’s a city that’s built with amazing immigrant chefs from all over the world and they’re often cooking somebody else’s vision, someone else’s story. So we were thinking about how can we excavate those stories and allow for a beautiful, delicious, six-course meal,” Kantor explained.
For their first character they settled on chef Jae, who first met Bordainick when they were both living in New Orleans. Bordainick said while he had known Jae for more than five years, it wasn’t until Kantor started interviewing him did he feel he knew her on a “different level.”
“I mean we just spent hours and hours on my couch just really digging into her story and on a deep level. She really went to some vulnerable places,” Kantor said.
“Chapter Three: Yearning Beyond” explains how Jae’s mother wanted more for her daughter than life in the kitchen.
“Chapter Four: The Slap” reenacts the dramatic moment when Jae tells her mom she’d been accepted to the Culinary Institute of America and was slapped in the face. In the fourth course diners are asked to slap a cracker over an egg with a spoon.
The creators of Story Course feel it’s crucial that the food, theatrical elements aside, maintains its excellence.
“We were really trying to make sure that the performative elements and the culinary elements worked in service of each other,” Bordainick said.
After a musical number chef Jae appeared to explain that while she never got a hug from her mom before leaving for America, her mom did send $20,000 Jae desperately needed to stay in school and fulfill her dream.
Over the course of eight meals about 40 diners a night have been forking over $175 for a seat at the table and proving there is a hunger for this type of dinner theater.
“I mean obviously our world is becoming more and more technological. We are glued to our phones. We’re becoming isolated in so many ways so an experience around food that brings people together I think is essential today,” Kantor said.
Kantor and Bordainick are currently working on their next Story Course with chef Behzad Jamshidi chronicling his parents dramatic escape from the shah in Iran.