Eunji Lee Shares Her Signature Dessert
The executive pastry chef of two-Michelin-starred Jungsik demonstrated her baby banana dish at our New York campus.
The Institute of Culinary Education’s monthly Elite Chef series featured Jungsik Executive Pastry Chef Eunji Lee in February. The Korean chef showcased her signature dessert, discussing the development of the dish, her use of natural flavors and her approach to presentation.
Chef Eunji moved from South Korea to France when she was 19-years-old to pursue a pastry career. Over the next decade, she studied pastry arts at the Institut National de la Boulangerie Patisserie in Rouen and Ecole Ferrandi in Paris, and worked under chefs William Ledeuil at Ze Kitchen Galerie and Alain Ducasse and Cédric Grolet at three-Michelin-starred Le Meurice in Paris.
“I really loved the experience of gastronomy: pastry, bread, cakes, wine and food,” she recalled. “It helped me make my philosophy of food and respect of flavor.”
Chef Eunji brought her experience with French ingredients and technique to Jungsik, a two-Michelin-starred Korean restaurant in New York City, in 2016. The pastry chef was inspired by the distinct flavor of American bananas when she arrived and subsequently served banana pudding in a small bowl as a post dessert on the bar menu. The treat became a crowd favorite, often ordered with coffee so Chef Eunji developed a larger dish served with coffee ice cream for her five-course tasting menu.
Inspired by her work with Chef Grolet, the refined dish would coordinate banana-flavored components in the shape of a life-like banana. Now, she takes three days to prep 100 baby bananas for each evening, using Tahitian vanilla for a floral, not-too-spicy flavor and soft, smooth texture; and natural banana flavor for pudding, cremeux and cake. Chef Eunji makes her own silicone molds (in this case, shaped like small bananas), delicately dips the dessert in chocolate with yellow food coloring and hand paints it with cocoa powder for a rustic and realistic effect.
The baby bananas are served to the table atop a basket of fruit for animation and interaction with guests.
“I want fruit to be the hero of the dessert when I make a fruity dessert,” Chef Eunji explained, emphasizing seasonality. “I try to use maximum natural fruit flavor and respect the season and taste.”
Her dessert tasting menu features a seasonal fruit tart before the famous baby banana, followed by a pecan hazelnut dish, small macarons and bonbons, and yakgwa, a traditional Korean honey cake.
“I’m very curious,” Chef Eunji explained. “Whenever I don’t know something, I taste it and profile the flavors. That helps me create recipes and desserts.”
She combines her Korean knowledge and heritage with her French restaurant experience while accommodating local flavor when developing menus. For example, one of Jungsik’s signature desserts, NY-Seoul Ver. 2, uses Korean brown rice cream, pecans from Georgia and caramel, a favorite of Americans.
“Pastry is all about your passion and love,” she said when asked about being hired by world-renowned chefs. “It’s not an easy job. You stand and work for hours. When I was in Paris, I worked for 17 hours per day and I was happy. You need to be ready to learn and be motivated.”