Chef Brian So, 35, named his restaurant “Spring,” because it is the time of year when ingredients are most exciting, and the moniker is “simple, timeless and to the point.” This could also describe his style of cooking with seasonal ingredients in their simplest form, elevating them through technique.
When So cooks at home, his food leans toward Korean, the cuisine he grew up eating at home in Kennesaw. He began cooking as a child. As a teen, he worked his way up from dishwasher to cook at mostly Japanese restaurants. After a stint at a local university, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and landed a job at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida. The corporate chef life wasn’t for So. He found his creative spark while working at Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco. Family called him back to Georgia and So helmed kitchens at Atlanta’s One Eared Stag and Sobban. He opened Spring in 2016 near family in Marietta and has since been a two-time James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year nominee as well as a semifinalist in the Best Chef Southeast award category.
What are your favorite ingredients to cook with at home?
Things I can pull out and eat — more snacks than meals. Cheeses from Capella, charcuterie, hummus. I don’t like to deal with the mess of cooking.
What is your go-to dish for a quick dinner?
Probably microwave rice. And I would pull out different banchans (Korean side dishes), kimchi and fry or grill a small trim from the restaurant. Rice, meat, banchan.
When time is not a factor, what dish do you like to prepare for a meal at home?
I would probably do more baking. I really love baking and all sorts of breads and using the bread throughout the week. I’m trying to perfect Japanese milkbread.
What is your signature dish to impress dinner guests?
What gets requested most for friends and family is beef Wellington. We’ve been doing it at the restaurant for three years. It takes time.
What is your favorite cookbook in your collection?
For home, it is Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food.” It teaches how to cook more than what to cook. It’s about using what you have and how to substitute from your kitchen. My favorite for cooking at the restaurant for inspiration is Raymond Blanc’s “Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons: The Story of a Modern Classic.” It highlights classic cooking in a beautiful way.
What are your three favorite kitchen tools or gadgets?
A scale is really important, especially with baking. A good whisk: a standard balloon whisk for aerating and a coil whisk that stays on the bottom of the pan to stir while heating. A really good blender with a lot of horsepower for purees and soup.
What is your best kitchen hack?
Microwave rice. It saves you from having to wash and cook rice.
What ingredients do you always keep in your fridge?
Butter, cream (I like heavy cream in my coffee) and Korean staples like gochujang, soy sauce, doenjang (fermented soybeans). My home fridge is pretty depressing.
What do you think is the most underrated food and why?
Chicken breast. Chicken in general, but especially the breast. It gets vilified but it is so delicious. I don’t think it is that unflavorful or dry. You just need to know how to cook it. And it is healthy and low fat.
What is your worst home cooking disaster?
This disaster happened through no fault of my own. I asked my dad to buy steaks because I wanted to cook a meal for my family. He probably spent $200 on steaks – filet mignon. I left them out on the counter to temper – I had read about doing this – and my dog ate every one of them.
What are your best words of advice for home cooks?
Keep everything simple. If you make a salad, it doesn’t need to look like a restaurant salad. It’s really easy to overdo things.
Spring, 36 Mill St., Marietta. 678-540-2777, springmarietta.com.
Dakjuk (Korean congee) is one that Brian So’s mother made for him when he was sick. “It’s comforting. The savory porridge reminds me of the time of being cared for, the feeling of it more than the taste is what I wanted to create,” So said. “I like that it is a base recipe that can be changed or added to. Plus, it’s a clean dish; all in one pot. No mess.”
1 ½ cups Korean sweet rice (short grain, glutinous)
1 whole chicken (4 to 5 pounds)
1 cup whole, peeled garlic cloves
12 cups water, plus more for soaking rice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 scallion, thinly sliced (optional)
Soak the rice in a large bowl with enough cold water to cover by 2-3 inches.
Break down the chicken: Using a sharp knife, cut off the legs and wings and remove the backbone from breasts. Wash the chicken under cold running water, taking thorough care to remove any remaining bits of innards from the backbone.
Place all the chicken parts, garlic and water in a stockpot (chicken should be completely submerged). Over medium heat, slowly bring water to a simmer. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 1 hour. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to cutting board and allow to cool to room temperature. Leave the garlic and the water in the stockpot.
Strain the rice and add to the stockpot. Stir. Maintain a gentle simmer, and cook 45 minutes to 1 hour, uncovered, until rice is completely soft. Most of the liquid should be absorbed and individual grains of rice should be visible at this point. About 30 minutes into cooking, much of the stock will be absorbed and liquid will begin to thicken. At this stage, occasionally stir, paying attention to prevent rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
While rice is cooking, and when chicken is cool enough to handle, remove skin, pick off all the meat from the bones (even the back has a lot of meat that can picked), and shred into bite-sized pieces, not too small. Discard bones and add chicken meat to the cooked rice and stir through. The dakjuk is ready to eat at this point or can be cooled and stored in refrigerator.
To serve: portion into bowls. Season to individual taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with scallions if desired.
Per serving, based on 8: 413 calories (percent of calories from fat, 18), 47 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrates, trace total sugars, 1 gram fiber, 8 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 140 milligrams cholesterol, 141 milligrams sodium.
To read about more local chefs featured in the At Home with Atlanta Chefs series, visit ajc.com/food-and-recipes/at-home-with-atlanta-chefs.
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