I want to work with a Chef to create a totally new cuisine. My goal is to take Asian Fusion on a more progressive path. -Chef Jae Lee
Chef Jae Lee, Executive Chef of Miga (Champaign IL) is a passionate and meticulous Chef. His life experiences shine through his food. Originally from Korea, Chef Jae made his way to the United States in his twenties to Boston, Massachusetts.
It was here Jae was bit hard by the culinary bug and he eventually enrolled in the culinary arts program at Newbury College. At Newbury, he began to develop an understanding of the culinary basics, but also his creative reservoir within.
Jae would eventually find his artful passion while working at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston. The polish, excellence, and composure needed for fine dining tapped into Jae’s soul. Up to this point, he had been restlessly searching for a life direction to understand the art of production and the business side of large operations. Thriving in the large city environment, he gravitated toward the fine dining aspects of the culinary realm and began intensely exploring his craft. The primal instincts of creation began to consume Jae. From these instincts and hard work, Jae developed an acute and singular vision.
Almost overnight, Chef Jae pulled up stakes and flew home to Korea to attend the Star Chef Course at the Korean Food Institute. His Korean upbringing took a firm grip on his vision of his own future. He knew he had to study under the best mentors he could find to better develop his skills. Then one day, while burning up the line working as a Demi Chef at the W Hotel in Seoul, a perfect opportunity
walked through the door. Chef Jae caught the eye of an investor that admired and appreciated Jae’s passion and fusion cuisine. The investor’s vision and Chef Jae’s vision were the same. The stars aligned and Miga was born.
Miga is Chef Jae’s latest masterpiece. Working from the ground up, Jae invented an Asian fusion inspired concept that has proven to be more than your ordinary midwestern restaurant. Using his experience and his deep-rooted work ethic, Miga rose to the ranks of “top 5 restaurants” in all of Illinois by Opentable. Considering that Chicago is in this category, one can understand the magnitude of this accomplishment. Driven, doesn’t fully describe Chef Jae’s mentality, but it does lend to his burning desire to push the limits. Being a small, college town – Champaign, Illinois was not quite ready for Chef Jae’s creativity. However, the diversity that the University of Illinois brings to the community significantly affects restaurant culture throughout the city. The younger, traveled, liberal demographic gave Jae a foothold, with the help of the worldly University professors and staff. But his pure talent and passion, took it to the next level.
There is no question that his culture is all about focus, hard work and extreme dedication. Those ideals are what helped create a one of a kind concept. Day in and day out, Chef Jae is pushing the limits with his food. It is wild, yet refined. Delicate, yet bold. In your face, yet
comforting. Ultimately, Chef Jae wants to invent a new cuisine. Audacious? Yes. Possible? Certainly. Jae is a visionary, with a specific skill set and artful eye. His concept, implemented in Miga, represents where he comes from and who he is, but also what he wants to become. The preface of Chef Jae’s story has been written. What is to come next? We can only wait and see what his next chapter holds.
Kylie Sullivan here! I had the pleasure of speaking with Executive Chef Dennis Brunet. Chef Dennis has been involved in many successful restaurant openings, from intimate café settings to a full-service eat-in restaurant. His passion for food has led him all over the world including destinations such as Florida, California, Japan, and even Switzerland! Read the full Q&A below to learn more on Chef Dennis, including which prominent chef he shared a meal with in the 70’s!
Q: Chef Dennis, tell me a little about what you’re doing now in your career.
A: I’m the Executive Chef at Kelly’s Restaurant in New Hampshire, serving 500-600 customers on Friday and Saturday nights, and around 300 on the weekdays.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a chef? When did you realize?
A: My grandfather and my father were both chefs. I’ve been in the business a long time and have a 4-star rating at Cozy’s Culinary Cafe.
Q: What has been your proudest moment as a chef?
A: Probably owning my own business (Cozy’s Culinary Cafe). It started out very small, but we expanded over time.
Q: When you get time out of the kitchen, what do you like to spend your time doing? Hobbies?
A: I’m very into cars. Anything to do with cars.
Q: What advice would you give to future Chefs?
A: The business, from when I started to what it is now, is very different. Do whatever you have to do to survive. Some people come out of culinary and really don’t know what they’re doing. Get involved in mentorship programs. I’ve mentored a lot of people in a halfway house in Manchester. I’ve mentored a lot of young chefs. I really enjoy doing that.
Q: Who was the most influential person in your career?
A: I spent three and a half years in Switzerland training under Chef Jean Pierre Eighner. He would have to be the most influential person for me.
Q: Please describe the most challenging aspect of getting to where you are in your career today.
A: Trying to mentor people under certain circumstances, and keeping people from being flustered or crumbling under pressure. It’s a challenge every day to get them to the point that they can handle what they’re doing.
Q: Do you have any plans or dreams of retirement? What are they?
A: Not in the near future. I have a son who is handicapped so I’ll work as long as I possibly can for him.
Q: If you could dine with anyone once, who would that be?
A: I’ve dined with Julia Child back in the 70’s. It was at a very high-end Italian restaurant in Massachusetts, which has since shut down. She came in and the executive chef brought her through the kitchen so I was able to meet her.
Q: What is the best meal you have ever eaten?
A: Asian pork with peanut butter, coconut milk, and cilantro. I marinate it for a day and a half and then grill it off and make a sauce with the leftovers
“Back in 2001, the Union Leader Gourmet visited Brunet’s Cozy Culinary Cafe when it was located in Londonderry, calling it a “really great find.” The Gourmet enjoyed the spinach and feta triangles made with phyllo dough and filled with spinach, feta, seasonings, and a lemony flavor, as well as the Mexican lasagna featuring meat more flavorful than usual.” – Newhampshire.com