Q&A with Chef Corey Lee of Benu and Monsieur Benjamin

A dish from Monsieur Benjamin (left) and Chef Corey Lee (right). Photo credit: Alanna Hale.

A dish from Monsieur Benjamin (left) and Chef Corey Lee (right). Photo credit: Alanna Hale.

With his restaurants ranked #1 and #9 in the Renzell 2018 Preliminary San Francisco ratings, Chef Corey Lee is a restaurant rock star. Benu and Monsieur Benjamin bring out the flavors of his home, Korea, with the French food and techniques he fell in love with.

Chef Corey Lee has been continuously praised for his skill and vision. “I don’t think anybody understands how remarkable and singular Corey is,” said David Chang of the Momofuku empire in the foreward to chef Lee’s book, Benu.“There’s never going to be anyone like him again. His skill set, what he’s done, and how he’s done it—it’s everything a cook should aspire to.”  

And so, we take brief peek into the mind of the ubiquitously revolutionary Chef Cory Lee.

Renzell: Let’s start at the beginning. What was the first dish you learned to cook?

Chef Corey Lee: Baked ziti. I was 8 or 9, and it was for our Thanksgiving dinner.

R: Describe your ideal food day.

CL: Dim sum followed by dinner at home with someone else cooking.

R: What inspires you to continue to create new dishes?

CL: I think that the creativity in developing new dishes is fueled partly by inspiration and partly by a lingering uneasiness about remaining stagnant.

R: Do you have a favorite ingredient to work with?

CL: Not really, I think about food more through the combination of ingredients and how they harmonize or interact with each other, rather than as individual ingredients.

R: Do you have a favorite dish to cook?

CL: Anything with rice.

R: Do you ever venture outside the typical cuisine of Benu and Monsieur Benjamin?

CL: Personally, I’m open to, and enjoy trying, any kind of food. Professionally, I’m also pretty open-minded. My main interest is delivering delicious flavors and I explore the ingredients of different cuisines to achieve that.

R: How did you come up with the name of the restaurants (both Benu and Monsieur Benjamin)?

CL: Benu is the ancient Egyptian word for phoenix. I liked how it represents rebirth, a new beginning, and longevity.

For Monsieur Benjamin, the name caught my attention while I was in Paris and heard a concierge call out to an American guest. I liked the combination of a French honorific with a classically American name. Benjamin is French term of endearment (for the youngest child), and also Benjamin Franklin was actually the first US ambassador to France.


Get a taste of Chef Corey Lee’s culinary expertise by joining us for a private tasting at Monsieur Benjamin on March 21. CLICK HERE to sign up. Stay tuned for more Q&As with the chefs of Renzell!