Corey Lee's Korean name means "Wise Man from the East." Now, this ultra-refined, hyper-talented San Francisco chef is making a convincing argument about what Western cooking can encompass. Here, a night in the kitchen at Benu.
Corey Lee, the Korean-born, American-trained chef who, at the age of 36, is already among the most highly regarded cooks in the country, stands at one end of a stainless counter, two rows of menus in front of him. Half of his cooks have, like him, monkishly shaved heads. They are figures, moving rapidly, apprehended through steam and smoke. Silence. Dee dee dee deet, a timer goes off. "Fine fine fine" a cook mutters to herself. Tonight, alongside the current iteration of Benu's 19-course menu, there are 10 additional menus being prepared for repeat diners—including one who is eating there for the 38th time. Then there are the modifications, which the servers whisper to Lee, and he delivers to the brigade of cooks.
"All three no peanuts!" Lee calls, as if through a bullhorn.