At her pop-up dinners inside A Mano in Old Fourth Ward, Seung Hee Lee is living up to her Instagram handle—Korean Fusion—by serving dishes such as bulgogi-stuffed pierogi and kimchi paté melts on the last Sunday of the month. But her culinary career started on a much more traditional route: Lee was born and raised in Korea and studied food and nutrition at a university in Seoul. During that time, she spent her weekends at the Taste of Korea Research Institute, learning traditional, royal Korean recipes and techniques. But outside of Korea, she learned, the dishes she’d learned were difficult to perfectly recreate.
“Despite my ‘classical’ training, I quickly realized I was not able to achieve my standards outside of Korea,” she explains. “The ingredients just do not taste the same. I had to modify my way of cooking.”
This was a turning point, as she began translating these recipes into more approachable dishes (she co-authored the cookbook Everyday Korean in 2017) with a modern twist. It’s this version of Korean fusion that she’s been serving to Atlantans at pop-ups since 2017.
Lee has a full-time job as an epidemiologist and hosts pop-ups in her spare time. She’s considered opening her own restaurant, but prefers the flexibility and creativity that pop-ups offer. “I would be so bored cooking the same thing every single time,” she says. “Pop-ups are always unexpected, and I love the adrenaline rush.”
Part of that fun is collaborating with other chefs, many of whom she knows personally, or sometimes those she meets through Instagram. On her upcoming March 31 A mano pop-up, she’ll be cooking with Neal Bukiet (@sandwichesllc), where they’ll serve Bukiet’s turkey tamales topped with Lee’s signature “slutty sauce” and Bukiet’s paté melts topped with Mornay sauce and carmalized kimchi. She’s also recently worked wtih Julia Schneider (@parkmeejung) on a pop-up at Root Baking Co. they dubbed “Seoul Sisters,” where bulgogi hot pockets were on the menu. The Lazy Betty team also recently invited her to collaborate on a pop-up, she says. “It’s exciting and intimidating. That is the exact feeling that makes me feel alive!”
“Last year was about my personal growth as a chef,” she says. “This year, I want to work with others. I have fun bouncing different ideas off other chefs.”
At A Mano, expect Lee’s most popular dish: slutty tofu. This gluten-free, vegan dish is deep-fried and topped with cilantro and perilla seeds. It gets its name from Lee’s “slutty sauce”—a sweet, tangy, spicy mix of chili crisps, chili oil, and “sweetening elements.” (Not to mention, she thought the unexpected juxtoposition of the words “tofu” and “slutty” was just funny.) Lee says the dish is one uses to show diners that Korean food can be balanced, as opposed to purely spicy.
“I personally hated tofu growing up, so I make it my mission to make it taste good,” she says.
If you can’t make it to A Mano, Lee will pop-up with Bukiet once again on April 18 for a natural wine event with Stanky Wine at Brush Izakaya in Decatur. She doesn’t have an exact menu set yet, but says to expect serve Korean nachos with bulgogi and fried kimchi and Bukiet’s tamales with slutty sauce.
She shares the menu for the March 31 A Mano pop-up below.
- Oyster shooters with white kimchi broth and Korean melon
- Bulgogi-stuffed perogies with gochujang crema
- Turkey tamales with mushrooms, spring greens, and slutty sauce
- Slutty tofu
- Crunchy salad with Georgia spring vegetables, crispy rice, and “crack sauce”
- Paté melt on Root Baking Co. bread with caramelized kimchi and mornay sauce
- Bibim noodles (silken sweet potato noodles), pickled and marinated with fresh vegetables and gochujang vinaigrette
- Kimchicken stew
- Doenjang caramel