Bin Lee-Zauner arrived in Berlin to study music — but it was food that made her stay. After crossing paths with chef José Miranda Morillo, the pair developed a Michelin-worthy fusion of Korean and Spanish cooking at their Prenzlauer Berg restaurant, where music still plays a big part.
Bin Lee-Zauner originally moved to Berlin from her home in South Korea to study singing at the Hanns Eisler music academy. And, of course, to master the German language so she could understand the lyrics of pieces such as Robert Schumann’s Im wunderschönen Monat Mai. But she was also insistent on learning to cook professionally, and, after moving to Berlin, she crossed paths with an experienced Spanish chef who helped her turn that dream into a reality.
The result was the Korean-Spanish restaurant Kochu Karu in Prenzlauer Berg, opened by Bin Lee-Zauner and José Miranda Morillo in 2012. Spanish and Korean cuisine have more in common than might be apparent at first glance. Take, for example, the small plates, known as ‘tapas’ in Spanish and ‘banchan’ in South Korea, and the wide array of appetisers. On top of that, the two traditions rely heavily on many of the same ingredients; rice, mackerel, eel and mussels are common in both countries.
Bin Lee-Zauner and José Miranda Morillo use traditional ingredients from Spain and Asia as well as regional vegetables and game from Brandenburg and fish from Lake Müritz in Northern Germany. Their dishes include creations that meld both Eastern and Western flavours, such as duck with mussels served with pickled green plums and artichokes with a barberry jus, or chicory in a fried buckwheat dough with citrus chutney.
But for Bin Lee-Zauner and José Miranda Morillo, those colourful combinations don’t extend to the dishware. Simple white plates make the meals really stand out. The Michelin Guide has five times (between 2015 and 2019) awarded their Korean-Spanish fusion cuisine the ‘Bib Gourmand,’ an accolade reserved for ‘good quality, good value restaurants.’
Music continues to play an important role in Bin Lee-Zauner’s work, and 6-7 times a year, Kochu Karu hosts a special ‘SingMahl!’ musical evening. José Miranda Morillo and Bin Lee-Zauner specially attune the evening’s repast to the musical selections. Soprano Bin Lee-Zauner still has a penchant for the German Romantic, and on these special evenings, all three cultures have a seat at the table.
All photos by Lena Ganssmann
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