Mŏkbar chef /owner Esther Choi grew up cooking traditional Korean food with her Korean-native grandmother. So while Esther was born in New Jersey and her early childhood spent in the state’s ocean-side town of Egg Harbor, Esther was always keenly aware of her Korean heritage. That awareness morphed into immersion when her family moved to Korea for three years, because her parents wanted to assure their children would cherish Korean culture. Their goal was enthusiastically embraced by Esther, whose mission is to broaden New Yorkers’ understanding and appreciation of Korean culture through her food.
She believes, “Food is the ambassador of a culture; it expresses all the elements that define a country – its history, social customs, language, geography and arts traditions. It is something passed from generation to generation. In my case from my grandmother to me. She taught me everything I know about food, how to love every ingredient; how to respect the process and thoughtful preparation of every dish.” Esther truly believes in the simplicity of dining and yet strives to deliver complex and perfectly executed traditional Korean cuisine with humility, demonstrating her true commitment to the authenticity of her Korean heritage.
Esther’s formal training as a chef began at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), continuing in the kitchens of ilili and La Esquina, as well as that of the Food Network. However, Esther began her professional education at 14 when she started working part-time in restaurants.
“To me, Korean food is not just about cooking and being a chef, it is about the love of family, culture, respect of my heritage and that is who I am as a person both personally and professionally. I want everyone to fall in love with Korean food and culture and that is my ultimate goal.”
Jennifer Choi is currently a Managing Partner as well as Controller for Mokbar. Jennifer received her degree in Business Management from Drexel University and comes from a background in Retail Finance for over 10 years at companies such as Tiffany & Co and David Yurman in New York City. Jennifer decided to open up Mokbar with sister, Chef Esther Choi- believing in the Chef's passion for introducing Korean food and culture into NYC.
Jin Jang, Director of Directions, started her culinary pursuit in Seoul, Korea, where she was born. Watching her grandparents grow vegetables and foraging for herbs in the mountains fueled her love for home-style Korean food. Once Jin moved to the states, it took some time to adjust to the American style. Being from an immigrant family, Jin understood her mother's need to work and being too tired to pack lunches. With the knowledge from her halmoni, harabuji, and the creativity of a chef early on in her career, she began to make her lunch from simple kimchi and rice to more evolved Korean dishes. Jin had various career choices and ideas that ranged from being a florist to a lawyer. However, the deciding factor wasn't until the Thanksgiving of her freshman year of high school. Watching her family and friends enjoy her food gave way to the passion of becoming a chef.
After graduating from high school, she attended Drexel University under the Culinary/Hospitality program. Shortly after entering college, Jin took the initiative to pursue her education outside of the classroom and to gain real-world experience. After opening her food truck, KAMI, it ran from 2012 to 2016 until she decided to sell her business and became the manager of Spot Gourmet Burgers.
Her success piqued the interest of Esther Choi, and a few months later, she moved to New York to become the Chef de Cuisine of Mokbar. In only a year, she rose to the role of Director of Operations to oversee all Mokbar restaurants from behind the scenes. Jin still cooks for the masses with Esther Choi and Il Ji Cheung for catering and significant events.
IL JI Cheung
IL JI Cheung is a passionate Korean chef with an impressive resume to back her knowledge in Korean cuisine. Growing up in Seoul, Korea, she studied at Baehwa and graduated with a bachelors in Traditional Korean cuisines and Franchise business. Shortly after Il JI took a year internship in 2009 to learn and understand fine western dining. She expanded her horizons in the culinary world and concluded that it was Korean cuisine that she truly loved and felt the most passionate.
Growing up in a large family household with a halmoni who enjoyed hosting family gatherings, IL JI spent most of her childhood in the kitchen with her family she grew to understand the history and love that went into making traditional Korean cuisine. Exciting and invigorating to give every dish the care and respect it deserved as the women in her family had done before her.
Her umma that had given her the drive to pursue her culinary passion further and going back to the states to learn from the talented chef at Jungsik. There she acquired the credentials and understanding of Korean/French fusion. She went on to become the Executive Head Chef at Ms. Yoo and decided to revise the menu and add more traditional Korean flavors and later becoming the Head Chef at Mokbar in Brooklyn.
The A Team
WANT TO JOIN A TEAM OF MOTIVATED, PASSIONATE AND FORWARD THINKING CHEFS? MOKBAR IS CURRENTLY HIRING LINE COOKS, SERVERS AND CASHIERS. TO APPLY, PLEASE SEND YOUR RESUME AND A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF WHY YOU’RE FIT FOR THE JOB TO JINA@MOKBAR.COM.