"Over the years I realized that it was not just a job anymore; my love and passion for food grew every day. At some point, I realized opening my own restaurant was something I had to do – it was in my blood and bones."
Chef, Restauranter, Entrepreneur, Culinary expert, Tv/podcast host...the list goes on.
Esther Choi grew up cooking traditional Korean food with her Korean-native grandmother. So while Esther was born in New Jersey and spent her early childhood in the oceanside town of Egg Harbor, she 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 ensure that their children would cherish Korean culture. Esther enthusiastically embraced her parents’ goal – her mission today is to broaden New Yorkers’ understanding and appreciation of Korean culture through her food.
“Food is the ambassador of a culture,” says Esther. “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, yet strives to deliver complex and perfectly executed traditional Korean cuisine with humility, demonstrating her true commitment to the authenticity of her Korean heritage.
Her 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.
“I probably worked every job there is in a restaurant, whether it be front of house or back of house,” Esther adds.
“Over the years I realized that it was not just a job anymore; my love and passion for food grew every day. At some point, I realized opening my own restaurant was something I had to do – it was in my blood and bones. I honestly just love cooking for others and introducing and surprising people with the unknown, amazing flavors of Korea.”
Since the 2014 opening of her first venture, Mokkbar, Esther has been hailed as a New Rising Chef by Food Republic and in 2015 was named a Zagat 30 under 30 “Rock Stars Redefining the Industry” and more. Mokbar was also acclaimed as the Village Voice’s 2014 Reader’s Choice Best New Restaurant and was awarded Best Kimchi in 2015 by Epoch Taste.
Now Esther expanded the Mokbar brand with the debut of Mokbar Brooklyn across Flatbush Avenue from The Barclays Center and is the partner and chef of Ms.Yoo in lower east side, NY.
“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 personally and professionally,” Esther says. “I want everyone to fall in love with Korean food and culture and that is my ultimate goal.”
Through cooking and conversation, chef Esther Choi dives deep into the rich world of Korean-American culture.
Esther invites guests to open up as she cooks their favorite Korean dishes, drawing on traditional family recipes
she’s refined at her restaurants Mŏkbar and Ms. Yoo. Esther and her guest dive into topics ranging from food to
family, from K-pop to K-dramas, and from fashion to sexuality, plastic surgery, adoption and more – all to
explore what being Korean in America means today.