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Mapo restaurant owners plan new venture

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After sharing their love of Korean cuisine through Adelaide’s Mapo restaurant for the past 11 years, owners Chung Jae and Sam Lee have sold up and are looking forward to a new chapter in their culinary career.

Sam Lee told InDaily the couple accepted an offer for the busy Gouger Street restaurant several months ago, around the same time chef Chung Jae launched his first cookbook, and have been working alongside the new owners since then.

“We’re hoping to open somewhere new around October or November,” she said. “We’re looking for new locations at the moment, but we want a bit of a break first.”

Chung Jae finishes up in the kitchen at Mapo this week and will head off on a trip to Korea, where he plans to seek inspiration for the new venture – including from his mother, who had her own restaurant in the district of Mapo, where he grew up and where the Korean BBQ was born. He will also be doing a short course learning more about desserts and sugar garnishes.

“We’re maybe looking at tapas, Korean-style,” he said of the couple’s next restaurant. “Food people can share – small or large size.

“No one is doing it at the moment but I thought I would like to try – it will mix European [influences] and Asian.”

The new owners of Mapo, Korean couple Jay and Illyoung Choi, will continue to operate the restaurant under the same name, with the same staff and – initially at least – a similar menu.

When the Lees opened Mapo, neither had any experience in running a restaurant. However, they have won numerous awards over the years, including the Restaurant & Catering Award for Excellence for Best Asian Restaurant in SA. Self-taught Chung Jae was named Best Chef in SA at last year’s awards.

Sam Lee said the couple was considering sites in places such as Goodwood Road, Hutt Street and Unley Road, and hoped to make the new restaurant more affordable for diners.

“He (Chung Jae) is busting to create a whole new menu!”

Chung Jae Lee will become a regular contributor to InDaily’s food pages from this month, sharing recipes, ideas for using different Asian ingredients and other culinary insights.

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