Peter Cho is one of Portland’s most acclaimed chefs. His modern Korean restaurant Han Oak that he co-owns with his partner, Sun Young Park, was named restaurant of the year by both Portland Monthly and the Oregonian in 2017.
But this is a brutally hard time for restauranteurs to make ends meet. Han Oak is still closed because of the pandemic. Cho hopes to reopen outdoor dining sometime this month. Still, he is pushing ahead into new territory. He just opened his second restaurant, Toki, in downtown Portland. It remixes some of the classics from Han Oak and adds a few new dishes to the menu.
Cho said the trick has been converting recipes that work in the restaurant to hold up to the demands of takeout food.
“You really have to have the menu designed in three different ways,” Cho said. “It has to eat well right then and there, it’s got to eat well when you throw it in a bag and it sits in a hot box for 15 minutes or a 30-minute drive home, and hopefully it will eat well the next day when you reheat it.”
One recipe that stands up to that stringent test? Cho’s acclaimed Korean fried chicken.
“That thing is indestructible,” he laughed. “We’ve come up with a recipe where it’s delicious out of the fryer, it’s delicious an hour later, and it’s delicious cold in the fridge the next morning.”
It’s not easy though. Cho said he’s grateful for the generosity his Han Oak customers have shown during Toki’s first few weeks of soft opening. He said some customers have relaxed their stringent standards; and for restaurants that are just struggling to stay afloat, that’s a good thing.
“Not everything’s going to be perfect!” he said. “And I think everybody’s accepted that, and are happy to have what they can get right now. We’re just trying our best to make it as good as we can.”
Listen to Peter Cho’s full conversation with OPB Weekend Edition Host John Notarianni using the audio player above.