金成恩 | sung eun kim
An Ode to Hands
In a time when devices and technology are abundant, there’s something deeply special and human about engaging in a craft that requires working with our hands. Taking time to intentionally create something tangible out of thin air is both rewarding and sentimental— Sung Eun Kim can tell you that. Sung Eun Kim is a pastry chef, a visual storyteller, and multidisciplinary maker. Based in Copenhagen by way of Korea, her work stretches across creating tablescapes that feel like experiences to making pastries that are works of art. Sung Eun works tenderly with the materials that her hands come across. Her creations come about effortlessly and are infused with her memories and life experiences from her mother’s kitchen to her studies in Paris, her time interning with NOMA, and her life in Copenhagen. We were so honored to spend some time with Sung Eun to witness the meditative act of her working with her hands.
7115: What’s your earliest memory of loving to work with food?
Sung Eun: I think the beginning of that memory is my mother's food. Since I was little, we would go to the market together and buy groceries, and when my mother would prepare meals for the family, I would observe carefully and taste them first. My mother finds joy in going into detail with her cooking, and she always likes to make generous amounts to share with people around her. From kimchi and fermented foods that have been completed over a long period of time, to bubbling hot stews and butter cakes full of flavor, I always saw my mother by my side cooking our family favorites whenever she had time, and as I grew up, I learned to handle food naturally. These early memories are surely the starting point for my interest in food.
7115: And when did you know you wanted to pursue food for a career or what that path would look like?
Sung Eun: After school, I often went to a cafe alone to read a book or spend some time by myself. I came across it by accident and fell in love with the cozy atmosphere of a small shop located at the end of an alley. It was a place where the owner adapted the menu to ingredients found daily, which made me discover their heavy onion soup and bread, or the large cakes prepared next to the counter. As the name Bewitch suggests, going there made me feel at ease like magic, and the thought of creating such a cozy and warm space one day was growing within me. I bought a recipe book and started replicating cakes and pastries and replicating the dishes from Bewitch I loved so much, along with experimenting with my own ideas. I would usually get to cooking as soon as I got home from the cafe. Later on, with a Food and Nutrition diploma in hand, I went to Paris with the goal of learning confectionery, and while staying there I was able to taste various French delicacies and learn through my work in different establishments.
7115: Your pieces require extremely detailed handiwork; what draws you to intricacy?
Sung Eun: I think we can see the most when we simplify our lives. I was lucky enough to spend a few months quietly immersed in nature, and during that time I realized how much energy is wasted daily on unimportant matters. I believe that I learned to observe and describe my surroundings in a simpler way, while paradoxically experiencing an abundant, mysterious and complex nature. Perhaps I learned to pay attention to one thing at a time, to listen to the quiet moments that are passing by. I believe that allowing yourself to be in the moment can create spontaneous inspiration. My confections are mainly based on collaboration and exchanges with various artists and their interests. I want to accompany their messages and their ways of expression, through food, clothing or themes such as shelter and self-awareness.
7115: Are there any traditions you hold dear which inform your craft?
Sung Eun: I am interested in re-examining and re-interpreting traditional Korean culture. Older recipes, food culture, tea culture and crafts can be studied, preserved, and assimilated into modern techniques and fresh ideas. We are currently trying to convey the simple beauty of Korea through the Jeolgisik Society, which prepares seasonal food and refreshments. A recurring theme for me in recent years has been ‘Boja’ , which is a traditional Korean method of enveloping. Traditionally we believed that keeping something wrapped would bring good luck, while also being etiquette to treat people with sincerity. Personally the act of wrapping objects helps me convey deep emotions and a sense a sacredness towards people, by treating the objects themselves with care.
7115: Nature and seasons are important parts of your process – how do these elements come into play?
Sung Eun: The seasonal gatherings I organize in Copenhagen aim to replicate natural cycles into a slow, comfortable table experience focusing primarily on seasonal plants. Guests are invited to take their time in cherishing the moment and valuing the simple act of sitting together to share a meal, and are also invited to care for each other in direct exchanges or in quiet contemplation. Since ancient times, our ancestors have experienced seasonal changes in accordance with the movement of the sun and stars, establishing which ingredients are fit for each season and the benefits they offer respectively. Knowledge of natural cycles helps us truly cherish each passing year as a gift, which mends our hearts and constantly creates new memories. This abundance we are offered is one of the main themes of the seasonal gatherings.
7115: Intentionality too, seems to be ever present in all that you do. Would you expand a bit on what intention means to you and how it shows up in your work?
Sung Eun: We live in a time where distractions are everywhere. That is why I believe it is important to set aside time to focus on ourselves, and consciousness. We all need our own space, and I think of the act of switching the background noise off as a quiet ritual that protects me. Tea changes depending on the seasons, the weather, and whether it is enjoyed alone or with company. The fragrance in the space, the music, the tea itself, the ceremony or even a single flower are part of the combined experience of sharing a cup of tea with oneself or others. In the process of brewing tea, we need to focus on seemingly trivial points such as the temperature of the water, brewing time, water flow, gestures, and being part of the process altogether. The intention is to fully savour the moment in time, and by doing so show consideration for ourselves or others.
7115: Could you share some moments you love most about what you do?
Sung Eun: I consider myself very fortunate to be doing what I love. At times it is physically difficult due to the long preparation times, but the process of constantly learning and creating is always interesting and enjoyable. It is quite a delightful experiment when you use your primal senses to smell, taste and draw with your eyes to create new combinations. Some of my happiest moments have been seeing people travel through food. It could be a place they havenever been to, a specific part of a memory, or even a glimpse of someone they forgot. I deeply cherish the memories of guests sharing their experiences with me and the different memories or new ideas that sprout through a simple moment together.