Haej, Founder of Big Bad Wolf
We’ve been on the hunt for a talented Chef to feature on thecnnekt and ladies, gentleman and thems- we’ve found one! Haej is a First-Generation Korean American multidisciplinary woman based in San Francisco. Not only is she killing it in the food game, Haej is a jewelry designer who passionately hustles to produce greatness. This well rounded artist shares what keeps her inspired as a creative, what influences her works, and how she started Big Bad Wolf, SF’s popular dinner party series.
Haej, you are a multi-dimensional woman. Can you tell us how you often describe yourself to new people you meet?
I’m really bad at talking about myself, actually. To the point where friends speak up for me and give me these embarrassingly, complimentary intros. I usually keep my answers short, brush it off, and move on to more interesting things. Lol. I guess it’s situational though. If I’m at West Coast Craft or Renegade, obviously—I’m a jewelry designer.
When I’m at my dinners, or at someone else’s pop up, I use the word chef. (That took a while. I didn’t feel like I deserved to call myself that for a long time. I only recently started saying “fuck it” and began owning it). When I’m being super general and unintentionally cryptic, I say, “I’m a song and dance woman” (which is partially true), “Still figuring it out” (always true), or a “creative.” Sometimes I even flip the switch and tell people I clean houses for a living, just to see their reaction.
You are in the creative space with Big Bad Wolf and a jewelry designer, can you share what inspires you to create?
Everything. Everyone. I’m so blessed to be surrounded by so much stimuluses and so many amazing people. I honestly never feel bored or uninspired. My circle of friends is jam packed with creatives, hustlers, and passionate energy… and we’re all in constant dialogue with each other about multiple projects and events at a time. There are so many people doing rad things in this city; I chose SF for a reason. Obviously, the food and chefs are no exception. The list is long and I haven’t even put a dent in my SF food bucket list. Shout out: Lazy Bear. Holler at your girl. I don’t have the money, but I’ll do my best to have a ripple effect.
Now, let’s talk about food. What was the catalyst that made you launch Big Bad Wolf?
Living in Paris. That’s where the BBW seed was planted. I had this apartment with a spacious terrace, in central Paris with a gorgeous view. I got lucky. My spot became THE spot amongst our friends. I found myself hosting aperos, and dinner parties multiple times a week.
I fell in love with bringing people together, and watching that magic unfold, the vibes, drinking bottles of cheap French wine into the wee hours of the night with new friends. Obviously the food was a big part of that, and I found myself becoming obsessed in the kitchen just to keep topping myself and make my guests feel special. When I moved back, pop-ups were already a thing. And I said to myself, I’d give it a shot; one dinner. That’s it. Fast forward, I can’t even wrap my mind around what just happened (even in the the last few months.) It’s become bigger than me. It’s become its own beast. I’m just trying to ride this beautiful, wild wave the best that I can. But I can’t really take much credit for it.
I’m just one person who has a community of people showing up for me. They’re everything. Without them, this all means nothing if there isn’t someone there to enjoy it.
We heard through our friends at Potli that you are First-Generation born of immigrants, does this influence your culture cooking and how you identify yourself?
Absolutely. Everything we do, say, create is a direct reflection of who we are and what makes us, us. Being raised by immigrants made me hungry, gave me grit, forced me to be independent and showed me the importance of hard work.
I definitely have a “my lunch got made fun of” story and I taught my grandma how to make pancakes from the box. We didn’t have an abundance of anything, so a lot of times I had to get pretty creative and resourceful just to make myself a snack. I’m proud to be a first generation Korean-American. I was born in Cali (which is an abundance in itself.) I grew up eating in-n-out, and street tacos just as much as kimchi. I get turned off when people try to box me into the Korean thing, like “this isn’t Korean.” It just feels racial, and limiting. Yes I’m Korean, but I’m so much more than that and I like that my food is too.
Based on what you’ve witnessed, why do you think food brings people together?
You’re basically asking me to describe what love is right now. Where do I even begin— and no matter what I say it won’t do it justice. It’s a feeling. It’s subtle. It’s just understood. It’s one of the few universal languages we use to communicate that doesn’t have boundaries or limitations. Sharing food dates back to the beginning. Food is charming— it wins you over. It’s not only a primal necessity and instinct, but also an expression of love, and togetherness (even if only for that moment.) It’s a gesture. It has the power to put even the most stank ass egos aside, filling them with nourishment (on multiple levels), (a step further) filling them with humility and gratitude. Food is a bridge that fills those gaps.
The best compliment I’ve received is that my food tastes like my heart and soul was put into. That feeling, or any sort of interpretation of that, is what gets people, every time.
What is the next milestone you’re looking forward to?
I try not to think too far ahead. “Being present” has become a mantra for my life. This is just what works for me, personally. Life never turns out the way I envision it. Even if I try to plan out the next 24-hours (let alone anything further than that), life will show me who’s boss. And I have to surrender to that. For me, it makes things feel daunting and rigid when I project further than the near present. I’m just showing up, giving my all, one day, one event at a time… Like there’s no next time. The milestones just seem to unfold on their own, and I trust that unfolding now more than ever. If we’re talking fairy tale, make a wish on a star type stuff… I’d love to have a Big Bad Wolf HQ. Not a brick and mortar restaurant, more a space for our community to congregate, and to use the space for their needs as well even though that seems very unlikely in SF as of right now. But I’m definitely tired of schlepping heavy plates around, and making due with the limitations of whatever space we’ve scrambled to lock down. I studied installation art while at California College of the Arts. I’d like to utilize that more, and see what happens when I get to build the space from the ground up. Creating the atmosphere, ambiance, and vibes with every single detail being intentional. Next level. Yes, I’m a crazy person losing sleep over details lol. But it’s so worth it.
Interviewed by Chary