lee jae

Jae Lee

Nowon

Biography

Jae Lee: At 8 years old, Jae Lee left Seoul with his family and a travel visa. He spent the next 12 years in America without a green card or social security card and never looked back, though he kept his heritage at heart. Lee began his culinary career in 2007 at the age of... READ MORE

Jae Lee: At 8 years old, Jae Lee left Seoul with his family and a travel visa. He spent the next 12 years in America without a green card or social security card and never looked back, though he kept his heritage at heart. Lee began his culinary career in 2007 at the age of 18 at an East Village ramen shop. Simultaneously studying hospitality management and administration at the City University of New York, Lee fell in love with the craftsmanship of ramen but didn’t feel a personal connection to the food. All of the noodle shops popping up were Japanese, but he missed the Korean ramyun version.

For the next few years, Lee spent time as executive sous chef of Tribeca Canvas and met one of his mentors, Director of Operations Shik Ahn, then became a sous chef at Zuma. In 2015, Lee’s former boss, Masaharu Morimoto, opened Momosan Ramen & Sake in Murray Hill, and Lee landed the executive chef title. But a big job opportunity came Lee’s way again in 2017: executive chef at 50 Bowery Hotel and its accompanying restaurant, Rice & Gold. Here, Lee found another mentor, Dale Talde. As the two developed menus together, Talde pushed Lee with thoughtful questions that helped him develop his vision as a chef. Before the restaurant closed in 2019, Lee founded a pop-up series, Him, which means “strength” in Korean. In late 2019, the resilient chef returned to the East Village to open Nowon, where he represents his Korean culture as an American citizen.

Nowon: Nowon is named after chef Jae Lee’s hometown in Seoul, South Korea. Nowon is a Korean American Pocha (drinking place) that serves New York-Korean food and drinks. Located in the heart of East Village, it draws it’s inspiration from the eclectic cultures of the city. Mural by Bushwick Collective covers one part of the wall and the dining room is dimly lit and is energized by hip hop music.

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