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Connecting through cooking

Despite being warned away from the industry by his mother, Jin decided to follow in her footsteps.

From a self-proclaimed “picky” eater growing up in Korea, to the head chef of one of the Adelaide Hills’ most awarded restaurants, Jin Choi’s passion for food has taken him across the globe and into some of SA’s best known kitchens.
But it’s still the power of connection that he values in the art of cooking.
Growing up in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, Jin remembers failing to appreciate much of his chef-mother’s cooking, despising foods like oysters, rare-cooked steaks and seafood and preferring western foods like pizza, hamburgers, pasta and sausages.
But despite being warned away from the industry by his mother, Jin decided to follow in her footsteps.
“My mother prepared and put a lot of love into food, but she always said ‘don’t be a chef’ … I think she knew about the environment and working hours – it’s difficult,” he says.
“After military service … I thought about it – whatever I did I wanted to do until I was 70 or 60.
“I wanted to always be learning and for every single day to be exciting.
“I said I wanted to try to do cooking … I think (my mother) thought I’d last maybe three months.
“But from then, now it’s 18 years.
“I’m not saying I’m a success – but I’m still doing what I wanted to do.”
With no experience in the industry, Jin’s first job was in a cheap restaurant in Korea as a kitchen hand.
But it wasn’t until he moved to a higher-end establishment that he began to realise what food could be.
Almost overnight he found an appreciation for new culinary experiences – from steak tartare to oysters – and it’s a love that has followed him across the globe.

The food is about connecting to the heart. We make it and then we share it and enjoy it together.

Jin Choi


A curiosity for western food spurred him to move overseas at age 29 and he landed in Melbourne in 2009 without a job and with no English.
“I couldn’t even say ‘hello’,” he says.
“It was really difficult.
“I almost went back to Korea – almost.”
His then-girlfriend (now his wife) suggested he try Adelaide, where she had been living for about nine months and, with little to lose, he made the move.
“I said show me around the city and she said ‘this is it’,” he recalls.
“I said ‘no way, there must be more’.”
Despite it’s size, Adelaide became home.
Still struggling to learn English, he eventually landed a job at Jolleys Boathouse and still counts its former chef Tony Carroll as his mentor.
“He understood my situation – he had so much experience,” he says.
After about three and a half years at Jolleys Boathouse and a two-year stint at Penfolds Magill Estate, including as sous-chef, Jin moved to Sydney.
But two years later the easier lifestyle drew him and his young family back to Adelaide, where he was appointed the head chef of Mt Lofty House’s Hardy’s Verandah Restaurant in 2017.
His aim is to give guests at the three-hat restaurant an authentic experience that represents Australia’s diversity.
“We focus on seasonal and fresh and tasty,” he says.
“We’re a multicultural country – if you go to the market you can taste everything – Asian, European – everything’s there.
“So my menu’s also similar – different countries’ flavours and elements and experiences.
“It’s that journey of Australia.”


Jin describes his kitchen as a “place of creativity and calmness” and said he crafted dishes with both taste and aesthetics in mind.
“I am wanting to maintain a purity of purpose in everything we cook,” he says.
It’s an ethos that sits parallel with his philosophy of food – that, whether in a home kitchen in Korea or an award-winning Adelaide Hills restaurant – it’s all about connection.
“I believe that food is connected to the heart – it is about the emotions behind the food in creating and the joy of sharing it with others,” he says.
“From a very young age, my mother lovingly prepared meals for me, even when I was a picky eater.
“She always made them with great care and attention to detail.”
This emphasis on connection with people is evident in the comfortable, home-style recipe he shares with me in the kitchen of Mt Lofty House.
A traditional Korean dish that’s prepared for special occasions or a Sunday lunch with friends, Bulgogi combines beef and vegetables with rich Asian flavours like the saltiness of soy sauce, sesame and mirin – a type of rice wine.
“I grew up with this kind of cooking,” Jin says.
“Whoever is Korean – if you mention this recipe, every single person knows it.”
When Jin prepared the dish, he used mushrooms – oyster and enoki – as well as colourful carrots.
But the dish can be altered.
“I love oyster mushrooms and enoki – they have nice textures,” he says.
“… But basically you can use whatever is available – cabbage … even lettuce.”
The dish is usually served with steamed rice, but can also be served with glass noodles – and it’s all about sharing. “It’s soul food, Korean food,” Jin says.
“It’s not really fancy, it doesn’t really have expensive ingredients.
“The food is about connecting to the heart.
“We make it and then we share it and enjoy it together.”

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