The last time we talked with the Seoul Sausage guys about their new venture, it was late April and owners Ted and Yong Kim and Chef Chris Oh, were busily building out their new brick-and-mortar space on Mississippi just off Sawtelle in Little Osaka. Then, shortly after their announcement, the trio vanished from the scene like dissipating hardwood BBQ smoke. "We'll be back in seven weeks" -- was all they would say before departing. Nothing was mentioned on their website, either.
By then their fans, who'd endured long lines at foodie events and street-food fairs, began salivating at the prospect of a readily available supply of the kimchi-laced Korean BBQ beef sausage on a baguette slathered with garlic-jalapeno aioli or the spicy pork BBQ sausage under a mound of apple coleslaw.
The mystery of Seoul Sausage's whereabouts was solved by breathless hyperbole from the Twittersphere: "These are the friggn Bomb," "The sauce on the spicy hot dog is awesome," came comments from Flagstaff, Boston, Portland (Maine) and other cities where the Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race was shooting its third season. The group had been invited to compete with other hopefuls vying to win a truck of their own. Naturally, the outcome had to be kept under wraps, so we won't find out how they did until after the series begins to air on Aug.19. We can tell you that Seoul Sausage was among the finalists.
Before the guys left town, we had a chance to ask about their plans for the new place (they're shooting for late July) and about the logic behind their slogan "Make Sausage Not War."
"We didn't start out with a business plan," says Chris Oh, chef, chief creative officer and University of Arizona economics graduate. "I was looking for a way to introduce my friends to Korean flavors in a non-intimidating way; I love to cook and have people over."
Oh's greatest flash of inspiration came at a San Francisco Giants game (he lived in the Bay Area until 2010). "I noticed how lustily people ate the Sheboygan sausages sold at the stadium and I thought, 'Why not put Korean flavors into a sausage?'"
Not that Oh knew anything about sausage-making back then. "I looked up how to make them on YouTube. I bought equipment using one of those Bed Bath & Beyond coupons, then asked around at butchers to find hog casings."
Oh used his mom's recipe for traditional bulgogi marinade to blend with burger meat. "It was a soggy mess," he says. He aimed to get typical Korean barbecue flavor without so much moisture. Each of his countless trials turned into a tasting party at which friends weighed in on the results. The sausage project "was all about getting together for fun with friends and family."
In the meantime, Oh hadn't really settled on a satisfactory career. In the summer of 2010 he came to L.A. to check things out and his brother introduced him to Ted and Yong Kim, who happened to be involved with the L.A. Street Food Fest and Koreatown Barbecue Cookoff, sponsored by the Korean-American Coalition. After tasting Oh's sausage, Kim encouraged him to participate in the events.
Friends and family were enlisted to help out with everything from sausage making to working the booths. The overwhelmingly positive reception and long, long lines encouraged the men to participate in other events and the idea for a serious business venture was hatched.
Their retail place will be a quick-serve deli with a sausage-centric menu, "kind of like a Korean-American Joan's on Third," Oh says. "We'll have the sausages and other foods for sale or to eat there."
The notion of Seoul Sausage as a business venture was a revelation for Oh, who until then had viewed the project as a hobby. "I was programmed to think that business should be something like real estate or accounting. With this I came to realize the job that made me happiest was cooking and dreaming up flavors that everyone loved." Once again the group enlisted friends and family for help, this time for financial support.
Chroniclers of the Kogi scene are wondering if Seoul Sausage might simply be another wannabe Korean fusion place or if it's jumping on the latest haute dog bandwagon. But that may be like asking if all the French food cooked by French chefs is pretty much the same. Seoul Sausage incorporates elements of those trends, but it occupies its own niche created by a guy whose talents are becoming more obvious by the day.
When the conversation turns to the culinary possibilities, Oh's speech quickens noticeably; like a jazz musician, he lapses into a reverie, rattling off the many ways he can riff on his concept. "You could do tandoori chicken sausage with raita relish, Spam musubi on Hawaiian bread or spicy tofu sausage," he says. "I used sausage as a way of introducing Korean flavors -- but I could also do that with flavors from all over the world."
Seoul Sausage will be at the following food events:
July 21: L.A. Street Food Fest
July 22: Los Feliz Village Street Fair
July 28: 626 Night Market
Aug 4: Plate by Plate