Chun Hee in Berne

Chun Hee in Berne

Bernese heart and Korean diligence

Eve Angst may not be a trained chef, but she's someone who embraces life with passion. After a rather slow start, her Korean restaurant "Chun Hee" in Berne's old town has become a huge success. With a little help from her family.

Locals and tourists stroll along the cobbled streets of Berne's old town as the cafés and restaurants in the arcades of the stately town houses prepare for the lunchtime sitting. At the restaurant Chun Hee at Münstergasse 39, a twice-daily transformation is taking place. By her own admission, the exuberant, beaming Eve Angst turns into something of a dictator in her kitchen. "The moment I walk into the restaurant kitchen, I go from being Eve to a commander. It's all about quality, hygiene and organization".
Chun Hee offers a small selection of freshly prepared Korean dishes which are designed to surprise and intrigue guests. Its "bulgogi" promises a fabulous culinary journey through Korea with a European twist. The restaurant itself is a traditional Swiss establishment with a relaxed atmosphere. According to Eve, she has adapted her recipes to suit Swiss eating habits. She played around with the recipes for weeks in cooking classes and in her kitchen at home. Her harshest critic is always her husband, Tinu, who is brutally honest with his feedback.

In the first year or two, the Korean community in Switzerland didn't take to her modified dishes. Nowadays, however, she features in lots of blogs in South Korea and her Korean recipes are considered high-end cuisine in her native country, too. Yet she's not interested in having a kitchen team of 20 people. Nor is there space for a team of that size in the old town house. She doesn't want her guests to have to cover the costs of a large staff in addition to the price of their meal.

Eve knows what she's doing. Within months of opening in 2015, her Korean family restaurant Chun Hee had already captured the hearts and taste buds of the local residents. The significance of the term "family restaurant" is twofold. With her Asian appearance and flawless Bernese dialect, the owner and head chef offers families the warmest of welcomes in her beautifully presented, artistically furnished restaurant. What's more, almost her entire family works at the restaurant. Her husband Tinu, their three children and even Tinu's 86-year-old mother (who folds and glues together paper pockets for the chopsticks) are a permanent fixture of everyday restaurant life. Her three sons were all born in the house on Münstergasse. Eve's best friend Noelle, also a Korean native, works in the restaurant too and supplies ceramic crockery from her own pottery.

Eve's love of Korean cuisine came from a moment of revelation. The first time she tried kimchi – a Korean staple and national dish made from fermented cabbage – it triggered something in her mind. She suddenly sensed her Korean roots. Kimchi is eaten with almost every meal in Korea. In addition to cabbage, it contains radish, salt, chilli, garlic and fish sauce. Soup is served with almost every Korean meal. Soya beans are another staple. They are made into tofu ("dubu") and soy sauce ("ganjang").

Eve spent the first five years of her life in the port city of Busan in South Korea. Her mother was forced to give her up for financial reasons and Eve was adopted by a married couple from Berne. Her love of food didn't come from her home environment, but instead she was instilled with plenty of structure and a precise work ethic. At the time there were many conflicts, but she's now happy to have had such a strict upbringing. Looking back, Eve is aware of her lack of roots. "Unfortunately I forgot my native language when I came to Switzerland", she says. She sometimes gives herself a fright when she looks in the mirror and sees an Asian woman looking back at her. That's how Swiss she feels. At the age of 20, she wanted to rediscover her roots and found her mother, two brothers and a sister back home in her native country. She is still in touch with them to this day.

Around the same time, she and her husband single-handedly converted their house near Berne minster, acquired a licence and entered into the catering business. This was not her husband's first taste of the pub scene. In this house – which he has owned since the early 80s – he claims to have run the first illegal bar in Switzerland, the "Boat", back in 1979. That's where Eve and Tinu first met.

Chun Hee was a struggle at the start. Working alone in the kitchen put a lot of pressure on Eve and she soon had to get extra help. This in itself was not a problem as she's a well-connected organizer. But because things were slow at the start, she didn't want to incur any more extra costs. They didn't put out any advertising, they simply opened for business. They also toyed with the idea of giving up – even her accountant advised it – but they kept going.

Today, Chun Hee is an institution in Berne. To cope with demand, Eve introduced two sittings. They would have constantly been turning guests away over the phone otherwise and she didn't want that.

Eve knows what brought her success. She always took any criticism of her cooking and her recipes seriously from the start. That's the only way to learn. And where does she find the energy to go mountain biking and skiing, despite running Chun Hee and raising a family? When Eve got to know her birth mother in South Korea, she realized where her resolve and diligence came from. But there was also another explanation: "I once went to see a healer – a farmer with special powers. He looked at me and said "I'm also like you. We don't go down without a fight".

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