Food & Drink

The Atlanta Chef Creating Southern Barbecue Sides Inspired By Korean Banchan

Atlanta Heirloom Market BBQ chef Jiyeon Lee pushing a yellow shopping cart down the Korean/Hawaiian ingredient aisle at Buford Highway Farmers Market Heirloom Market BBQ chef Jiyeon Lee strolls the Korean/Hawaiian ingredient aisle at Buford Highway Farmers Market

Drawing inspiration from traditional Korean dining and flavors, Lee creates side dishes that provide balance and play up the meats on the menu

“My favorite type of American food is barbecue and meat-and-three,” says chef Jiyeon Lee, who co-owns Heirloom Market BBQ in Smyrna with husband chef Cody Taylor.

You can’t talk about Lee without mentioning her pop star status in Seoul, long before Korean boy bands like BTS became a phenomenon there. Lee had four number one albums in Korea prior to retiring from music to attend culinary school. She’s still widely recognized by fans in South Korea, and makes appearances whenever she returns.

Chef Jiyeon Lee, Heirloom Market BBQ Chef Jiyeon Lee

But her medium changed, and cooking is now how Lee expresses her creativity, when she’s not lending time to causes concerning Atlanta restaurants or rallying behind organizations in support of the Asian-American community here.

Eater followed Lee on a recent shopping trip to Buford Highway Farmers Market to discuss how she creates the Southern-Korean side dishes served on the menu at Heirloom Market BBQ.

Owned by Harold Shinn, Buford Highway Farmers Market encompasses over 100,000 square feet selling a variety of fresh produce, meat, and seafood and offering aisles filled with food products and ingredients from around the world. For avid home cooks and Atlanta chefs like Lee, shopping at Buford Highway Farmers Market is hard to beat for the value and breadth of ingredient selection found there.

Although Lee loves meat-centered restaurants, the chef admits she often finds sides served with those meals heavy rather than light and refreshing, as with side dishes (or banchan) complementing heartier meals in Korea.

Chef Jiyeon Lee shopping for ingredients at Buford Highway Farmers Market Chef Jiyeon Lee shopping for ingredients at Buford Highway Farmers Market

“When you go to a Korean restaurant or a home and cook meat, we always serve with radish banchan because the radish is digestive,” explains Lee. “It helps break down the protein and the fat. Korean restaurants always have some daikon [radish] or ‘moo’ or ‘mu’, as we call it. When we cook meat stews or beef broth, we always add moo.”

Lee draws inspiration from traditional Korean dining and flavors for her Southern-Korean side dishes at Heirloom Market BBQ. Sides are meant to provide balance and play up the Korean-inspired meats on the menu. For example, the flavor of Southern-style collards brings back memories of her grandmother’s cooking.

Growing up during the 1970s in Korea, Lee’s family was “very poor.” She recalls how her grandmother dehydrated vegetables, especially radish green tips, to make food last longer. Throughout the winter, her grandmother rehydrated the greens, making a soup with fermented soybean paste. The flavors in the soup, Lee says, are reminiscent of Southern-style collard greens — a Southern vegetable dish she loves.

These childhood food memories and the blending of two culinary influences is how Lee approaches developing recipes for sides to pair with the barbecue served at the restaurant.

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