For our new Interview with Independents series, we’re profiling people with distinctive talents who embody “exactly like nothing else”.
Dennis Lee is the head chef and co-owner of San Francisco hotspot Namu Gaji. Born into the restaurant business, Dennis and his brothers – Daniel and David (who are also co-owners) – have created sought-after Korean dining using fresh ingredients from the Namu family farm and beyond. We asked Dennis five questions about his life as a chef, restauranteur, and brother.
What was the inspiration for Namu Gaji?
The inspiration behind Namu was to create a small sanctuary, an environment for our friends, family and greater community to enjoy food and relationships. We wanted to create a place where we could all be ourselves and offer our personalities, hospitality and cuisine to others.
What do you feel is most special about Namu Gaji?
There are many special things. Right now I feel that our staff is special. From our farmer to the cooks, bar backs, office manager and servers. We have a great team of dedicated people putting their life into Namu Gaji and it creates an incredible environment and experience.
You talk about ‘food without boundaries’. What are some examples at Namu Gaji?
The only boundaries are the limits of what we can find around us. You will find many ingredients and food cultures on our menu at one time – hotdogs, African jelly melons, Mexican sour gherkins – but it all comes together, has context and makes sense in your mouth.
What was the inspiration for starting the farm?
The inspiration for our farm was pushing ourselves to engage the food community and be more of a part of a food system or process. We grow a wide variety of herbs, vegetables and fruit. During the peak of late summer 80% of the menu had something from the farm in it.
How important is the brotherly bond in your work and success?
The brotherly bond is very important to us. We keep each other grounded and focused. We also have the most fun together. We are also able to push each other in very personal and direct ways because we trust each other and know one another so well.