There is a person who has excellent taste in food and cooking ability that has become a pivotal name of the Itaewon food industry and has had a street named after him. He is Chef Chang Jin-woo, the owner of over 15 restaurants in Chang Jin-woo street, Gyeongnidan road, Itaewon. All of his restaurants are loved as various attractions. And now, he is giving his inspiration and energy to youths sharing his know-how of success through broadcastings and lectures. A charming CEO who promotes happiness in our society through enriching our culture, is undoubtedly Chef Chang Jin-woo. The Chung-Ang Herald hopes that this interview would be a good chance for you to pay heed to his advice.
CAH: What did you dream of becoming in your childhood? And what kind of student were you when you were an undergraduate in CAU?
Chang: I dreamed of being president or a scientist like everyone else my age. It’s amazing that I am living in an era where everything I dreamt of can become reality. I dreamed of this world of advanced science, becoming used in our daily lives. And I remember that I was a good student when I was an undergraduate at CAU. I had received scholarships during my college years, but that doesn’t mean that I was good at studying. To be honest, the professors gave me high grades, as long as I attended my classes sincerely; studying hard was not needed in order to gain a high GPA. I think it was a problematic aspect of the university systems in Korea.
CAH: Do you have a special reason why you decided to major in traditional Korean music at CAU? Do you have a memorable experience at CAU?
Chang: There are only a few traditional Korean music colleges all over the world and therefore, I merely had a few options to choose from. I loved the professors of the Korean music colleges at CAU. However, I don’t think they helped me a lot because I didn’t work hard enough to learn traditional Korean music. I just played around at university and did not work hard at all. And I double majored in photography, which had been my hobby since when I was young. I can recall a memory of ‘Naeri’ near Anseong campus. I always went to a drinking party there. I wonder if I can return to that kind of drinking party. I don’t think university can change our lives but, at least, I was able to be acquainted with some good restaurants near the campus. Anseong has fertile soil and thus, there is plenty of delicious food. The word ‘Anseong machum’, which means ‘ideal’, is also from Anseong. I am glad that I know about Anseong. If I hadn’t gone to the Anseong campus, I wouldn’t have known about Anseong.
CAH: What was the reason that you decided to chase a career as a Chef instead of traditional Korean music or photography? I heard that you were very good at both.
Chang: I had a free spirit, so that there was no special reason in deciding my career as a chef. I love traditional music and photography and I am still interested in them, so I keep doing them as hobbies. Everything is a part of life to me, so I didn’t choose one way and keep working hard for all of them.
CAH: What was your motive for starting your career in the food industry? I want to know why you settled on Itaewon, Gyeongnidan road.
Chang: I had a trip and I saw some people living leisurely, truly enjoying their life. I envied them because at that time, I was so busy. I was working as a photographer and I surely was not satisfied with my life. I liked photography but taking commercial photos wasn’t a happy experience. It was a hard time for me. Their client system did not fit me. I noticed that living more slowly is happier. So I thought that I wanted to live like them. But it wasn’t easy to live like them so I had to give up some things. But I don’t regret it. Because of that, I can now truly be myself in this place. Everyone asks me about the reason I chose Gyeongnidan road, Itaewon. However, there is no special reason. Itaewon is my home. Also, I think Itaewon is attractive because it is a unique place where many cultures coexist. Also, it is a major transportation point and I can go anywhere in Seoul in about 15 minutes.
CAH: When was your happiest time whilst running your many restaurants during the last 5 years? What do you do to make your restaurants successful?
Chang: Actually, there isn’t just one happiest time in my life. I feel happy every day. And I feel a sense of accomplishment when my employees enhance their ability as a cook and they stand up on their own two feet as owners. I love the moment when they succeed on their own, opening successful restaurants. I didn’t learn cooking especially, but I am finding about food every day and I work hard in cooking. Other people might think that I was lucky to become successful, however, I can say that all of it was from my hard effort. I even check trends and foods made by chefs that are living on the other side of the world. Also, I try various menus. I don’t stop striving to create more tastes and recipes in order to make my restaurants more successful.
CAH: I heard that you are good at design and interior. How did you get interested of them?
Chang: At first, I did not have enough money so I had to design the restaurants by myself. It took a lot of money to leave the designing and interiors to other people. I don’t do any other work requested by other people. I only do it for my restaurants. I have no special philosophy in designing my restaurants. I just design them in the styles that I am interested in at that time. I don’t like copying and I hate being the same as others. I want my restaurants to have some special features, distinctive aspects that would differentiate with others.
CAH: Do you have a special philosophy for business management?
Chang: I always keep in mind that people are the first priority in anything. I make a strenuous effort to be in a good relationship with people. We shouldn’t think that it is a matter of course that people always stay around us. I think we should care for our employees. Also, I help employees with their interiors in order to stand up on their own. They are well trained in my restaurants so I don’t need to teach more about making their own.
CAH: Do you have any special motives in naming restaurants?
Chang: I don’t have any special motives to open restaurants. I am just inspired all the time with music, movies, or art that I love. I love artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who might be considered as the representatives of Mexican artists, and movies, Grand Blue and Leon by Luc Besson. I used their names in my restaurants’ names.
CAH: What do you think of the reason why many people love your restaurants?
Chang: Starting from 1, making 2 successful is hard. Also, with 2, making 4 successful is hard. However, starting from 4, making 8 successful is easy. It means that we can endure the hard times. Other people feel nervous when their first does not succeed. But I survived that time. My first 4 restaurants were not successful at all. But after that, all restaurants became successful. That is because I survived the hard time and had lots of experiences. I learned from that, what customers like, or what they dislike. I got my knowhow through that time. Most people ignore that time. They just want to be successful. Surviving that time, it is hard not to be successful. I have some memorable customers. They met in Chang Jin-woo restaurant and they come to the restaurant every anniversary and they told me that they are marrying. I was so amazed.
CAH: I wonder how you handle the conflicts between many employees.
Chang: I don’t try to solve conflicts. No conflicts have ever happened. How dare there be a conflict between me and employees? They are like family to me. They don’t make any conflict with me. Also, I don’t care if there are conflicts between employees. There can be conflicts between them because they are humans. When humans work together, conflicts are natural.
CAH: Can you tell me one person that has helped you the most to succeed?
Chang: Lots of people have helped me, especially all the customers. I think that there is a special tie to every person I have met. I can’t choose one special person. Also, I have no mentor. I hate that kind of thing. I wanted to pioneer my own way. A role model can be positive because I can dream to be like a person. However, I don’t like mentors. That is a kind of teaching by rote. I hate mentors of the era, especially Kim Nan-do’s book. I don’t think it is good. The people who read self-help books cannot succeed. I loved to read novels instead of those. I’d never read that kind of book.
CAH: Do you think that a parents’ role is important in success?
Chang: In my case, my parents don’t really care about what I am doing. We don’t like to interfere in each other’s lives. I was born in a normal family so my mother is a housewife and my father is a salesman. I haven’t seen any cases where kids succeed because of their parents’ special help in their career. Of course, I think that fundamental home discipline has a huge influence to kids. However, I haven’t seen a case where kids being successful due to their parents’ success; except for those who are born with a silver spoon on their mouths. In traditional Korean music, it can be exceptional. But as you can see in classical music, there is no case where kids whose parents are good at music also succeed. Chang Ha-na’s parents are also normal people. However, if a father’s good at traditional Korean music, their kids are also good at it. It is because their kids have listened to the music since they were young. It is totally different. Juniors are now leading traditional Korean music now. They are really good at music. Because the music was from Shamanism, they have a special talent in it. But as this is an exceptional case, you don’t need talented parents, just good parents. There are many people who get stressed by their parents and don’t do well. I won’t care about my kids too. I will just teach them how to fight.
CAH: Can you give some advice to students who want to work in the food industry and undergraduates at CAU?
Chang: I want them to survive the hard times. I don’t think these kinds of people will have a bright future. I think CAU’s students are not proud of CAU that much. I want them to be more proud.
rom the interview with Chang Jin-woo, CAU could see that he is a hard worker. We saw him checking trends and foods through SNS and actively communicating with his employees during interview. Also, CAU discovered that he is a creative person that doesn’t like normal questions. CAU was amazed by his unprepared, creative answers too. He was very honest about his feelings. CAU hopes that Chef Chang continues to work hard not only for greater success but becoming an even nicer person, so that he can maintain his philosophy of “People should be the priority.”
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