Heegu Yoon is the volunteer executive chef who leads the Korean food preparation for all OKCK events. Heegu’s leadership qualities have given much prestige to the OKCK and her food has always received wonderful reviews and feedback from the public. Heegu’s tireless efforts demonstrate her passion for sharing Korean culture with as wide an audience as possible.
Heegu and her family arrived in Winnipeg from Seoul, South Korea in 2006. She then moved to Kelowna in 2010 with her husband, Sung-il Hwang, and her four children and opened the restaurant “Sushi Zen” at the Willow Park Mall in Rutland in 2015.
Heegu’s husband, as a formally trained Japanese chef, creates unique and artistic Japanese dishes, particularly Sushi and Sashimi rolls with elaborate plate presentations. Along with Heegu’s many years of experience preparing Korean food, Sushi Zen offers a wide array of classic Japanese selections that have a flavour all their own. As co-owners of their local business, they are passionate about sharing their culinary creations and expanding the international palate of the Kelowna community.
Q: How did you start volunteering with the OKCK?
A: I first saw the OKCK Korean Heritage Booth at the Moon Festival in 2011. The following year, I began preparing food at the 2012 Moon Festival with Angela Choi and Eunjung Lee. I definitely enjoyed sharing authentic Korean food to a new Okanagan audience, and it fed my desire to take on a larger role within the organization. Cooking has always been my passion and hobby, so it was a natural fit for me that has grown since then.
Q: How has the OKCK enriched your life?
A: Volunteering with the OKCK has given me many wonderful experiences to collaborate and work with so many people who share my vision. I usually cook Korean dishes for my family dishes on my own, but working so closely with so many different people as a team has helped me develop my leadership skills while allowing me to fulfill my overall desire to share Korean food with the Kelowna community.
Q: How did you decide on a career in the food industry?
A: I started cooking Jigae (Korean soup) when I was in Grade 5, and my father always told me what a good job I did. Growing up in a rural area, I am more accustomed to a rustic style of cooking using simple ingredients to create dishes with strongly defined flavours. Since my husband has more than 24 years of cooking experience as a sous chef, owning our own restaurant has been a dream of ours for quite a while. But, the opportunity to open Sushi Zen came about when a realtor approached us about opening a restaurant in the Willow Park Mall. That was when everything came together and our dream was finally realized.
Q: What challenges have you faced creating your family business?
A: There have been many challenges, and it has been very hard work for my entire family. My husband and I work many long hours every day, and we sometimes struggle to find enough time for our children. There were times when I thought about giving up, but the support that my entire family gives each other makes it all worthwhile in the end. Also, we have developed a growing client base of regular customers who have caused our business to grow over the past few months, which has made things easier for everyone. I am very grateful for the people in the Kelowna community who appreciate and support our local business, and we are happy to serve them food that they consistently enjoy.
Q: What other personal challenges have you faced moving to Kelowna?
A: Running a business while raising four young children is a constant struggle. And, there have been some considerable language barriers and cultural differences that have caused a few difficulties along the way. Even checking my email and communicating with business partners and clients can be very difficult and time-consuming for me. That is when the support of my children is most important to me.
Q: What do you enjoy most about living in Kelowna?
A: The nicest part about life in Kelowna is the natural beauty that surrounds us all year long. My family and I have so many opportunities to spend our free time enjoying the scenery, climate, and locally grown produce whenever we can.