Foreign Concept is the new “restaurant on the block” and it’s making waves. The restaurant focuses on alternative Asian cuisine and fusion. However, no restaurant is complete without the chefs that head them. For Foreign Concept, it is Duncan Ly and Jinhee Lee. Both are award-winning chefs with years of experience under their belts. It is no surprise that they are forging new tastes and new horizons on the corner of 11th Avenue and 1st Street.
Duncan Ly is originally from Vietnam but he grew up in Lethbridge, Alberta. Since then he has worked in a variety of successful restaurant such as, ‘…Vancouver’s Diva and Calgary’s Catch, Hotel Arts, Kensington Riverside Inn and as Culinary Director for The Vintage Group of restaurants.’ However, his culinary journey began at Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn. There he originally worked as dishwasher, to support his dream of learning how to surf, but it was that very environment that instead inspired him to become a chef.
He says, “I remember the smells of West Coast cuisine that wafted from the kitchen. The flavours were unique and just as vivid and intoxicating.”
It was a whole new world compared to the Asian delicacies he had grown up with. Since then, he has continued to receive culinary accolades, such as the prestigious Karl Schier award, and he recently finished a successful career at the Hotel Arts as the executive Chef.
The Hotel Arts was also where Ly and Jinhee first met. Jinhee was originally from Korea and she came to Canada in order to undertake post-secondary education with the intention of teaching English. In fact, she worked as a Kindergarten teacher in Korea for many years. Arriving in Canada she tried a variety of courses, with her parents recommending STEM focused careers like accounting. However, during the SAIT student tour she was hit with a realization.
She recalls, “They took us to the kitchens and I remember seeing a chef plating food and he was garnishing it with a real flourish and confidence. It gave me goose bumps.”
At that moment she decided that becoming a chef was her calling and she enrolled in their Professional Cooking Program.
She also recalls that her parents were very against the idea of a culinary career. It was not considered a prestigious or successful occupation. However, Lee shouldered on taking jobs where she could and learned from whoever she met. Eventually, becoming a sous chef in charge of the Raw Bar. There she and Ly worked together and they have done so for 7+ years. Her perseverance paid off and with it came respect.
For the both of them, Foreign Conecpt represents a new step, and a new direction, that is wholly self-found. Cultural fusion with classical culinary training makes for an exciting combination. However, they are also fighting against the stereotypical trappings of Asian cuisine: the popular image of grungy Chinese restaurants with fast, cheap, and greasy food.
Ly mentions that, “People readily pay more for certain cuisines like Italian noodles but they may not be so willingly to do the same for the Asian counterpart. Even though there is the same amount of work and the same amount of quality.”
At Foreign Concept, the two attempt to change that and it is reflected in the restaurant with stylish décor alongside a clean design and palate. They desire to expose more people to the variety of Asian cuisines in the world and tap into the breadth of tradition and culture within it. However, the two are confident in their abilities and their skills and experience speak for themselves.