For our newest installment, we visited chef Chris Oh of Chingu Hawaii and Seoul Sausage Co at his buddy’s swanky apartment crash pad in Honolulu.
I’ve been trying to meet with Chris Oh since January, but finding time to connect with the 38-year-old chef—who’s known for his Korean and LA street food fusion cuisine, as well as for his appearances on Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race and Kitchen Inferno, NBC’s Food Fighters, Bravo’s Recipe for Deception, and nearly a dozen other shows—has been tricky.
For the past year, Oh’s been jumping between his home base in Los Angeles to San Francisco, where he told me he’s launching a new Korean BBQ restaurant and backyard patio-esque speakeasy called um.ma. (“umma” means “mom” in Korean) in early July; and Las Vegas, where Oh is opening Kamu, a massive, 40-plus room karaoke bar at the Venetian in August. He also commutes to Hawaii once a month to manage Chingu, a K-Town throwback in the heart of Honolulu, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary on Monday. I met up with Oh at a friend’s luxury apartment where he stays when he’s on Oahu (and where he’s loaded up the fridge the same way he has it at home).
Name: Chris Oh
Title: Owner and chef for Chingu Hawaii and um.ma., and managing partner of KPOP Sauce.
Neighborhood: Larchmont, Los Angeles
Hi, Chris. What are your fridge staples? What do you need to have stocked?
Instant ramen, for sure. Sometimes, it’s just broth and noodles straight out of the package. Other times, if Im hungover, I pack it with eggs, Spam, Kraft singles. Just everything in the kitchen.
What’s your preferred ramen brand? Everyone seems to go for Top Ramen or Cup Noodles.
Hell no. Shin Ramyun all the way—you gotta have the spicy stuff. Although lately, I’ve been on a health bender. So like, I’ll do eggs, bacon…
I gotta be honest, that doesn’t sound super healthy.
[Laughs] Eggs, bacon, and broccoli! I was doing that keto stuff for a little bit. I’ve been eating a lot of soba noodles lately, too. Honestly, at home, I do a lot of reheating. I’ll buy food or have leftovers. Cold pizza is definitely a must-have. Do you know how to reheat pizza the right way?
No clue. Microwave?
You gotta do it on the pan. Put it on medium to low, where the bottom gets crispy but the top stays nice and gooey.
"The best combination is Spam and A.1. sauce. But when you think about it, Spam is expensive and A.1. is expensive, so that’s an expensive dish."
Yeah, that makes sense. What’s your condiment situation like? I see a tub of gochujang chile paste on the door.
Gotta have that. Sriracha. Tabasco. Mayo; [Japanese] Kewpie brand mayo, if I’m doing well that month. And A.1. sauce is life. That’s number one. I don’t even have any more—that’s how much I use it.
A.1., the steak sauce? To pour on food or you mean to cook with?
I mean everything. Growing up, A.1. sauce was a luxury. Everyone had ketchup. But go to a friend’s house and it’s like, ‘Oh shit, you got A.1. sauce?’ That’s a luxury. The best combination is Spam and A.1. sauce. But when you think about it, Spam is expensive and A.1. is expensive, so that’s an expensive dish.
In Hawaii, Spam is insanely popular. But I don’t think the mainland U.S. feels the same way. When you’re cooking Spam and rice, do people look at you strange?
Maybe ten years ago, I would’ve said yes. But now, I feel like Spam is becoming more known. It’s not mainstream yet, but it’s less unheard of. Although if you want to get real fancy, it’s about the Vienna sausages. [Laughs] And hot links, I think they’re called Evergreen. Evergood? You slice ‘em up then pan fry ‘em so you get that crunchy texture on every bite. That’s a chef secret.
What else? Gotta have cold rice on deck. I’ll make a big batch of rice and just refrigerate extra for later. The worst thing is when you want rice and don’t have any ready to go, because that shit takes, like, 40 minutes to make. And when you’re hungry, 40 minutes is a long time.
Earlier, you specifically called out Kraft singles.
Always. I try and always have that, Cheddar, and some shredded cheese. I’m a cheese guy. Sometimes I go fancy with Brie—and what’s that French one, in the box with the foil?
That’s the stuff.
"Sometimes I’ll order extra McDonald’s, like a second Egg McMuffin, put it in a Ziploc bag and throw it in the freezer for hangover emergencies."
I had a friend who used to put a square slice of Boursin on steak. He never used blue cheese because he said the flavor was too strong for the meat, but he was all about Boursin.
I can see that, for sure. Speaking of squares, you ever had this before? These Royce chocolates, they’re from Japan. It’s very fancy. The Japanese people, man, they’re so good at everything they do. They even give you a little special fork to eat the chocolate with.
How about booze? What are you drinking?
No soda. Honestly, it’s just water and beer. There’s always a bottle of vodka in the freezer. And an emergency coconut water in the back of the fridge for when I really need it. What else is in the freezer? Sometimes I’ll order extra McDonald’s, like a second Egg McMuffin, put it in a Ziploc bag and throw it in the freezer for hangover emergencies. At one point, I had collected in the bag, a Taco Bell soft taco, McDonald’s McMuffin, and a couple slices of Dominos.
Do they reheat well? How long does fast food last?
Yeah! You can warm them up again, no problem. I don’t know how long they last.
Speaking of which, do you ever keep condiments that are way past their due date? The side of my fridge is where sauces go to die. I’ll see that something is a year expired and, instead of throwing it away, I’ll put it back in the fridge for some reason. Like, sentimental reasons almost. ‘A year? I’m not gonna throw it out. We’ll see what happens.’
For sure. Thanks for speaking with us.