The White House Inn welcomes sushi chef
WILMINGTON >> Hermitage Club executive sushi chef Sang Chung is now putting his knife and other culinary skills to use at the White House Inn.
"We thought it would be conducive for the community and the lake," said Chris Bonnivier, executive chef. "We thought it would be good to do burgers and sushi. They're kind of opposite sides of the table. But it's farm to table meets Japan."
Members of the Hermitage Club might be familiar with Chung from his work at the Clubhouse at the private ski resort on Haystack Mountain. The White House Inn is one of several Hermitage Club properties open to the public.
Traditional sushi and sashimi can be found on the menu. Also prepared are nontraditional sushi rolls. Nightly specials largely depend on the types of fresh fish coming in.
"All the rolls come in one bowl with 12 to 15 pieces," said Chung, who estimates having 50 signature rolls. "I had Hawaiian rolls, which had mango, spiced tuna, cucumber and lettuce. It was pretty popular in the first week."
Although the restaurant is open every day, Chung's creations are only available Wednesday through Sunday.
The Volcano Roll sells the most out of all his offerings, he said of the meal that has spiced tuna on the inside and crab salad on the top along with spicy mayonnaise, eel sauce and a thin crust. Deep-fried in seaweed, the roll is then cut into four pieces.
A 38-by-50 foot garden behind the inn is used by Chung and Bonnivier in the kitchen. Local farms are providing other ingredients. And local berries are going into pies offered at the restaurant.
About 40 percent of the inn's restaurant sales come from the sushi, according to Bonnivier. But that's "massive," said Hermitage Club's director of communications Brendan McGrail, considering there's currently only one sushi chef.
Chung said he hopes to offer customers a noodle bar with other Asian food in the future. He was born in Suwon, Korea, about a two-hour drive from Seoul.
"I left there when I was 11 years old and all this time I grew up in New York City," he said.
After college, Chung married and moved to Connecticut. He has lived in the town of Fairfield for the last 14 years. He still commutes back and forth but stays in employee housing for four nights a week.
"I start here at 9:30 or 10ish and go until 10ish or 11ish. Then I go to sleep," Chung said. "Then I enjoy going to beaches, going on hikes and spa days in Connecticut. It's a chef's life."
Chung followed in his father's footstep. His father, 79 and now retired, always had Chung looking over his shoulder.
"I would help with dish washing and cleaning," said Chung. "One day, I picked up my knife and started helping out. Some people ask if I went to a Korean school. I say, 'Oh yeah. I had the toughest teacher. My father.'"
Chung previously was employed as a sushi chef at an Asian nightclub in Foxwoods Resort Casino for eight years. For 10 or 12 years before that, he had two restaurants in New York City.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he had to give one up because it was closed for three or four months.
"I still had to pay my rent. It was in the Village," he said.
Chung's other restaurant in Bayside, a suburban neighborhood in Queens, also was impacted by the attacks.
"All my clients worked on Wall Street and in the Twin Towers," he said. "So people used to come and celebrate every weekend. That was a big reason we decided to move."
Chung then opened a restaurant in Connecticut. He closed it after three or four years.
"I don't know. It didn't go well," he said.
Regarding the atmosphere at the Hermitage Club restaurants, Chung told the Reformer, "I like it here. It's relaxing."
Bonnivier said two more employees were hired to help with sushi orders once Chung returns to the Clubhouse. All his recipes will continue to be used at the White House throughout the winter.
Things have been looking up at the inn.
"Our business has tripled. Last winter, we couldn't do 50 or 60 covers to get out of our own way," Bonnivier said. "Now, we're doing 100 on weekend nights. It's great."
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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