As a teenage dishy in Seoul, Jae Bang never thought he would have a career as a chef. But in the years since, his job has taken him to kitchens from San Sebastián to New York City to Stavanger – and now Melbourne.

His fine-dining resume includes time at the Waldorf Astoria in both New York and California, where he worked his way up to executive chef, as well as Michelin-starred restaurants like Daniel Boulud’s eponymous New York eatery; Arzak in Basque Country, Spain; and Renaa in Stavanger, Norway, where he was head chef.

We took five minutes with Bang, who has been executive chef at new Nordic restaurant Freyja since it opened in 2022. He told us what it’s like to lead a kitchen while raising two small kids, what he cooks when he’s not working, and about his days sleeping on-site at Valhalla Bar.

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How did you get your start in the food industry?
During my high-school years in Seoul, I began washing pots part-time, purely for extra pocket money. As it turns out, I was truly fortunate with my choice of restaurant – the atmosphere was very positive, and everyone was crazy and dedicated to their craft. It was contagious. One day, I told the chef I wanted to learn how to cook. He kind of chuckled, like, “Oh, another one,” as if to say, “Kid, you have no idea.” But hey, I was determined!

I then moved to Osaka, Japan, and worked [as stage then commis chef] in a three-Michelin-star French-influenced Japanese restaurant [Hajime]. The restaurant was so aggressive but so precise. It was totally crazy – I loved it.

How would you describe your cooking style right now?
At Freyja, we define our cuisine as "casual dining with Nordic principles to Australian ingredients”. Our aim is to seamlessly blend Australian ingredients and flavours with the time-honoured traditions of Nordic cooking, creating a harmonious culinary experience. We marry classic culinary techniques with innovative philosophies.

Our commitment extends beyond the kitchen: we prioritise building connections and community, forging partnerships not only with fellow chefs but also with local producers, small farmers and fishermen.
Our approach is not confined by rigid recipes or techniques; it’s about infusing each dish with a philosophy that reflects our values and vision.

How do you manage raising young children while working in a restaurant?
It’s a never-ending challenge, and it’s not easy to manage. Running a restaurant demands a significant amount of time, so my days off are crucial for dedicating my attention solely to my kids. We prioritise spending quality time with each other. We do a lot of activities that I’m passionate about, such as camping in the wilderness, foraging in the mountains during peak season, skiing, rock climbing and, more recently, free diving.

What do you cook when you’re not in the restaurant?
On my days off, I gravitate towards simple yet hearty dishes like pasta or stir-fries. Korean BBQ also makes frequent appearances on my home menu.

We heard you were sleeping on-site a bit when the restaurant opened. Do you still have a habit of doing this?
Yes, I became quite acquainted with the sofa at our sister bar, Valhalla! Fortunately, it’s very comfortable, thanks to its high-quality Italian leather. I enjoyed several good nights’ sleep on it, ultimately saving me time. We have a great team and strong relationships with our suppliers, making Freyja a well-oiled machine. I can confirm it’s been quite a while since I’ve slept on the sofa.