Peter Jo, better known to Melbourne diners as Kimchi Pete, quietly closed his year-old Korean diner Restaurant Shik on Friday night.
“These things happen, but it was my fault,” the chef tells Broadsheet. “I got evicted and repossessed, I was behind on payments. And it also just, it took a while for me to understand what my food was, first of all, then there was a struggle to define my food to the people.”
Shik was well-loved for its delicate dance between traditional and contemporary Korean fare and use of native Australian ingredients. It opened in March last year to near-immediate acclaim from local food media and beyond, with dishes including seasonal kimchis and banchan, Korean beef tartare with saltbush, pots of Cloudy Bay clams, pigskin terrine, and charry, fiery grilled meats. It was Korean food we hadn’t seen done here before: ambitious, inventive and unexpected.
“It started off traditional Korean, and my food eventually evolved, and how I approached it evolved, but the way it was labelled was incorrect. As I started to understand my philosophy, I realised it didn’t make sense with all the labels out there. It was fusion, but it wasn’t. It was traditional, but it wasn’t.
“After closing I had an epiphany, and now I know how I’d do it. Now I’d call it old-world Korean. The messaging is, I think, to blame. As well as myself, for not knowing what the hell I was doing.”
Jo’s plan for the next few months is to “grind it out”, pay off his debts, potentially run some pop-ups, then work towards a new venture sometime soon. He knows he made mistakes with Shik, but if he could go back in time, he still wouldn’t change anything.
“What I did was true to what I believed in,” he says. “It’s a big blur, the journey I’ve had.”