“Isn’t the line of trees beautiful? Recently, I was too busy to look around in this town filled with charm, but now as it rains, these tiny little beauties suddenly gave me a sense of pleasure.”
It was a rainy day and small cafes and shops in Samcheong-dong were quiet with the unique atmosphere of it. Jeon Mi-kyung (JEON), who runs a small and cozy café in Samcheong-dong, looked as happy as the café looked lovely. The Sookmyung Times (SMT) interviewed her whose face was filled with happiness.
SMT: As you graduated from Sookmyung Women’s University (SMU) about 20 years ago and took a graduate course in Le Cordon Blue, you’ve seen changes in SMU. Compared to the past, how different is it?
JEON: Even though I pursue the values of the past, changes in SMU should be welcomed to match the present. In the past, the emotion of SMU was just quiet and somewhat inactive. It’s getting better, though, with a brisk atmosphere. What I hope for Sookmyungians is to lead and help among Sookmyungians as their social status is getting better than before. In this point, I’m always ready to help Sookmyung, if I could teach Sookmyungians.
What I feel sad about is that the newly-built campus is cut off by walls and not harmonized with the village around SMU. Like open campuses in foreign countries, SMU could be harmonized with Hyochang park. In this aspect, I prefer the campus when I was attending SMU.
SMT: You’re very famous for dealing with many jobs including running a café, baking cakes, cooking and even running a business for ordering cakes on the Internet, everything by yourself. Aren’t they too tough for you?
JEON: They are. Someone proposed me to franchising my business, but I politely rejected it because I know it is impossible. The name of this café, J’s Kitchen, represents the concept of providing foods similar to mom’s cozy kitchen; as an extended concept of ‘family,’ sharing foods with ‘my’ family. However, if I extend my business and let in foods offered by others, it would be impossible for me to care about all the foods and they will become uniform which was not what I intended at first. Rather than earning more money, I enjoy the happiness wgucg comes from face-to-face feedback, and serving good foods for every customer; the definite concept of this cafe.
SMT: Your major was Chinese Language and Literature. In some aspect, your current job is far from your major.
JEON: I was really interested in historical oriental painting. That’s why I majored in Chinese Language and Literature. In order to study further, I planned to go to China after graduating. However, my husband - boyfriend at that time – persuaded me not to go abroad and soon I got married. After that, I had chances to treat my friends to homemade dishes. They wanted me to teach the recipes, and as it became like specialized cooking courses, they insisted on paying for it. I’ve got to take responsibility for it, and I took some academic courses.
However, I felt doubtful of uniformly designed cakes. There were so many students taking the course, and I thought that there would be the same cakes from the same molds, not unique. So when I first got an order to make 40 Pooh-shaped cakes at Christmas, I carved each sponge cake. Each of them was a unique cake and I initiated the concept of ‘Design Cake.’ It has, however, become very common.
SMT: Because of the tough daily work, you must be tired of dealing with everything. At that time, what do you do to refresh your mind?
JEON: I never stopped looking for what I want to do and I took many courses in university like Le Cordon Blue, floriculture class in SMU and even a coloring course in another university. This may sound weird for others but I’m inspired by such various activities. If I keep doing only my jobs, I might not be able to create unique cakes that others have never thought of. Also, to prevent the blockage of inspiration, I take a trip at least once a year, which refreshes me. I haven’t studied abroad and there was a time I wished to study what I wanted abroad. However, for now, rather than spending much time in a place, I prefer to gain some clues in my trip. I’m obliged to flourish my cake café by myself, because I have long-term goal and there are not many cake cafes which are successful because this kind of job is not a really lucrative one. That’s another reason why I can’t leave my work for a long time.
SMT: You’ve gone through many stages to become successful through trial-and error. Do you have another ultimate goal?
JEON: My long-term goal is to persuade everyone that this could be a part of culture. I myself had never been abroad, but with a sincere heart, I serve my food to customers. Especially in terms of arts, cake is derived from Western culture but I sometimes put oriental factor into the cake and food which requires some creativity. As a result, a new form of culture could be shared as we enjoy the cake in our daily life, which will raise the quality of culture. To achieve this goal, I’m trying hard to be inspired by pieces of art, which I planned to study before. My life is not directly connected from my major to my job, but in the long run, it was connected under the name of ‘Art.’