As soon as I walked through the door, I felt at home already. It could've been the familiarity of a Korean friendship, the welcoming warm smile or simply the fact that Yurim Byun started off our acquaintance by offering me her lovely food right away! Yurim, just like her work, is a delightful blend of playful and whimsical, devotion and hardwork, warm and nurturing.
I met Yurim on a photography project. I was to photograph her work. We'd met and talked online only a few weeks prior. To do my homework, I browsed photographs of her brainchild EatMe, in total awe of the incredible craft and finesse of her many vibrant, miniature sculpted pieces of edible art. I'd never been more excited to work with someone I'd never actually known before.
It was only when I finally visited Yurim's apartment on the day of the photoshoot that I learnt what EatMe was all about. Yurim had just completed a 40-hour stretch of working on 2 catering orders, both in a row. Some 200 odd pieces of each kind of finger food, and all so pretty and perfect, they'd kill you. It was easy to get lost in working out the manual labour of it all, but it also was simply impossible to ignore the creativity that filled the room and the intense attention to detail that fueled it. Computing the balance of the two boggled my mind. EatMe is a true labour of love.
Through the shoot, working to give me perfectly plated dishes, Yurim's hands moved nimbly but purposefully, picking and gathering between plates of fried mushrooms, beautifully pickled sticks of vegetables, carefully collected spectrums of herbs, fragrant sauces and every once in a while, helping move my lights. I realised, the greatest testament to her work were truly her hands. Yes, the perfection has a creator. And I needed to present it. Hesitant at first, they finally graced the frame.
This shoot was truly the most stimulating, fun and wonderful experience I've ever had, creating work for someone. I had the most beautiful subjects to begin with! Yurim and I played off of each other's ideas, improvised props and went where the process took us, all while having loads of fun.
As much as I could go on and on and on, I want to now take this opportunity to present Yurim and her work, in her own words. Read on...
I love your work! It's playful and fun, yet beautiful, heartfelt and warm– I'm curious to know what your creative vision was like when you first started working with food.
Since when I was young, I've been obsessed with small things like miniature toys, dolls and action figures. So naturally, I became a toy collector. I think that was the reason I liked finger food. I was constantly thinking of how I could make Korean food bite-sized. So many ideas came up, such as a mini bibimbap or mini pajeon (Korean pancake) or ssam (bite-sized Korean bbq on a leaf). Authentic Korean taste with a modern twist– is what I wanted to do.
Like me, you are/were a fashion designer before starting to work with food. How did your interest in food begin?
For me, cooking was a very usual thing. I'm the only child and both my parents were working. I was bored at home during my summer and winter vacations. Then naturally, cooking became playing. My first cooking attempt was Kalguksu (Korean noodle soup) and I started from scratch: making the dough. I didn't even look at a cookbook or a recipe. I just made it, remembering how my mom would make it. I was 10 years old at that time. I remember that my mom was quite impressed with that. Then she bought me a lot of cooking tools and utilities because she expected that maybe I will be a chef in future, so she wanted to support that. But then I got bored and never thought of becoming a chef until I came to Berlin.
When I moved to Tokyo I was searching for a side job. Then I realized that a job in gastronomy is well-paid. So I started work in a Japanese restaurant in Shibuya. Those two years of kitchen experience was very huge.
In my second year in Berlin, I was in a big financial crisis and cooking became surviving for me. I couldn't afford eating in a restaurant, so I had to cook to live. Sometimes I posted pictures of my meals on Facebook. People loved it. Friends started to ask me if they could taste my food. Then one day, one of my friends asked me to cook for his birthday party. That was the beginning of Eatme.
Do you think any of your interest in fashion has played into how you design for EatMe now?
I've never thought about it, but now I realize, yes. My design is based on minimalism and functionality, and I think I also consider these when I create a menu. Because I always focus on how to make it simple and easy to eat. But the presentation is a bit different. I like to create a story with it. As the name "Eatme" came from Alice in wonderland, I wanted to present it like a fairytale.
When we first met you, you’d just worked 40 hours straight to get your catering order out of the door. How do you do it?
First of all, I have to say Koreans are hard workers. I believe that human beings are strong enough and everything is about strength of mentality. I was even working right before my appendix ruptured. That was the most painful experience so far. My problem is, I'm not good at organizing, so probably it will be better if I hire more helpers. My record is 58 hours straight. And I'm not gonna do it ever again.
Where do you gather your inspiration from?
Pinterest has definitely helped me a lot when I started the catering business. Then also these toys inspire me a lot. Normally I get all the ideas right before I fall asleep.
What's been the funniest/weirdest thing to happen to you since starting Working with food?
I stopped cooking at home. I don't even open the fridge after catering.
Yurim, thank you for sharing your inspiration and passion with me! I cannot wait to see what else is in store on EatMe's creative dream ride!