How JP and Ellia Park Brought Korean Food to the Forefront of Fine Dining

All of JP and Ellia Park's restaurants are about celebrating, recentering and evolving Korean food.

Junghyun and Ellia Park have redefined Korean cuisine in New York.

Junghyun and Ellia Park moved from Seoul to New York City 12 years ago, right after they got married. They relocated because Junghyun, who goes by JP, got a job cooking at Jungsik. At the time, they weren’t even considering opening their own restaurant in New York. Instead, they thought it would be more likely for them to eventually create something in Korea.

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“But then we saw the larger potential in New York,” Ellia tells Observer. “They’re open to different cultures here.” The Parks embraced their heritage and merged it with a New York groove and a global, travel-inspired sensibility, and created one of the world’s most revered and influential restaurant groups. With JP as executive chef and Ellia as CEO, their company, Na:eun Hospitality, has redefined Korean cuisine in New York, and now runs Atoboy, Atomix and Naro. All of these restaurants are about celebrating, recentering and evolving Korean food.

But, of course, it’s the two-Michelin starred Atomix that has ascended to the pinnacle of fine dining in the United States. Last year, Atomix jumped 25 spots and was ranked No. 8 in the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. There was only one other restaurant in America, 44th-ranked Le Bernardin, that made the top 50. 

Atomix. Diane Kang

This year’s World’s 50 Best ceremony will take place on June 5 at Wynn Las Vegas. Then on June 7, JP will cook at a dinner with fellow culinary luminaries Daniel Humm, Thomas Keller, Dominique Crenn, Kyle Connaughton, Pia Salazar and Dominique Ansel during Wynn’s new Revelry food festival.

“A lot of people in the U.S. say that fine dining is not really fun anymore,” JP tells Observer. “People are more into restaurants that are kind of casual, or more like wine bars. So I think it’s very meaningful for all of us to be cooking together in Las Vegas. It’s going to be really fun and hopefully an inspiration for the younger generation as well.”

The Parks are excited about Las Vegas in June, but they also feel the weight of expectations. 

“We’re definitely very happy we can join this event again,” JP says. “But at the same time, we’re kind of nervous, too. Jumping up to eight was a great achievement. We thought we were going to be 20 or 30.”

“We think so much about legacy,” Ellia says. “Our role is now leading the new generation. We really have a responsibility to the Korean culture, too.”

Atomix. Evan Sung

Atomix isn’t a purely Korean restaurant. It’s about what the forward-thinking JP calls his “personal cuisine,” and is the result of poring through cookbooks, traveling the world, discovering preparations like mole in Mexico and then incorporating what he’s studied and eaten into his tasting menus. 

The Parks often say that they are still learning, and one goal of Na:eun Hospitality is to simultaneously become both more Korean and less Korean.

In terms of being more Korean, the Parks are working to open a culinary lab in Seoul, possibly in late summer 2024, where staff will delve into local flavors, techniques and history. The duo want their team to experiment with new ingredients and also to meet with experts who have mastered certain dishes.

Naro. Dan Anh

“It’s a research center,” JP says. “It can be very geeky or very fun stuff that they make there. They might go to the market and find some really cool ingredient or learn some really interesting technique. And then we’ll bring that technique to New York. We need to get more involved in the Korean culture, and maybe that will help me grow as a better chef.”

“The lab isn’t open to the public. But at the same time, food was always made to be shared. So we might be inviting local chefs or chefs from around the world to our table, serving a dish and getting some feedback from them. I think that is going to help us figure out what’s going to be the next chapter for Korean food.”

The Parks’ next restaurant, however, won’t serve Korean food. This summer, former Atomix sous chef Daniel Garwood and Na:eun Hospitality will debut seasonal tasting menu restaurant Acru in Greenwich Village.

“Up until now, it’s been about Korean restaurants and JP and Ellia,” Ellia says. “But we have a lot of talented team members, and we want to support them and their visions.”

“We know that opening a restaurant is hard,” JP adds. “A lot of random things come up, whether it’s based on the regulations, the building, the owner, the construction or the PR and marketing. We want to be kind of the backup. We have some really good talent working with us, and they want to open a restaurant. We have the experience. Why don’t we give them that chance?”

Naro. Charissa Fay

It’s fitting that the new restaurant is debuting in New York, as the city now feels like home for JP and Ellia.  “It’s a place where I feel like I really belong,” says JP, who won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York State in 2023. “New York is our foundation, for sure.”

The Parks still travel often, to culinary conferences, collaborative dinners and high-profile pop-ups like Ritual at Manresa. Their goal is to find ideas they can bring back to New York.

“Every single event, we learn a lot about their philosophy and the culture,” Ellia says. “All the events and collaborations—we go there to learn from them and share our experience, too. Learning from other chefs and other restaurants makes us stronger and able to do more.”

How JP and Ellia Park Brought Korean Food to the Forefront of Fine Dining