Benu's Corey Lee at work

Corey Lee gets third Michelin star

The chef’s San Francisco restaurant, Benu, joins his alma mater, The French Laundry, at the guide’s top table

The Michelin Guide only began reviewing US restaurants in 2005, yet it has established a reputation for favouring places that, while conforming to certain old-world standards, capture the finest in American dining today.

So, we were delighted to learn that Benu, Corey Lee’s Benu restaurant, which opened in San Francisco’s SOMA district in 2010, was awarded its third Michelin star, the guide’s highest accolade, when the new ratings for the city were announced yesterday.

Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, raised on the East Coast, and has worked in restaurants in London and New York. He was also the chef de cuisine at The French Laundry (the first Californian establishment to first win three stars), in nearby Yountville, just north of San Francisco, for eight years.


110 Year old quail eggs, as served at Benu
110 Year old quail eggs, as served at Benu

Upon setting up his own place, Lee introduced Californian food lovers to some unfamiliar East Asian ingredients. Yet, as the chef explains, there remains something distinctly American about the adoption of new cultural influences.

“I feel we are doing American food,” Lee has explained in the past, “but there’s certainly a lot of Asian influence and there’s a lot of modern technique. For me that’s what American food is about. It’s about the interplay and combination of different cultures.”

Indeed, Californian culture is something Michelin were keen to praise. The uppermost reaches of the US state combine an incredible mix of Pacific and European cultures with excellent local produce, as Michelin’s management acknowledge. "Northern California is one of the most exciting gastronomic destinations in the world today," Michael Ellis, Michelin's international director, told the Contra Costa Times earlier this week.


Sea cucumber, as served at Benu
Sea cucumber, as served at Benu

We’d like to congratulate Corey, and also fellow Bay Area chef, Daniel Patterson, who retained his two-star rating for Coi. For more on Coi’s take on Californian cuisine, buy this book; meanwhile, you can look forward to Corey Lee’s debut cook book, Benu, which we will publish early next year. More on that soon.