Ones to Watch 2022 // Eugene Kolb
Line cook and sushi chef at Indo
Why watch her: She respects ingredients and cooks with integrity.
“When I was growing up, my mom made a lot of Korean food,” said Eugene Kolb. “That’s how she taught me about our culture and how we stayed connected to it.” Living in L.A. when she was younger, Kolb would go to the markets and restaurants of Koreatown, where she found a strong representation of Korean-American culture. But living in St. Louis, Kolb sometimes has to get creative when recreating the dishes of her youth. “I have to be more proactive,” she said. “I have to learn about it, what the ingredients are, how I can find them. If I want to live that again and I can’t find a dish out here, then I have to find out how to source those ingredients so I can eat it and share it with other people.”
In her home cooking, Kolb loves using and making traditional dishes and components like kimchi, gochujang and jjigae (a Korean stew) and searches for ingredients locally whenever possible; but sometimes, she has to outsource. “One of the dishes I’m really fond of in Korean cooking involves raw crabs, and it’s a specific type of crab, and sometimes it’s hard to find,” she said. “I’m hoping to learn more about the industry so I can get better at sourcing it, so I’m not calling around to H-Marts. There are some things I simply don’t know how to do.” Unlike a lot of young chefs, Kolb acknowledges her blind spots, viewing them as learning opportunities. They push her to work harder.
“I think she has a great attitude. She cares and has really great integrity in the kitchen,” said Nick Bognar, chef-owner of Indo, where Kolb has been working for about six months. Before that, she was at Shift with chef Logan Ely. “She makes little mistakes, and when you’re learning a new kitchen, there are little things here and there that you’re going to have to fix,” Bognar added. “She’s never going to act like she knows everything. She’s not going to try to hide it. The integrity part is a little more rare than it used to be.”
Kolb’s favorite part of her work at Indo, besides the restaurant’s culture and the camaraderie its workers share, has been learning the sushi station; there, she’s uncovering a new world of technique and preparation. “It’s a lot of respect for the person on the other end that’s receiving that bite and respect for the fish and the knife,” she said. “A lot of times when you’re working in a kitchen, it’s fast, fast, fast. With sushi, your steps are very intentional.” Intentional seems, overall, to be a very good way to describe Kolb’s engagement with cooking.
For now, she aims to be at Indo for a while to absorb everything she can and figure out what her own style is. As for the future, she’s being thoughtful about it. “You kind of start daydreaming about what you want to give back to cooking, what you want to see in the community,” she said. “I think what resonates most is touching on my Korean roots because that’s been one of the most meaningful food journeys I’ve had in terms of understanding what it is culturally, what that means for me, being a Korean-American.” With such powerful drive, intention and will to learn, it seems Kolb has her work cut out for her.