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From casual K-pub joint Thank Sool Pocha to Seoul ManDoo (and its giant dumplings), restaurateur J.W. Lee of Seoul Hospitality Group has brought 15 culinary destinations showcasing specialties from his native Korea to the Denver metro area since 2017. In January, Lee cut the ribbon on his newest chapter, Tofu Story, on Aurora’s Havana Street. The eatery, which is centered on an in-house tofu program, is a second location of the successful spot that the restaurant group opened three years ago (and that his aunt operates) in New York City. We spoke with Lee to find out how his team—including two tofu-making experts he hired to train his staff for over half a year—transforms raw soybeans into its flagship ingredient.
1. Lee sources his organic, non-GMO beans from Soyko International, a Minnesota farm owned and run by Korean immigrant Jade In.
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2. The soybeans soak in cool water until they’re soft enough for the grinding process—a determination ultimately made by the chefs, who test them by squishing them between their fingers. Tofu Story’s staff bathes the beans for around 11 hours in the winter and 12 hours in the summer, as they arrive drier during the hotter months. Under- or over-soaking can harm the final product’s texture and flavor.
3. The soaked beans are milled through Tofu Story’s Korean-made stone grinder to separate out the soy milk—which becomes the tofu—from the pulp. Instead of treating the latter (called biji in Korean) as a waste product, Tofu Story uses it in its kongbiji jjigae (a creamy meat and kimchi stew) and gives the rest to patrons who know how to cook it at home.
4. Tofu Story adds Epsom salts to the soy milk to encourage curdling, similar to the usage of rennet in certain cheese-making processes. Then, the mixture is steam-boiled for 25 minutes, cooled, and strained, yielding silken (aka soft) tofu. Because the product is fresh, it’s less likely to fall apart during cooking than commercial versions, making it a desirable addition to bubbly stews.
5. To make Tofu Story’s firm tofu, Lee’s chefs mix up the soft soy curds and mechanically press the mixture. The resulting ingredient—available for direct purchase daily at the restaurant—goes into stir-fried menu items such as the dubu kimchi (tofu with fermented cabbage) as well as dishes at other Seoul Hospitality Group restaurants, including Seoul ManDoo, Thank Sool Pocha, and Seoul K-BBQ & Hot Pot.
Tofu Story’s soft iteration shines brightest in the comforting soondubu stew—presented boiling hot in a stone vessel—which comes with a variety of ingredients, from a seafood medley of shrimp, squid, and mussels to kimchi to beef intestines. Heat lovers should order it spicy, but mild and pepperless versions are also available.