You don’t have to visit a Korean barbecue restaurant to feast on sizzling meats and vegetables prepared on a tabletop grill. Chef MJ Hong, along with his mother, Sunny, and wife, Lilaya, created the Boulder catering business Korean BBQ Chef (KBC) in February 2022 to bring the flavors of South Korea to homes across the Front Range.

KBC offers two menus: Busan and Seoul—whose number of courses correspond to the respective sizes of their namesake cities. For $125 (Busan) to $175 (Seoul) per person, MJ and Sunny come to your home and prepare a multi-course feast that includes appetizers, soup, sweets, side dishes, and a grill-ready assortment of meats and veggies—many of which are sourced locally. KBC typically works with parties of six but can accommodate smaller or larger groups.

the Korean BBQ Chef
Sunny (left) and MJ Hong of the Korean BBQ Chef. Photo by Clay Fong

The Hong family immigrated from Korea to the United States in 1996, eventually settling in New York City. That’s where MJ began cooking at and managing Asian restaurants. “During early difficult times of adapting to new ways of living, [MJ] found comfort through [his] food,” Lilaya, chief operations officer of KBC, says. “It brings a deeper connection with Korean culture and a sense of identity in a new country knowing that the family’s recipes have been utilized by his grandmother, great-grandmother, and more.”

Then, in 2017, MJ’s father was diagnosed with colon cancer. It spurred the family to move to Colorado to be closer to nature, landing the Hongs in the local food scene. But as the pandemic rocked the state’s restaurant industry, the family decided to launch something new for them and the Front Range. “We figured it’d be a good time to provide a service that matched the changes in the culinary industry brought on by the pandemic,” Lilaya says, “since everyone stayed indoors.”

The cancer diagnosis has also had one specific impact on the catering business: the option to add a cannabis infusion to your meal. Sunny and MJ first dabbled in infused foods at home to help MJ’s father manage pain and build an appetite through his cancer treatment, now taking what they’ve learned to interested clients.

Even without the added substances, the family seeks to further physical and emotional wellbeing in each meal and tailors the menu to meet diners’ preferences and dietary restrictions. As stated on the KBC’s website, the Hongs “hope for clients to have a meal that the soul will remember.”

If you book an experience, here’s what to expect:

MJ and Sunny will come to your home two hours before dinner time with ingredients and their own cooking equipment including a small smokeless grill. The atmosphere of the meal is meant to be approachable and hospitable, like a friend or family member cooking for you.

Much of KBC’s fare should be familiar to aficionados of Korean barbecue, like marinated bulgogi beef, seafood-laden soondubu soup, and a traditional assortment of banchan (side dishes). KBC also draws on Korean royal court cuisine developed during the Joseon dynasty from 1392 to 1910, which encourages the use of different cooking techniques in a single meal. That’s why you’ll also see items like seafood pajeon (a savory pancake layered with shrimp, squid, and scallions) on the table.

Korean BBQ Chef’
Korean BBQ Chef’s panjeon or savory pancake. Photo by Clay Fong

For those who splurge on the 12-course Seoul menu—the specific number being another influence from royal court cuisine—you’ll taste extra dishes like the aptly named “King Galbi” (grilled beef short ribs), freshwater eel, and crispy Korean fried chicken with honey gochujang and soy garlic glazes. Regardless of your menu, though, expect simple accompaniments including grilled garlic, oyster mushrooms, and red pepper, as well as wraps of red butter leaf lettuce and pungent perilla leaves.

Of course, dinner wouldn’t be complete without a suite of thoughtful beverage pairings. The fried chicken’s peppery richness is cut by makgeolli—a peach-flavored unfiltered rice wine which goes down easily like creamy Italian soda. Somek, an earthy lager-and-soju cocktail, complements the hearty meats, and cucumber watermelon soju rounds everything off. Dessert includes a cooling cinnamon ginger tea: another royal-court stalwart thought to aid digestion.

A KBC dinner not only combines a flavor-filled experience with great hospitality, but it also lets guests savor the Hongs’ family recipes from the comfort of their own home—an experience that’s not only well worth the cost, but also one that holds its own against more costly fine dining repasts.

Learn more and book your dinner on the Korean BBQ Chef’s website.