Chang Sup Shin is the CEO of 1004 Gourmet (formerly known as 1004 Mart), an Asian specialty shop that also distributes to the top Japanese restaurants and retail chains in the UAE. His clients include Nobu at Atlantis, The Palm, Burj Al Arab, Armani Hotel, Zuma, and Carrefour.
In July 2008, 1004 Gourmet founder Dong Chul Shin and Juno Kim decided to open a small grocery shop in The Onyx Tower 1 dedicated to Korean food. Since then, 1004 Gourmet has organically evolved to become the focal point of not just Korean, but East Asian products, also imported from Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and China.
When did you start to see a demand for Korean food in the hotel and F&B industries in the Middle East?
I’ve always felt like Korean food would become popular because it’s full of flavour and fairly healthy, but we really started to see a shift in the last four to five years. With the rise of Korean tourists and residents in the UAE, more hotels and restaurants started to create Korean dishes to cater to them.
What makes Korean food so popular at the moment?
Recently, the increasing popularity of K-Pop, Korean dramas and movies such as the Oscar-winning Parasite have had major influence in creating awareness about Korean food. However, you can’t forget the amazing Korean chefs who have single-handedly brought so much attention to Korean food such as Maangchi, one of the most successful YouTube cooking shows, and Roy Choi, the pioneer who started the food truck movement and now has a cooking show on Netflix.
What’s the most requested item (s) you supply and why do you think that is?
It really depends on the restaurant concept, but some of our best-selling items are sashimi grade fresh Yellowtail Hamachi from Japan, Little Moons mochi ice cream from the UK and Sriracha Hot Sauce from the US.
How do you ensure product quality and freshness?
We have great relationships with the best suppliers in the industry, which allows everything to go smoothly. We store the products in optimal conditions whether it’s ambient, chilled or frozen.
For example, we keep our Bluefin Tuna in a super freezer at minus 60 degrees Celsius because of the tuna’s low freezing point. For fresh produce, we deliver it directly from the airport to the restaurant to make sure they receive it as fresh as possible.
What are some trends you can see emerging in the F&B region?
When it comes to restaurants, I think we’re going to see smaller restaurants which seat under 90 people and faster casual spots around town. It already seems like the burger trend is over and chicken burger restaurants are starting to pop up.
Another big trend is the rise in supper clubs. Notably @astoryoffood, who is probably the most talked about personality in the Instagram food world, in the UAE. In terms of dishes, I feel like people are gravitating more towards fermented foods such as kombucha and kimchi. Health-conscious consumers are beginning to understand the health benefits of probiotics and healthy bacteria and hopefully this will further increase consumer knowledge of Korean food.
You supply to some of the region’s most famous restaurants and hotels, what’s the weirdest Korean item you have been requested to source or sourced?
I wouldn’t say weird, but we supply live halibut which was farmed in Jeju Island from Korea. The halibut is farmed, transported to Seoul, goes to sleep in an impermeable plastic bag with cold water and, when we receive it, we put it in the aquarium and it wakes up.
Can consumers buy these items from you?
Yes, it’s available in our aquarium and comes in once a week.
What can be found at 1004 Gourmet that can’t be found anywhere else in UAE?
Quality fresh ingredients from Korea and Japan, such as Korean Halibut, Jeju mandarins, the infamously expensive Japanese Crown melon and Amaoh strawberries, Bluefin tuna belly and sea urchin. We go above and beyond to source ingredients from these countries for customers who prefer a more personalised service.
Do you travel to Korea to curate what you stock?
Yes, I try to go to Korea at least three to four times a year to see and experience new food trends and visit markets for inspiration.