Behind the velvet rope at Mr. Chow

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Behind the velvet rope at Mr. Chow

The name Mr. Chow, when applied to a restaurant, signifies not so much a certain kind of food as a certain kind of glitz.
Since the first Mr. Chow restaurant opened in London in 1968, its Chinese cuisine has been dined upon by glitterati such as, these days, Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney. Its few franchises worldwide have addresses in Manhattan and Beverly Hills. To that short list can now be added Seoul ― specifically, the Nonhyeon-dong area in Gangnam, where the fourth Mr. Chow opened late last month after more than a year of construction.
At its grand-opening gala, the restaurant’s black-and-white, Art Deco-style facade, complete with a glass elevator, was illuminated like an enormous lamp for 700 guests from Seoul’s posh crowd. Amid snowy glass, marble walls and cascading lily blossoms in silver vases, young waiters in immaculate black suits offered glasses of Dom Perignon and Villa Monte, and women arrived in European floor-length gowns. The president of Gucci Korea, Ralph Polese, beamed, “So many people are wearing Gucci that I feel like I’m at a Gucci party!”
The restaurant’s founder and namesake, Michael Chow, is famous among jet-setters for his style, his mercurial personality, his art collection and his multiple marriages to fashionistas. The JoongAng Daily spoke with Mr. Chow and his Korean-born wife, Eva, about their new venture in Seoul.

Q. How did you come to open a Mr. Chow in Korea?
A.Mrs. Chow: Asia, my 9-year-old daughter, who didn’t have any connection to Korea, wanted to come back more often. I left Korea when I was 17, but I’ve always had very close feelings to my country. With Mr. Chow in Korea, hopefully we can spend more time here.
Mr. Chow: All three Mr. Chow restaurants were built at a time when the city was emerging, at the city’s cultural height. We’ve considered Shanghai, but decided that it wasn’t ready. We’ve visited Korea several times before, and we’ve felt that Korea is getting there.
[To host a Mr. Chow], the place has to be a sophisticated city and economically strong. When your stomach is not full, there can be no culture. We also need to guarantee a certain level of income for each head chef; Mr. Chow is a large establishment.

So is it true that Mr. Chow screens customers at the door? If I’m not dressed well, would you put me in a table next to the kitchen?
Mr. Chow: You’re right about that! (Laughs.)
Mrs. Chow: No, he’s kidding. You can dress up, but even if you’re in jeans, the place can make you look great. The lighting artist Arnold Chan did the work here.

Will you hang Mr. Chow’s famous portrait collection here someday?
Mrs. Chow: He considers the entire building and space an artwork, so the walls are not designed to hang pictures. But we will someday hold an exhibition of his art collections separately.

What are your future plans?
Mr. Chow: The East went to the West and then back to the East. So Mr. Chow has come full circle.
Mrs. Chow: We’re opening in Mexico City and Miami this year. We’ll be back to Seoul in April.

by Ines Cho
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