Let Them Eat Rice Cake: A Modern Reimagination of an Old Tradition

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Let Them Eat Rice Cake

New York’s Besfren is making its modern take on a traditional Korean dessert the tteok of the town. by MICHELLE LEE

Chapssaltteok, or Korean rice cake, may appear too adventurous for the Western palate due to its soft, rubbery texture and red bean paste filling. But New Yorkers Min Ree and Paul Sunghwan Park, the talented cofounders behind Besfren, are proving that assumption wrong, as their handcrafted and contemporary takes on the centuries-old sweet rice cakes are in high demand these days. The two best friends opened Besfren last year, and, already, the modern Korean pastry brand specializing in rice cake-based desserts has been tapped to cater numerous highend private, cultural, music and fashion events around New York City. Jimmy Choo, MTV, Fox Searchlight and

Vogue Magazine are just a small sampling of the events where the duo’s unique and delicious “chaps,” short for chapssaltteok, were served. Despite having no formal culinary background, Ree and Park left their accounting and fine arts fields, respectively, after over 10 years working in those industries, to pursue their common passion for desserts. “We wanted to start something new and creative together,” said Ree, “but also find a new method of introducing modern Korean culture to America.” Both originally from South Korea, the dessert duo initially brainstormed dessert café ideas when, by chance, they saw an episode from the popular Korean TV program Infinity Challenge,

which came to New York City to conduct a street-level taste test of different Korean dishes. “The show found that the Korean rice cake was the most unappealing to foreigners because of the texture and taste,” explained Park. “Once we saw that episode, we were inspired to take on the challenge of globalizing chapssaltteok.” Ree and Park spent over an entire year developing their recipes, first mastering the traditional methods before taking creative license. Park traveled to Korea for three months to learn the traditional way of making chapssaltteok, and the duo put their heads together to create their new rice cake texture and flavors, mostly using Internet sources and persistent trial and error. “We


Besfren founders Paul Sunghwan Park (left) and Min Ree

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culture [ etc.] sampled our desserts to different professionals and restaurants around New York City,” said Ree. “It was a tough process getting our unique flavor and texture, but eventually we found the perfect reinvention that is new and accessible to not only Koreans, but also non-Koreans.” Besfren’s signature crème chaps are rice cakes with nontraditional fillings like chocolate-salted caramel, chai caramel apple, cheese cream Oreo, as well as the more typical red bean and green tea. Always pleasing to the eye and not overly sweet, these treats capture a distinctly Korean essence amid reinvented flavors and softened texture. Chaps are also a hit among the healthconscious because the sweet rice paste used is gluten-free, in contrast to the mostly flour-based concoctions used in American desserts. Handcrafted by Ree and Park, each dessert represents a variation of one of four main offerings: crème chaps, chaps pie, chaps custard cake and a chaps toast. Though crème chaps are their signature rice cakes, the other three are also delicious and represent a marriage of American and Korean tastes. Chaps pie are sweet rice cakebased mini-pies that are oven-baked

Besfren Chaps Pie

Besfren Creme Chaps

“[This Korean program] found that the Korean rice cake was the most unappealing to foreigners because of the texture and taste. Once we saw that … we were inspired to take on the challenge of globalizing chapssaltteok.”

—Paul Sunghwan Park, cofounder of Besfren

and come in flavors like butterscotch cereal, dark chocolate chip and red velvet. Chaps custard cake is made of three layers of fruit, purple yam or buttercup squash custard, and rice cakebased castella cake. Lastly, the chaps toast is breakfast dessert inspired by hotteok, or sweet Korean pancake. “The best part is when people try our desserts for the first time and seeing how their faces change as they are amazed by a new taste,” Ree mused. “One American news anchor said it felt

like a party was going on in his mouth!” The dessert crafters also make an effort to correct individuals who assume that rice cakes are exclusive to the Japanese, whose mochi may be more familiar. Besfren, which incidentally also caters breakfast, lunch and dinner, has been well received in the Korean community, as well, with a feature on a KBS TV program covering the traditional Korean dinner table, in addition to stories in Korean newspapers. Meanwhile, Besfren pastries are

continuing to make the rounds throughout New York City, being served at Trump Place, Sen Restaurant in the Flatiron District, Blue Café in the Upper West Side, and Waterfall Mansion in the Upper East Side. The brand’s logo has a rabbit on the moon pounding rice to make the tteok, as the traditional Korean myth goes. But a second “Besfren” rabbit was added to the logo to match their message of cultural exchange, say Ree and Park, as they bring this Korean-inspired dessert to new palates.

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