Little & Much’s Chef Hwa-young Lee dream ups delectable desserts at her new café, A Lot
Chef Hwa-young Lee practically embodies sugar, spice and everything nice — not surprising, considering her job is turning out impeccable cakes for not one but two dessert cafés. Along with her husband and childhood sweetheart, Seung Ki Jung, Lee’s turned her talent and passion for sweets into a mini-empire of sugar, starting with their first café, Little & Much, and now with A Lot, in Samgakji.
“I was studying design at university in Vancouver, Canada, but then my husband and I started to study pastry together when we started thinking about making a plan to return to Korea,” recalls Lee. We didn’t know anything, so we just went ahead and started!”
“Originally, baking was just going to be a hobby, but my husband wanted to start a restaurant. When we got back, there were already a lot of places selling cakes, but we wanted to make a special kind and so we decided to concentrate on mousse cakes. We didn’t even realize how rare they were here in Korea. Now there’s a lot, but when we first started, most people thought they were really different. People were more used to Japanese-style desserts.”
Making the mousse of it
The cakes are indeed something special, managing to be simultaneously light and rich, creamy but delicate. But with the opening of their second dessert café, A Lot, Lee aimed for something a little bit different and came up with a significantly expanded menu that includes a wide range of small cakes and cookies, as well as some extraordinary smoothies. Buttery sable cookies, fudgy brownies and lemony pound cakes hold court alongside decadent drinks like speculoos and rose smoothies. They’re not just sweet in terms of taste. Even the presentation aims to be sweet and charming, with flower petal decorations and heart-shaped straws.
“There’s a particular character here at Little & Much that I wanted to keep, so we decided to make our a lot more casual in style, and more experimental. I can do things there that I wouldn’t do here. Here at Little & Much, we keep things very simple and concentrate on mousse cakes. A Lot is full of cookies and smoothies so people can relax and enjoy a drink or a small thing. There are more choices, so you can eat a bit more light, a bit more simply. We’re also developing things like scones,” says Lee.
Making a lot from little
The sleek, more modern design of A Lot contrasts with the more traditional but still contemporary feel of Little & Much, with pops of bold color and simple seating that feel playful and fun. While Little & Much is a restful, warm spot for lingering over Lee’s gorgeously designed and layered cakes, A Lot encourages trying out a wider variety of simpler cookies, giving room for play across the palate in several different forms, rather than ensconced in one of their multi-layered mouse cakes. The smoothies, too, feel light-hearted and fun, despite their caloric heft. The flavors are never simple or one note, though. Coconut flour sneaks in instead of wheat, giving a financier a subtle flavor of the tropics, or a savory hint of nut and spice livens up a cookie. In a rose-flavored smoothie, raspberry and lychee manage to make the drink taste both exactly like a rose but also fruity, floral and complex.
Like a philosophy based on sugar rather than Socrates, Lee thinks deeply about each dessert and each design, whether it’s a café or a cake, seeing them both as the same kind of task and endowed with deeper meaning. “When I create a dessert,” says Lee, “it’s like designing. How should it be layered? How should it be colored? How will people perceive it? What texture should it be? Individual cakes can seem so much prettier and more special, because they’re just for one person. I think people like it because there’s not that many things like it that we can have all just to ourselves.”
“This way,” she smiles, “people can get rid of their stress through sweets.”
B103, BF1 Amorepacific, 100 Hangang-daero 100, Yongsan-gu
Written by Jennifer Flinn
Photographed by Romain John