Meet the Brand Helping Home Cooks Build Confidence with Essential Kitchen Tools
We spoke with Eunice Byun about how she and co-founder Dave Nguyen came together to create Material Kitchen.
Whether you grew up helping your parents cook dinner or prepared your first meal as an adult, everyone has a different level of comfort in the kitchen. For Eunice Byun, growing up in a family of restaurant owners meant that her interest in spending time in the kitchen came naturally. However, it wasn’t until recently, when she started cooking more at home, that she noticed how hard it was to find the right tools for the everyday home cook. That’s what prompted her to start Material Kitchen, a brand focusing on high quality, beautifully designed essentials.
“You walk into a store and everything looks the same,” says Byun, referring to her experience of searching for kitchen tools for her home, a feeling she shared with her longtime friend and co-founder Dave Nguyen. They both wanted to create performance-oriented products that would bring back a sense of confidence in people’s ability to do things in the kitchen — and they wanted them to be aesthetically appealing, too.
We recently spoke with Byun about her first memories in the kitchen, how she and Nguyen came together to create Material Kitchen, what it takes to design a new product, and which products she can’t live without.
Thrillist: What are your first memories in the kitchen?
Eunice Byun: Oh, gosh. I have so many memories in the kitchen. I'd say some of the most poignant ones were in my parents' restaurant kitchen. They actually owned restaurants growing up, and so I spent a lot of time in the kitchens watching my dad, or just any of the other cooks in all the action. I remember loving the commotion. I loved all the smells. I loved everything about it. I just remember thinking it was such a cool thing at a young age to be able to see all the inner workings of a restaurant.
Also, just growing up in a family where food was really our love language, and the way that I think my mom, in particular, showed her care and love of my sister and myself was always making sure we were not only fed, but well fed and trying a lot of different flavors. I really commend my mom for exposing us to a lot of different flavors growing up. Although she would cook mostly Korean food, she would experiment with Italian food and she would try her hand at even British food or Irish food. She just was always trying different cuisines, and I think that allowed us to develop an amazing palette of taste and flavors and appreciation for different types of food really early on.
How did you and your co-founder Dave Nguyen come up with the idea of creating Material?
Byun: Dave and I both started cooking more at home and we had just been commiserating about how arduous of a process it was to sift through all the [kitchen] stuff that's out there. I think the traditional shopping experience leaves a lot to be desired because you walk into a store and everything looks the same. We both started talking about how it would be great if not only we could help just make the whole shopping experience easier and better, but really reconnect people to the art and the magic of the kitchen and all the things that it symbolizes. I think when you can equip people with things that they love, that they trust, that they think is just something they can't live without, it unlocks such a power and a sense of confidence in their ability to do things in the kitchen. We thought the best way to do that was just to elevate the design and really ensure that everything was purposeful, yet beautiful. Because we felt people were going to spend their hard earned money on our products and our designs, we really wanted to create things that people reach for every day for every meal, and that they feel a sense of connectivity to the products that they use on a regular basis.
What’s the process of designing a new product like? How do you determine the next addition to the Material family?
Byun: We are all home cooks here at Material and we obsess over food and design, so a lot of [our ideas] are coming from our own experiences of things that we wish could be just made more beautiful and better in the kitchen. [We also] draw a lot of inspiration from our community members. We ask for input on a regular basis and have them sometimes test prototypes to see whether or not they're interested in it or what adjustments or changes they would make. That's one of the most amazing things about having this business is being able to interact with our customers and hear directly from them.
A great example is our Table Knives. We got so many requests for our take on a steak knife because so many people loved using our kitchen knives, but they were also like, "I wish I had something for when I was actually eating." We were able to design and launch them during last year’s holidays.
Is your family also a fan of Material? What do they think about your products?
Byun: I think there's a real sense of pride because they see how much love we pour into this company and they get to test a lot of things themselves. I think it's especially meaningful when we're able to draw upon just our own heritage and weave that into the company. One of the most amazing experiences has been being able to create an entire ceramics collection from a really specific region of Korea where my parents are from. Being able to talk to them about how we're able to use five different types of Korean soil, and partner with a young up and coming ceramicist, and actually make all of that in Korea.
Shop Our Favorites From Material Kitchen
Shop Our Favorites From Material Kitchen
What role does sustainability play in Material?
Byun: It's a really important part of our core value system. We approach sustainability in two ways. First, being really responsible in the manufacturing process and understanding what material choices we can make that are smart and that are sustainable. Whether it's recycling old kitchenware scraps and being able to transform that into our cutting boards, or using all FSC-certified wood, we're pretty mindful about how we can be responsible designers and manufacturers within the category that we're in. Next is taking the approach of longevity. Instead of creating disposable, replenishable things in this space, we were really mindful of how we can have things that almost get better with age, or that you will love forever, and that will hold up and stand the test of time. We want to assure [our customers] that they're really investing in something that's high quality and that we've been really thoughtful about the materials.
Now, a fun question for you. If you could only choose four products from Material to live the rest of your life with, which ones would they be and why?
Byun: I’d say I love the Forever Peeler, which we just launched. I [need to have] an amazing peeler that works really well and that’s also beautiful. We designed it with a replaceable blade, so it's the last peeler you'll ever need to buy because when the blade gets dull, you can just swap it out and pop in a new one, kind of like a razor blade.
Coated Pan. I use it every morning to cook for my two daughters, and it's just stood the test of time because non-stick pans are notorious for being really slick one day and then all of a sudden it starts to stick. We were really mindful in the material choices we made so that it could be a high performing non-toxic cookware that you can really use. We tested it, and it lasts 37 times longer than a ceramic cookware item.
Good Shears. I'm a huge believer that everyone should have a really incredible pair of kitchen shears because they're so versatile. Especially with young kids, I'm constantly cutting things to the right, perfect bite size.
Our ceramics. Again, I love that our ceramics are so tasteful, but the story behind them, it's so meaningful. I think especially, as we celebrated API Heritage Month and continue to just spotlight different Asian artists, it's a beautiful collection that is also really every day user friendly. You can dish wash it, you can pop it in the microwave. It's not so delicate and so precious that you feel like you can only pull it out for special occasions.