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Hwayo Honors Dinner for Asian Artists Toasts ‘Beef’ Star Joseph Lee

Hwayo Honors Dinner for Asian Artists Toasts ‘Beef’ Star Joseph Lee

As part of its introduction to the U.S. marketplace, Korean soju brand Hwayo is toasting creative excellence among the broader Asian creative community.

Hwayo Honors is a new event series that aims to convene artists from multiple disciplines – fine arts, film and television, fashion and more – in that most familial of settings: the dinner table. “We took inspiration from films like Eat Drink Man Woman,” says Hwayo global brand director Vy Le. “There are a lot of people who are like, ‘Oh, here’s sponsorship dollars.’ Let’s not do that. Let’s just call our friends and see how we can try to support each other.”

As a Los Angeles-based artist whose work frequently intersects with activism, Glenn Kaino was a natural partner to co-host, with Hwayo president Lucia Cho, the inaugural dinner in L.A. “I’ve spent a big portion of my career championing artists,” says Kaino, whose first call was to painter and Beef star Joseph Lee, whose style takes impasto to the extreme, with thickly applied oil fragments giving his portraits a three-dimensional texture. Kaino decided to pair Lee’s work with innovative photography by Bruce Mau in curating the first Hwayo Honors artist doubleheader, which took place May 29 at a private residence in Laurel Canyon.

Hwayo global brand director Vy Le (far left), Hwayo president Lucia Cho (center, in floral dress) and artist Bruce Mau (far right) with guests at the Hwayo Honors dinner on May 29.

Lisa Bolden

Both artists introduced their work to the intimate group of 30 invited guests, who included Olympic champion Chloe Kim, former ABC Studios International managing director Keli Lee, celebrity stylist Joe Zee and Quantum Leap star Raymond Lee. “So many themes come from my wife [Namu Home Goods founder Diana Ryu]’s observations of me, like my pattern of struggling to be present,” said Joseph Lee, who called his painting technique a “practice in being present in oil fragments. With every stroke, there’s a forgiveness in permanence. You might not like the color choice, but you have to respect it.”

Lee also explained the vulnerable story behind the painting he had chosen to display during the meal. “Same Differences” is a still life of a vivid bouquet of flowers, representing the parting gift he wish he had given his father, with whom he had a tense relationship at the time of his passing about a decade ago. At the bottom of the painting are his father’s last words to him, and Lee’s interpretation of them: “I’m sorry. I love you.”

‘Same Differences’ 48×36 in Oil, pastel on wood

Joseph Lee

Alongside generous pours of all five sojus in Hwayo’s collection – four proofs ranging from 17 to 53, plus an XP premium variety, aged in American oak barrels, that looked and tasted like whisky – the dinner featured a menu from Baroo’s Kwang Uh and Mina Park, who presented family-style versions of their celebrated tasting menu: soy-braised wild black cod, crab fried rice, and ribeye steak with burdock jus. “Lucia’s good friends with Mina, and Mina knows Joe and did Glenn’s [benefit] dinner,” says Le. “So everything came together organically.” Another member of the artist network, Nunchi’s Lexie Park, contributed her bespoke jelly sheet cakes for the dessert.

The following week, Hwayo Honors headed to New York for a pair of events at a private residence in SoHo. A June 6 cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception for 80 guests featured some stars from New York’s Asian culinary scene – Nom Wah owner Wilson Tang, Mari.ne head chef and founder Sungchul Shim, Stick With Me Sweets head chef and founder Susanna Yoon and Yooeating influencer Irene Yoo – co-hosted by Cho and “The Hospitality Lawyer” Vivian Chen, who specializes in representing chefs and restaurateurs. The next night, Cho hosted a dinnerto celebrate filmmaker Elizabeth Ai’s Tribeca Festival documentary New Wave, an exploration of postwar Vietnamese youth through the musical genre they rallied around, alongside New Wave producer Rachel Sine. The lucky 50 guests there were treated to a meal from Sadie Mae Burns and Anthony Ha of Vietnamese American pop-up sensation Ha’s Đặc Biệt.

“All these younger artists, entrepreneurs, chefs, it’s just so amazing to see them be like, ‘We’re Asian and we’re going to put ourselves out there,’” Le says. “Now, more than ever, there’s such a huge support around cross-culturalism. It’s like, how do we all come together and really build this next-generation interpretation of who we are?”

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