Episode #1445 Eunice Byun: How Home Cooking Inspires Community and Connection

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Euncie Byun and Jenna discuss Material’s mission to create “beautiful tools to inspire beautiful memories." Eunice highlights the importance of empowering home cooks and celebrating being them by focusing on the joy of cooking rather than striving for mastery. 

We chat about walking through open doors in life and being patient enough to reflect on our next chapter when it’s time to walk through new ones, how to show people we value them by being present and always taking time to ask them about their stories.


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Eunice Byun

Co-founder of Material View Full Profile

Highlights from the Transcript

  • On learning selflessness from her Dad: “My dad is someone who constantly puts the needs of others before himself and has an incredible work ethic. Many times growing up, he’d be working 13 to 15 hour days seven days a week. He’d always make sure that every time he saw my sister, mom or I that he had a big smile on his face and wanted to know how we were doing, what we needed, and whether we were happy. He was always bringing us food. He brings so much happiness and optimism into our lives…When I graduated, I was in finance at Goldman Sachs. I was very ambitious but always knew it required a lot of hard work. One of my managers asked me: What motivates you to work so hard and also be so optimistic about the future and your journey? For me, it was really seeing my dad. He always put one foot in front of the other and never complained about how tired he was. He demonstrated so much through his own actions about how strong of a leader you can be when you put other people’s needs in front of your own. That’s really stuck with me.” 
  • On giving our undivided attention: “I have a three year old daughter. It’s really easy as an entrepreneur to be fully consumed by everything that is happening with the business. With technology, you are always tethered to your work…Of course, we want to be fully accessible, but at the same time I am a mother and a wife. To the best of my abilities, when I’m home and spending time with my daughter I put my phone away. I don’t put it right next to me. For me, it’s really important to engage with her and not be distracted. I might not be spending as many hours with her but when I am spending time with her I try to prioritize the quality of that time over anything else. I make sure that I’m fully present with her so she knows that the time spent with her is really valuable to me. That’s something I definitely learned from my dad. In the time he spent with us, he was really able to engage and not always be worried about what was happening in his business.” 
  • On cooking as a way to stay present: “What really inspires us is that while we can create beautiful tools, those beautiful tools are really meant to inspire beautiful things in the kitchen, around the table, and in your home; Whether that’s in terms of people coming together or you simply taking the time to create something for yourself. We always say it doesn’t matter if you’re frying an egg in the morning or you’re hosting friends and family, you’re still a home cook. We want to be able to invite you to take that time to explore and create in the kitchen. The world is so busy. You’re always so connected and there’s always something to know. What we love about cooking is being able to really focus on what is in front of you and being able to explore all of those sensorial things, like the feeling of chopping and the rhythmic sound you hear or the sizzle when butter hits a hot pan. Those things connect you to the present.” 
  • On doing more with less: “We want people to know that you don’t need much to get started in the kitchen. You see all these TV programs and people on Instagram where everything appears to be so beautiful and performance oriented. It’s all around this notion of mastery. For us, and for most home cooks, cooking is something that you like to do. It’s something that should be easy, not expensive or difficult. From day one, we wanted to demystify this category where people are trying to sell you a ton of tools or excite you over a pizza cutter. For us, we thought: What are the most essential tools you need to get started and push the restart button? What would it look like if we tried to inspire someone to do more with less? That’s how we designed our first collection, The Fundamentals. What are those first seven critical items you need that you’ll reach for every day, for every meal and will ultimately bring joy to you in your life and hopefully in the kitchen? It’s something we strive for with every product we design and create. We’re constantly challenging ourselves to not just produce more but to be very intentional in all of the things that we introduce so we can abide by the value we hold so true to: How can we make sure that we can inspire without going to a place of excess?” 
  • On designing for unique cooking styles: “Everyone’s connection to food and to cooking is unique. As we continue to expand on the product side, we’re thinking: How can we continue to create things that will excite people for the type of cooking that they are doing, how much they space they have or how much time they have in the kitchen? It always goes back to the person who is yielding the tool versus just the tools themselves. Going back to what we say internally: A person’s only form of cooking may be frying an egg in the morning, but for them it is a moment every morning when they are taking a little bit of time to honor themselves and cook something. That’s their form of cooking. We want to be able to honor that and provide something for that individual in the same way that we want to create something for the person who is constantly looking up recipes and having people over. We want to be able to honor everyone’s relationship to food and cooking. The way we develop our products - from a neutral color palette to the versatility of them - is really meant to honor the uniqueness of everyone’s own connection to their kitchen and the things they are cooking. I think it’s really important because it goes back to asking: How do we find the things that unite us to one another?” 
  • On cooking and community: “A lot of the time, kitchen tools are important to people because they come from someone else’s connection to that tool, whether it was given to them, borrowed from family, or a recommendation. That was so beautiful to learn and hopefully becomes the story of Material. We really want people to share the amazing things they have invested in and that Material ultimately becomes a community of people who can inspire and support one another. We’re just the means to the end. We’re creating these tools that hopefully function beautifully in your kitchen but at the end of the day we aren’t the ones who are cooking in your kitchen…We want to tell the story of the people in the kitchen and the journey that led them there. We are working on a series right now about the one dish that inspired you in the kitchen. Do you remember it? Can you share it with us? Can you cook it for us? Can we understand more about you as an individual based on that one dish that is important to you?” 
  • On cooking for the experience not mastery: “One of the things that always bothers me in the broader category of kitchenware is this notion of: Better tools lead to be better cooks. It doesn’t have to do with better. It’s not a matter of: Am I improving? It’s the idea of: What are you creating? What are the stories and some of the mishaps or funny stories when things went awry? What does that symbolize in your own life and journey? Who were the people you shared that moment with? How much laughter was shared over it? Those are the things that really matter to us, more so, than how can we make sure that you’re equipped to be the best cook you can be. Maybe you don’t become the best cook. Maybe it’s just something that you really enjoy doing….It’s not about perfection. It’s about having the experience of cooking.” 
  • On walking through open doors: “There are many times when people would look at my resume and say: ‘This doesn’t really make sense. You bounced around a lot. What does that mean?’ Whenever I tell people my story, I explain how the roles provided me with not only so much experience and joy but real, tangible skills. I always tell anyone I meet who doesn’t know what they want to do: Don't think too long and hard about it. What are the open doors in your life? Pick one and walk through it. I really believe that once you walk through that door, when it’s time for another one to open it will happen. You don’t have to orchestrate it. You don’t have to overthink it. Those doors will open as long as you continue to be engaged, interested, and a person who is open to learning…I’ve definitely walked through a few doors that the second I walked through them I knew it was the wrong door and I needed to find another one. Those moments were so important to me because they built more confidence in myself to recognize when something isn’t right and to not stay somewhere for the sake of staying but to say: This isn’t right for me. It’s not a place I want to be investing my time and energy…Identify one thing that you can walk away from that experience with. Maybe you’re in a job that you don’t love but there is a very specific project that you can work on that might be a good springboard to the next thing you want to do. Identify what that is, go do it, and then figure out how you can move on from that place. Make the best of each of those situations by ensuring that you are getting some learning or experience from them and then it’s okay to move on.”
  • On taking time to reflect and reevaluate: “It’s okay to take some time off. For me, it came in two places. First, after I was at my first startup. The business ended up closing. Naturally, I wanted to hop into something right away. But, I wasn’t quite ready to do so because I needed to understand and process what I had just gone through, what were the things that I really loved about being in the startup world, and what were the things that I wished I could change. So, I ended up taking my time figuring out what I wanted to do next, talking to different people, and giving myself some space to explore that and ask those questions. Naturally, my personality is such that I like moving at a fast pace so it was hard for me to take a step back and almost allow myself days of just thinking, of not having planned out agenda items or a schedule to my day and just seeing how things transpired and ultimately what things evolved into. The second time was right before I was going to give birth to my daughter. I allowed myself a moment to be present. Right after I delivered, I had the opportunity to go back to the company I was working with at that time. I knew that I wanted to spend some time at home and figure out what it means to be a mom and really understand what that experience was like. I was very fortunate to have a husband who supported me in that decision to take the time and figure out what I wanted to do. We tried to give ourselves some space to come into those decisions and figure out where the journey would take me next. That was really hard for me because I am someone who likes achieving things and being able to show progress. Yet, being able to give myself those moments of almost reflection and just finding and grounding myself in what I truly believe in were the biggest growth opportunities for me. It’s not easy because you definitely want to move through the motions faster than I think you’re supposed to. But, if you are patient in those moments you really do end up in the most amazing places. It was really during the time that I took off with my daughter that my friend Dave and I came up with the concept of Material. I look back very fondly on those moments because of what they ultimately culminated into.” 
  • On being rather than doing: “We’re moving at such a fast pace in society today. You don’t realize how you’re constantly doing something until you actually sit and think about it. I always think about New York City. You’re walking around all the time and what do you typically see people doing? They’re listening to something or they’re trying to be productive in some shape or form. They’re not just walking around. I’ve been trying to challenge myself not to listen to, plan or think about anything on my walk into the office. I just let my mind naturally wander and take in the really beautiful walk I have to work. I’ll walk into the office and I’ll have three ideas that literally came out of nowhere because I gave myself space to not have a to do list in mind or have any clear objectives I want to hit. I just give myself some space.” 
  • On asking people about their stories: “It’s taught me how to respect everyone’s story, whether there are things that are seen or unseen. A lot of times, when we meet people we can make quick assessments on what we think their story is. I have always been a people person because I love those moments of surprise. I really believe that everyone’s story is so meaningful. I love talking to people, understanding where they come from, what inspires and motivates them because it allows me to connect with them more deeply and really understand why they do what they do or why they’re striving for the things they are striving for. It’s being a student of the world and the way that things operate…When I chat with someone for the first time I’m not shy to start asking questions because I’m really just trying to understand what makes them who they are.”