A Quick Bite with Eunice Byun, Co-founder of Material
After many years of living with a tiny NYC kitchen, Eunice Byun didn’t view counter space as a luxury until she became a mom. Suddenly, she was cooking in more and accommodating a baby bottle drying rack alongside a bulky 12-piece knife block. The clutter was too much, and as she looked for sleeker solutions, she was astonished at both the price points and lack of innovative design.
She started to brainstorm solutions with a longtime friend, Dave Nguyen, and together they founded Material. It’s a kitchenware brand designed and curated for the modern home cook who has limited time and counter space. Material delivers sensibly priced tools that can not only take the heat, but also keep a space looking sharp.
Bowery had a chance to chat with Eunice and learn more about what it’s like to run a growing business dedicated to the home cook in the 8th installment of our Q&A series, A Quick Bite.
Despite being a co-founder of a cookware brand, you emphasize that you don’t have a culinary background. Tell us a little about your career pre-Material.
I’ve done my tour of duty through a few different industries. I started my career in finance at Goldman Sachs and from there, went to work in intimate apparel at Maidenform. Most recently, I was in the beauty industry as the Head of Digital for Revlon. I truly believe that all paths have led me to building Material, as I’ve been able to wrap up what I have learned along the way and channel that into this company.
When you and Dave started Material for the home cook, where did you guys begin? How did you determine which tools to focus on?
We are solving for a lot of pain points that we hear from our team, friends and family and our customers based on their own experiences in the home kitchen. We don’t have people to help prep or clean up like some do in professional kitchens. As such, we are intentional in our designs so that our products are versatile and multi-functional.
The other thing we wanted to achieve was a better balance between form and function. There are so many functional things that look, well, functional. Then there are highly designed pieces that seem more meant for display, or cost a fortune so you rarely use it. We believed that we could achieve both utility and beauty, and do so at an accessible price point. Gone are the days of tolerating boring kitchenware. You can actually enjoy and be inspired by what you’re cooking with.
Can you talk a little more about the intentionality behind each Material product? Where do you source your materials?
Each of our products were designed to be multi-purpose with a few tricks up their sleeves. For instance, The Metal Spoon holds exactly 1/4 cup and The Only Tongs have a hidden gravity locking mechanism (a crowd favorite). That is a question we ask ourselves for each new product we design. ‘How can we rethink this and make it work harder for you?’
Materials are something that we think through and through about, and what it comes down to is where in the world is best suited for the quality and level of detail we require. The Knives are made of Japanese stainless steel and manufactured in a region of Southern China that's been making knives for over 1,400 years, whereas The Angled Board is made of sustainably grown and harvested wood in the U.S., specifically Vermont.
Bowery’s CEO, Irving Fain, recently shared how important it is for early-stage businesses to win over tastemakers. Material just shared that culinary writer & recipe developer Alison Roman is an advisor. Can you share more about your relationship and how she helps build vision for your brand?
Alison inspires home cooks like Dave and me in innumerable ways, so to have her serve as an advisor to us has been incredible. She really lives the notion of “don’t overcomplicate things” and dreams up the most amazing recipes that taste good and are not fussy. We’re working on a few exciting things for later this year with Alison, so can’t wait to share more!
Do you have a favorite Material product or set? What would you recommend to someone purchasing Material for the first time?
Currently, I’m really loving The Stand. It’s compact enough for my NYC countertop and looks so sleek. It’s also a great piece if you already have a few knives that you love as it’s magnetic on both sides, so can store up to eight knives.
For a lot of people, cooking may require time they don’t have or simply feel stressful. Do you have a simple dish or time-saving tricks to make eating in a welcome treat rather than a traumatic endeavor?
I am so glad you asked this question because I think too many times, people get stressed out by the thought of cooking and it keeps them away, when in fact cooking can be a great outlet for creativity or just rolling up your sleeves and using your hands. I keep it easy in the kitchen by having a rough guideline that I typically follow for dinner: a salad, a protein and a veggie. This way, I can cycle things in and out based on what I’m feeling in the mood for and what’s in season. My husband makes the most delicious salad dressing every weekend, which we then keep in our fridge so we can simply drizzle it onto greens. Then, it’s a simple fish or meat prep (for which we typically dry brine a day or two before to ensure it’s juicy) and then we roast some sort of vegetable. It keeps the playbook the same but allows for easy adjustments.
In line with a tradition we have here with our Quick Bite series, what vegetable (or herb!) would you eat for the rest of your life?
This question definitely makes me pause because I get obsessed with a specific veggie for a period of time and eat it constantly! But the one that trumps them all would have to be cabbage because I could eat kimchi for the rest of my life. It is good with anything and everything, including pizza!
Eunice Byun contributed to this article in her own personal capacity. The views expressed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Bowery Farming, Inc.