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Whether you grew up helping your parents cook dinner or you cooked your first meal as an adult, everyone has a different level of comfort in the kitchen. For Eunice Han, growing up in a family of restaurateurs means 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 difficult it was to find the right tools for the everyday home cook. That’s what inspired her to start Material Kitchen, a brand that focuses on high-quality, beautifully crafted essentials.
“You walk into a store and everything looks the same,” says Han, referring to her experience of finding cookware for her home, a sentiment she shared with longtime friend and co-founder Dave Nguyen. . They both wanted to create performance-driven products that would bring back a sense of confidence in people’s ability to do things in the kitchen – and they also wanted them to be aesthetically appealing.
We recently spoke with Han about her early memories in the kitchen, how she and Nguyen came together to create Material Kitchen, what it takes to design a new product, and the products she can’t live without. .
Thrillist: What are your first memories in the kitchen?
Eunice Han: Oh darn. I have so many memories in the kitchen. I would say some of the most poignant were in my parents’ restaurant kitchen. They actually owned restaurants growing up, so I spent a lot of time in the kitchens watching my dad, or any of the other cooks in all the action. I remember loving the bustle. I loved all the smells. I loved everything about it. I just remember thinking how cool it was 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 language of love, and the way I think my mother, in particular, showed her the care and love of my sister and myself, always made sure we were not only fed, but well fed and tried lots of different flavors. I really give credit to my mom for exposing us to a lot of different flavors growing up. Although she mainly cooked Korean food, she experimented with Italian cuisine and she even dabbled in British or Irish cuisine. She was always trying out different cuisines, and I think that allowed us to develop an incredible palette of tastes and flavors and appreciate different types of food very early on.
How did you and your co-founder Dave Nguyen come up with the idea to create Material?
Han: Dave and I have both started cooking more at home and had just complained about how difficult the process 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 great it would be if we could not only help make the shopping experience easier and better, but really reconnect people to the art and magic of cooking. and all the things it symbolizes. I think when you can equip people with things that they love, things they trust, things they think are just something they can’t live without, it releases such power and a sense of trust in their ability to do things in the kitchen. We thought the best way to do this was to just elevate the design and make sure everything was useful, yet beautiful. Because we thought people were going to spend their hard-earned money on our products and designs, we really wanted to create things that people seek out every day for every meal, and feel a sense of connectedness with the products that they use on a regular basis.
What does the design process for a new product look like? How do you determine the next addition to the material family?
Han: We’re all home cooks here at Material and obsessed with food and design, so a lot of [our ideas] come from our own experiences of things that we wish we could make more beautiful and better in the kitchen. [We also] draw a lot of inspiration from members of our community. We regularly solicit feedback and sometimes ask them to test out prototypes to see if they are interested or not or what adjustments or changes they would make. One of the most amazing things about having this company is being able to interact with our customers and hear from them directly.
A good example is our table knives. We got so many requests for our version of a steak knife because so many people loved using our kitchen knives, but they were also saying, “I wish I had something for when I was really eating.” We were able to design and launch them during the holidays last year.
Is your family also a fan of Material? What do they think of your products?
Han: I think there’s a real sense of pride because they see all the love we pour into this business and they test a lot of things themselves. I think it’s especially meaningful when we can tap into our own heritage and bring it into the business. One of the most amazing experiences was being able to create a whole collection of ceramics from a very specific region of Korea where my parents are from. To be able to talk to them about how we can use five different types of Korean soil, and partner with a promising young ceramist, and do all of this in Korea.
Shop our Material Kitchen favorites
Shop our Material Kitchen favorites
What role does sustainability play in Material?
Han: It is a very important part of our core value system. We approach sustainability in two ways. First, being really responsible in the manufacturing process and understanding what smart and sustainable material choices we can make. Whether it’s upcycling old kitchen utensil scraps and being able to turn them into our cutting boards, or using all FSC certified wood, we are very aware of how we can be designers and responsible manufacturers in the category in which we find ourselves. from a longevity perspective. Instead of creating disposable, restockable things in this space, we were really aware of how we can have things that almost get better with age, or that you’ll love forever, and that will stand the test. time. We want to ensure [our customers] that they really invest in something high quality and that we really thought about the materials.
Now a fun question for you. If you could only choose four Material products to live out the rest of your life, which would you choose and why?
Han: I would say I love the Forever Peeler, which we just launched. I [need to have] an amazing peeler that works really well and also looks 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 insert a new one, much like a razor blade.
Coated stove. I use it every morning to cook for my two daughters, and it has stood the test of time because non-stick pans are known to be really smooth one day, then all of a sudden they start to stick. We’ve been very careful with the material choices we’ve made so this can be a high performing, non-toxic cookware set that you can really use. We tested it and it lasts 37 times longer than ceramic cookware.
Good shear. I firmly believe that everyone should have a truly amazing pair of kitchen shears because they are so versatile. Especially with young children, I constantly cut things down to the perfect bite size.
Our ceramics. Again, I love that our ceramics are so tasteful, but the story behind them is so meaningful. I think in particular that as we celebrate API Heritage Month and continue to shine a light on different Asian artists, it’s a beautiful collection that’s also very day-to-day friendly. You can wash it in the dishwasher, you can put it in the microwave. It’s not so delicate and precious that you feel like you can only take it out for special occasions.