Swanky Asian-fusion restaurant Doraku Sushi has an often overlooked feature: its chef is also a dad. The culinary genius behind Doraku is Chef Todd Dae Kulper. Like many chefs in the industry, he works grueling days with long hours that can extend into the wee hours of the morning. He wears many different hats, though, and outside of work is the father to his 5-year-old daughter, Alexandra.
Born in Korea, Kulper was adopted by an American family and grew up on a dairy farm in Iowa, with family values instilled in him at an early age. He’s been with Doraku for eight years and bounced around exotic locales like Ho Chi Minh City and Miami opening new locations. The Atlanta outpost of Doraku opened about a year ago and he and his family already know they want to “plant a flag here.” A big part of that decision is the want of a permanent home for Alexandra.
With such long days it can be hard to find a compromise between work and family life. So does Kulper do it?
Well, it’s not always easy. His wife is supportive of his intense chef-life, but Alexandra doesn’t always understand why “Daddy isn’t always there.” Squeezing joy out of every second they spend together is imperative, and no activity is too mundane to share a special moment.
What does help is having a flexible daytime schedule, giving him the chance to make the most of their precious father daughter time. “For chefs we have a recovery day, and she always wants to play. So when we do things together we like to do really fun things,” he explained. This could mean heading to Six Flags, or visiting the Center for Puppetry Arts where they have annual passes. While resting up would be nice on his days off, he simply can’t resist opportunities to spend time with his daughter.
Chef Todd breaks the barriers of work and home life by sharing in their mutual love of food. One of their favorite father daughter activities is cooking at home, or going out to eat and trying new foods. They love to explore the culinary gems along Buford Highway. Alexandra particularly enjoys the Vietnamese restaurants because, Kulper says, “She loves anything with noodles.”
Another way he sneaks time in with his daughter are her visits to Doraku when he’s working. When asked if she likes to visit Doraku, Kulper cracks a smile and says, “She loves it. She comes in and she knows everyone, all the servers, bartenders, managers. Everyone loves her.” Like most regulars in their favorite locales she has a usual: the grilled salmon (plain, no sauce), a cucumber roll, miso soup with extra tofu and a side of rice. Simple, but delicious.
Practically growing up in a restaurant did have an unintended side effect, though. “She became so comfortable with restaurants she started acting up and thought she owned the place,” an amused Kulper explains. This meant visiting a restaurant and bossing the servers around or trying to entertain patrons at the other tables. Kulper and his wife quickly nipped that behavior in the bud, though, and now she is a more refined, well-mannered diner.
Being a chef and a father isn’t easy thanks to the intense hours in a kitchen. Spending so much time away from his daughter, though, allows Kulper to treasure the moments they are together. Finding the balance between his intense work life and the needs of his daughter allows him to successfully be a chef dad.