H Woo Lee

On how cooking for himself has inspired others to do the same

Words: Henry Wu @henrykhwu

“You’re gonna watch me cook for myself.”

This iconic one-liner is how H Woo Lee, a 25-year-old self-taught home cook, and content creator, greets his one million TikTok (@hwoo.lee) followers in his videos.

“The idea of cooking for myself was really serendipitous,” Lee says. It was never his intention to teach you how to make food but to simply watch him cook for himself. It may sound arrogant, but Lee’s impression of cooking on TikTok or Instagram was solely for entertainment. Surprisingly, as Lee posted more recipes, more and more people started recreating them.

Before TikTok, Lee was the founder of Maru Los Angeles, an underground supper club that started from a small college project. Initially, it was an excuse to invite friends over for dinner, but after college, the project quickly evolved into a fine-dining pop-up concept. Lee is looking forward to evolving it into a third iteration as the world continues to recover from the pandemic. “A lot of things frighten me,” he confesses. “I definitely grew up with the idea that not being perfect is bad, and that has played a role in what I fear — as in not doing something or trying something to be as close to perfect as I can in my head. It’s really just not doing things the way I want to do.” Despite this train of thought, it’s the fun, imperfect process in his cooking videos that makes Lee relatable to his followers.

When it comes to his inspirations, Lee mentions that it comes from DJs as well as his boss, Kevin Lee, a celebrity wedding planner. “Inspiration comes from things around me: the experiences, concerts, songs, tasting menus,” he adds, “things that involve a lot of emotion, and how each experience places an emotional memory in your life.”

In a way, there’s an art to his cooking. As a cook and as a creator, Lee is constantly striving for the freedom, courage, and the tenacity to express himself, his ideas, and his thoughts —and ultimately, who he wants to be. “Who you show is the reflection of who you think you are on the inside,” Lee explains.

Looking forward to the rest of the year, Lee wants to get back into Maru and provide people with memorable experiences, and exciting taste profiles. “If anything, I would like to teach people how to host at their home, how to invite guests over, and be a good host. Even though I don’t consider myself as an actual cook — I consider myself more as a host; an experienced host, a food host.” With the world opening up, we can’t wait to see how Lee can change from “cooking for myself” to “cooking for the world.”