Chef lambasts gov’t K-food policy
By Park Si-soo
The globalization of Korean food is currently a national obsession.
The government is aggressively pushing promotional campaigns and events across the world for what it has branded as “K-food.”
Ministries have established think tanks and financed various studies and research in pursuit of marketing the country’s signature dishes in order that they will become as internationally recognized and popular as hamburgers, sushi and pizza.
Yet a renowned Korean chef with a deep understating of western dining culture warned that the state-driven project could end up failing, should it continue without a simultaneous promotion of Korea and its culture.
Leo Kang, a chef who worked at several upscale restaurants in the United Kingdom, France and Dubai for more than 10 years, said the popularity of a foreign food among people in a target nation increases in proportion to their awareness and understanding of the food’s origin.
“Let’s think about African food,” Kang said. “Few people here in Korea consume African food although there are several African food restaurants in Seoul. African food is very tasty, but people’s lack of knowledge and awareness of the region has led to this result.”
The 37-year-old went on to say that, “If you first get to know about France and take an interest in it, you will be tempted to learn about its language and taste its food. This is the flow of logic we should pursue.”
Recollecting his experiences in Europe and Dubai, he said public awareness of Korea has noticeably increased in these regions in recent years, but that there is still a long way to go.
“There are still many European people who are ignorant of Korea and its culture,” he said.
In that sense, experts here have high hopes about increasing the popularity of Korean songs, soap operas and entertainers across Southeast Asia and the Middle East, through the “hallyu,” or Korean wave, phenomenon that is gradually gaining popularity in Europe and North America.
Kang was recently appointed as head chef for CJ Group’s flagship restaurant in London that is scheduled to open next month, specializing in “bibimbap.”
The one-story, 80 square-meter restaurant is located in the heart of the U.K. capital, and will serve the signature Korean dish, along with acorn jelly salad, jellyfish and shrimp salad, ginseng orange salad and other traditional fare.
The chef said the restaurant will promote its products with self-penned tales that explain the origin, history and other intriguing facts about the dishes served there. He didn’t elaborate on the stories to come, saying they will be completed before the restaurant opens.
The London restaurant, named Bibigo, will become the first CJ branch in Europe. Bibigo is CJ’s global corporate brand for its exported food products and restaurants.
CJ Group began to use the Bibigo brand in May 2010 and opened restaurants under the same name in Beijing, Los Angeles and Singapore the next year. It plans to open up to 20 restaurants in eight countries by the end of this year.
Kang will tie the knot with famous signer and vocal trainer Park Sun-joo at a wedding hall in Seoul, Wednesday. Among singers trained by Kang’s fiancee are Kim Bum-soo, BoA, TVXQ, Girls’ Generation and Super Junior.