Last week, Pierre Gagnaire, Massimo Bottura, Luke Dale Roberts, and Corey Lee- all internationally renowned chefs- were invited to Korea to participate in “The Amazing Korean Table.” This was the first “Amazing Korean Table” and it is a gourmet food festival that seeks to introduce global flavors to Koreans and to introduce Korean flavors and dishes to the world. Local celebrity chefs such as Bok-Ryo Han, Kyung-Sik Park, Min-Ji Kim and Chan-Bu Jeong worked aside these international chefs to create dishes that were a perfect fusion of Eastern and Western influences.
The festival had many events including a symposium, cooking classes, a street festival, and a young chef’s culinary competition. They also had all the famous chefs serve up their special dinners at top restaurants all over the city.
I was able to attend the cooking classes that were held at the newly remodeled Korea House located near Chungmoro station. Bok-Ryo Han, who is the top authority on Royal Court Cuisine, taught the first class. Throughout her class, she emphasized the importance on upholding traditions. She demonstrated how to make an alluring stuffed cucumber dish, royal stuffed tofu, and king prawns with a cucumber pine nut salad.
Pierre Gagnaire: “The Picasso of the Palate” followed Bok-Ryo Han. In the kitchen, Chef Gagnaire is a wizard and musician as he transforms the properties of food and rifts new notes into the dishes he prepares. He used Omija: the five flavored berry with apples and butter; and he used red beans in a drink. In the hour and half he made 6 dishes including foie gras with kimchi, a French/Korean raw beef dish, and a rice wine cream pudding with apples and sweet paprika.
Then came Massimo Bottura, the owner of Italy’s number 1 restaurant: Francescana. He has been called the “Innovative Culinary Magician” and after his performance; he should also hold the title of “Showman” for he enthralled every single member of the audience. In his cooking demonstration, he turned beet juice into tiny, solid, ruby cubes and mixed them into a risotto and topped that with ginseng threads. The showstopper was his barbecued raw beef served with black garlic mash potatoes. How did he make barbecued raw beef? He first charred vegetables black to add the barbecue flavor and put this on the outside of a filet mignon cut of Hanwoo: Korean beef. Then he put the beef inside of a vacuumed sealed bag and cooked it at 60 degrees Celsius for 40 minutes so the blood in the meat wouldn’t coagulate. The end product was a dish that had meat that had the texture of being raw while having the flavor of being barbecued without ever been near charcoal. I was fortunate enough to taste this dish and it was transcendent.
Corey Lee, the former Chef de Cuisine of the French Laundry in Napa Valley, gave the final class of the day. Corey is one of America’s top young chefs and he will soon be opening his own restaurant. He gave a lecture accompanied by slides and video on his philosophy and techniques of cooking. One of his dishes was a variation on Korean Dotorimok: acorn jelly salad. Corey told us through video the process of how he choose the right kind of acorns that were not too bitter and how used these ingredient with French techniques and modern science to a new version of this classical Korean dish.
The entire festival was a huge hit and very beneficial to the culinary future of Korea. I’m sure that the young chefs that came to the lessons and participated in the cooking competition had their eyes opened to new possibilities by these world-class chefs. I’m hungry to taste what they’ll be cooking.
Daniel Gray is a writer and a consultant in Seoul. He is the author of SeoulEats.com.