JEONJU, North Jeolla – As Chef Joan Roca walked into a lecture hall at Jeonju University this Monday, a roar of loud clapping and whistling followed, as a crowd of students in chefs whites surrounded him. The students, mumbling to each other, seemed to be in disbelief that the world-renowned, Michelin three star-chef was standing in front of them.
The scene almost felt like the red carpet entrance of the Academy Awards ceremony, as other celebrated chefs, including Pascal Barbot, Bjorn Frantzen, Sang-hoon Degeimbre, Judy Joo as well as Korea’s own Kang Kyung-jin, Oh Se-deuk, Jin Kyung-soo and Choi Hyun-seok, entered the hall. Later on, during a commencement ceremony, the chefs received honorary professor certificates from the university’s international culinary institute.
“As interest in a more sophisticated, global palette emerges in Korea, the influence of these star chefs has become huge, as they give us an experienced take on how to promote and develop Korea’s culinary culture,” said Cha In-sun, manager at B&H The Marketing Company, which is in charge of promoting this year’s Seoul Gourmet event.
For five days until Friday, Seoul Gourmet 2011, an annual local culinary festival, brings together six world-renowned chefs, including four who run Michelin star restaurants, as well as five local celebrity chefs who run Korea’s highest-reviewed restaurants.
The Shilla Seoul, The Plaza, Lotte Hotel Seoul and the Grand InterContinental Seoul, will hold “Star Chef Dinner” promotions, featuring full-course dinners cooked by the chefs.
The Korean chefs participating this year will hold special promotions at their own restaurants, including at Swell, July and La Saveur among others. Also, the chefs will lead a series of master classes for the general public until today at Shinsegae Department Store in central Seoul and for professional chefs at the Sejong Convention Center on Friday.
Before the festival’s main events, the chefs got a chance to discover traditional Korean ingredients and techniques during the “Savor Korea” tour organized by Seoul Gourmet. On Monday, the tour took them to Jeonju Hanok Village, where they learned about kimchi, namul (seasoned vegetables), bibimbap (mixed vegetables and rice) and makgeolli (traditional rice beer). That evening, the chefs also got to visit Hanaro Mart to peruse Korean supermarket ingredients. They visited Noryangjin Fish Market, Seoul’s largest wholesale fish market, the following day.
As he tasted a scoop of ginseng ice cream at Dongrakwon, inside Jeonju Hanok Village, Chef Bjorn Frantzen, who heads the Michelin two-star restaurant Frantzen/Lindeberg in Stockholm, said he was eager to incorporate the yuzu (citrus) and doenjang (soybean paste) he saw that day, into his eco-conscious Scandinavian cooking.
“You never see Korean ingredients like these at home,” he said. “For instance, I’ve used miso [Japanese soybean paste] before but never encountered doenjang. I’d like to use the yuzu as an ingredient for a chicken dish, with a light sauce of a sesame and doenjang reduction.”
As Kim Nyeonim, a Jeonju food specialist and government-designated intangible cultural asset, explained the fermentation process for pickles and kimchi, one of the more enthusiastic learners among the group was French chef Pascal Barbot, who runs Michelin three-star restaurant L’Astrance. From fermentation temperature to the sodium content of the pickles, Barbot showered Kim with questions.
“Bibimbap is one of those foods that is all-encompassing. You get all the nutrients you need in a day, in this single bowl,” he said, as he scooped up a spoonful of bibimbap at the hanok village for lunch.
The chef also expressed his interest in ssamjang (spicy soybean and pepper sauce).
“The texture is good … it tastes almost meaty,” he said, licking the glop of ssamjang from his finger.
Now in its third year, Seoul Gourmet has received some negative press in prior years, with media outlets criticizing the event organization and the lack of events introducing foreign chefs to Korean ingredients.
“We started the Jeonju tour this year in order to introduce the chefs to Korean ingredients in the food capital of Korea,” said Cha.
“More than anything, we hope that Seoul Gourmet will act as a bridge between internationally renowned chefs and Korean cuisine as well as the Korean public, who are starting to get interested in food from outside Korea.”
By Cho Jae-eun [email@example.com]