Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Emily Kim, or known by her fans as Maangchi (the Korean word for Hammer), runs the very popular Korean cooking website www.maangchi.com. She got her start on youTube by posting a video on how to make stir-fried squid. In 3 years her channel has grown to over 31,200 subscribers. Her most popular video, “Making Kimchi” has been viewed 425,560 times. In total, her cooking videos have been viewed over 6 million times. She has fans all over the world that send her pictures and videos of the Korean food that they have made. She has taken her success to write books on Korean food, run cooking classes, and to do meet-ups with her fans.
Success has not changed Emily. She still personally answers all of her e-mails that she receives from her fans and she praises and gives advice to all of her students that are trying to cook Korean food. She is a Korean food ambassador without having a title and her impact has been felt worldwide.
When I approached Emily about an interview about her website and the work she does with promoting Korean food, I was met with an ecstatic, “yes.” Here is our conversation.
Koreataste: When you made your first video on Stir-fried Squid, was it a recipe that someone requested?
Maangchi: No, not at all, I posted the video for fun on a weekend. But people found it right away, and encouraged me to do more. So I never stopped.
Koreataste: Before making your cooking videos had you ever been on television, radio, or movies?
Maangchi: No, never.
Koreataste: Who helps you make your videos? How long does it take for you to make one video?
Maangchi: A lot of people, including my friends, neighbors, fans, and family have been helping film my videos since I started. It usually takes 2-3 hours to film, and then editing takes longer. The cooking is unrehearsed and unscripted, and filmed in one take. It’s just filming how I usually cook.
In case of simple video, it takes only a few hours of editing but if it’s a long and complicated recipe, it takes more than 12 hours to edit. I’m shooting in high definition now so it’s taking longer and longer to edit. I really need a new computer, which would make it faster.
Koreataste: How do you pick the recipes that you are going to make videos of?
Maangchi: I have a loose schedule in my mind. It depends on a lot of things: my viewers’ request dishes, the season, my mood, and what I’m currently interested in making.
Koreataste: Have you ever thought of doing a complicated royal court Korean dish like Sinseollo or Guljeolpan? Why or Why Not?
Maangchi: Guljeolpan is easy. The recipe is on my mental list of recipes to film. Sinseollo requires a special Korean cooking utensil. I have never tasted Sinseollo. These kinds of Royal court dishes are not regular food for most Koreans, so I would need to research them myself, and learn the best way to cook them. I realize some people are curious about Korean Royal court dishes, but before I show people how to make them, I have to be comfortable with them myself.
Koreataste: Do you think you’ll ever do a recipe on Korean fusion food like Mexican Tacos or Kimchi Hotdogs?
Maangchi: I’ve already done a few fusion recipes, recipes that I invented myself like collard greens and avocado appetizers. Collard greens are not familiar vegetables for Koreans but have lots of vitamines and minerals. I found it very delicious when they are cooked Korean way by adding Korean seasonings. Most collard greens recipes in the States are cooked with fatty meat. I really want to spread this recipe to the world! I have a new kimchi that I invented. I haven’t filmed it yet, but I will release it someday. I’m more interested in making videos of traditional Korean food recipes, instead of fusion food. Traditional recipes are not easy to find online, and so many people are interested in learning about them.
Koreataste: I noticed you have been giving cooking classes and doing meet-ups (like the one in LA). How has the response been?
Maangchi: The response has been awesome. The cooking classes have always sold out, sometimes within hours! There’s always a waiting list for each class. People will come from other states to attend. It’s kind of overwhelming, and amazing. I’d like to do more classes, but it’s a lot of work to arrange the kitchen, get the materials, and get the classes ready. Maangchi.com is run by me only! So if I had some helpers I would do more classes because every minute spent on those classes is time away from my website. I’ve done meetups ever since I started posting videos. They’re getting bigger and bigger now, more people come each time I do them. I’d like to do more of them in different locations, but again my time is limited and I don’t have the budget for it. Traveling around the country – and the world – to meet Korean food fans would be fun! The meetups are really rewarding for me. It’s so wonderful to meet my readers and viewers face to face. I’m really crazy about meeting them!
Koreataste: I have noticed that you are very active in communicating with your readers and they often send you photos and stories about their cooking experiences. What were some of the most interesting or amazing stories that you have received from readers?
Maangchi: My readers have been emailing me the photos of Korean dishes that they made from my recipes from the very start. I post their photos on my website and there are more than 1000 so far. I have so many touching stories from my readers. They come through email, comments on my website, YouTube, Facebook, twitter and Flickr. Sometimes I cry while I read their messages. One of my readers emailed me to say her Korean mother died in 2007. She had no chance to learn Korean cooking from her when she was alive, but she was raised to eat Korean food on regular basis. She found my website and followed the directions one by one. This is what she wrote: “I almost cried making japchae for the first time. using your ingredients list to go shopping, your videos for preparation, I was able to make a dish that tasted exactly like my mother’s!” See? You will know why my eyes are full of tears while I read her message!
Koreataste: I heard that one reader lost a lot of weight by using your recipes and only eating Korean food. Could you tell us this story?
Maangchi: Yes, he is from Germany. He emailed me a few years ago to say he lost 42 kilos since he changed his diet almost completely to Korean food. He told all about his diet, with detailed descriptions. I really wanted to share his success story with my other readers, so I encouraged him to share his story on the forum on my website and he did it. http://www.maangchi.com/talk/topic/42-kilos-lost-and-counting
Koreataste: Finally, what are you plans for the future? Have you ever thought about opening a restaurant or a cooking school?
Maangchi: I think that whatever I do, making Korean cooking videos and releasing them online, for free, will be a part of it. I had some ideas for Korean restaurants here in New York – if I had a restaurant here, how would I run it? What would I serve? What would it look like? I had ideas for all of this, but I’m not really interested in running restaurants. Maybe I could help design the concept and menu, but I don’t want to be there every day. A cooking school might be fun to do, but I already have one on YouTube! My videos have been watched 6 million times, all those people are learning from me. People stop me on the street all the time to thank me for my videos. On YouTube I can reach way more people than I could with a physical school. I just finished a big photo contest. Now that I have some time, there are a few cool projects I’m going to explore. No one has ever done this stuff before, so the path is not always clear for me. It’s exciting but also difficult. So just keep watching. Some cool stuff might be coming.
Koreataste: Maangchi, thank you so much for your time and we thank you for helping to promote Korean food around the world.
Interviewed by Daniel Gray