Friday, July 02, 2010
I met with Jean-Pierre Gabriel, a photographer and food journalist, through Chef Sang-hoon in Belgium. When I was staging in Chef Sang-hoon’s kitchen, we got to know each other because of the photos that were taken for a book called “Les Essentiels”, and he later visited Korea and became a great fan of soju.
Gabriel has an ability to understand culture and grasp essentials with a finely-tuned sensitivity. In addition to working on cookbooks, he has had exposure to a variety of food cultures as he traveled around the world with his affection for cooking.
Gabriel has traveled throughout Korea trying to uncover the nature and strength of Korean food. He says that to express ‘Korea’s uniqueness’ in a slightly more contemporary way is the key to globalization.
It is also noteworthy that, among the diversity of Korean cuisine, the fermentation of kimchi is of particular interest to world-famous chefs throughout the world. This is because fermented vegetables, which have not yet been developed in Western culture, can offer a new direction to world-class chefs who want something new. Gabriel points out that such chefs do not merely want to know how to make kimchi; they also want to know the underlying scientific principles of the fermentation.
We had the following discussion about the globalization of the Korean cuisine.
Q: You’ve been to so many countries. You also know a lot about food culture and global culinary trends. Do you think Korean cuisine can become one of the popular cuisines in the world?
A: Korean ingredients like gochujang will become popular. It will be more difficult for things like kimchi. It will take more time.
Q: Which Korean dishes or ingredients, in particular, do you want to introduce to your friends who are great chefs? What is the reason?
A: I’d like to introduce them to some of the fermented sauces, perilla oil, but also some other products, like algae, some mushrooms or vegetables, soju, and omija (five-flavoured berries). I’d seen sesame oil before, but never perilla oil. It was very interesting, and I think it would also be very popular with other chefs. And when I went to the supermarket, I bought some 12-year-old Jugyeom (sea salt baked in bamboo). I’ve never seen jook-yeom in any other country. It was fascinating. I’m sure this kind of Korean salt will be well-received overseas, just like Maldon salt from the UK. And king oyster mushrooms are very expensive in Belgium. But in Korea, they just provide them for free when you have samgyeopsal (pork belly).
Q: When you visited Seoul, what was the most impressive thing about Korean food culture? (If you want, you can talk about more than one thing, like a restaurant, a market, a meal, ingredients…)
A: The fish market, some 100%-Korean supermarkets, the beauty of the presentation and the freshness of the dishes, their technique at butchering meat, side dishes in restaurants, the use of Korean pear with meat, temple food, and so on.
In Japan, I went to the Tsukiji Fish Market. It’s now such a popular tourist attraction that they have certain areas cordoned off for people who are just there as tourists. But Noryangjin Fish Market was very dynamic and really showed Koreans’ emotions. It was very impressive.
The food at the Korean restaurants I’ve been to was very high-quality. I’d say the taste of Korean food is already good enough to be global. It just needs to be developed to suit the tastes of people in other parts of the world.
Q. Korean food has the same potential for popularity as food from other Asian countries, like sushi, curry and Chinese food; however, Korean food is not that popular throughout the world. Recently, the Korean government has been trying to promote the excellence of Korean food culture. What should be done by the government, the food industry, young chefs, food distributors, farmers, fishermen, etc. to help Korean food gain the same sort of popularity as sushi and Chinese food? What does Korean food need to do to globalize?
A: Avoid the cliché of royal cuisine and go for the most innovative way: globalize Korean food culture as an experience.
Q: Lastly, if you visit Korea again, where do you want to go? As as a photographer and a food journalist, what are you interested in doing and finding out about?
A: When I come back to Korea, I definitely want to go to a kimchi factory. And I’d like to visit places where you can experience Korea’s unique culture and photograph them. I want to go to a good factory (one where there is a high degree of craftsmanship), like a soy-bean paste or rice wine factory, visit markets, farms, and top restaurants, and try temple food.
Interviewed and written by Chef Choi Jung Yoon