Friday, September 23, 2011

First lady 'coaches' chefs on Korean food amid criticism




First lady Kim Yoon-ok stepped up efforts Thursday to promote Korean food in New York, the Mecca for dishes from around the world.

Kim coached chefs and owners of Korean restaurants on how to meet the expectations of New Yorkers with the traditional cuisine.

Her “offering of tips” for the successful spread of Korean dishes comes amid skepticism over the government-backed drive to promote the food abroad.

Critics say the multibillion won campaign pushed by the government has not borne fruit so far and is wasting taxpayer’s money.

It consists of several projects, including the creation of an upscale restaurant in New York.

Last year, Seoul unveiled a 4-billion-won plan to establish a flagship Korean restaurant in downtown New York. The announcement came after the government kicked off its campaign to promote Korean food in other countries in October 2008.

Over the past three years after the launch of the culinary initiative, critics say, little tangible progress has been made in terms of recognition and popularity of Korean food abroad.

But some say it is too early to announce a failure of the drive. They said it took 30 years for Japanese cuisine to gain popularity among Westerners, adding people need to wait more to see the results.

Kim appeared to bear in mind the criticism when giving her pitch in New York, given her unusual “offering of tips” on how to promote Korean food there.

The first lady dropped by three Korean restaurants based in New York, including Danji, and met with those who are promoting Korea’s traditional food in the Big Apple where hundreds of international restaurants are located.

At Danji, Kim had conversation with Korean American chefs, a few students attending the Culinary Institute of America, and online bloggers, eating lunch there.

“Owners of Korean restaurants enjoy serving several different types of dishes. So customers can find a variety of ethnic foods, including Chinese and Japanese foods at a Korean restaurant,” Kim said.

“I think serving different types of foods at a restaurant is not a great idea. Actually we need to think outside the box. I personally believe Korean restaurants will turn out to be more competitive when chefs and owners focus on one or two specialized food items that can represent their restaurant.”

Her advice continued. The first lady recommended the owners of restaurants to consider training foreigners, not Koreans, to learn about the food, saying foreign chefs will help Korean food gain recognition and popularity there.

Her remarks were construed as meaning that American chefs who can cook Korean food will be better for the job because they also know how to meet Americans’ taste standards.

“Korean food not only tastes good but also is good for one’s health. This is because the food has a good balance between vegetables and meat,” she noted.

After lunch, the first lady and her aides moved to another Korean restaurant Social Eatz run by Korean American Bobby Kwak.

American chef Angelo Sosa presented kimchi and a hamburger he gave a Korean flavor to by adding bibimbap.

After tasting some dishes there, Kim praised Sosa for making an effort to localize Korean food.

Kim, who was a stay-at-home mom after marriage, is a listener at most times, supporting her husband, President Lee Myung-bak, in a quiet manner.

But when it comes to culinary diplomacy, she is super active and appears to have a lot to say.

Last year, she gave copies of a cook book she wrote, titled “The Nature of Korean Food by Kim Yoon-ok,” to the spouses of leaders attending the Group of 20 Summit held in Seoul in November.

She appeared in the international media for an interview on her culinary diplomacy.

The first lady is accompanying President Lee on his four-day trip to the United States which began Wednesday.

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