Last month I talked about a chef hacking Korean dishes by using readily available products. However, many of the top chefs in the world are using authentic Korean ingredients in their dishes. They have different reasons for doing so but there is a general consensus that it makes the dishes taste better and adds more value to the dish. Michelin-starred chef Hooni Kim of Danji and Hanjan has championed the use of Korean pastes and soy sauces for many years.
In September, he took this a step further by importing Korean crabs and making soy-marinated crab for his guests. He said he experimented using local American crabs but the meat in the crabs shrank. In contrast, the Korean crabs soaked up the sauce while staying plump. His soy-marinated crab nights were a big hit and sold out on both available nights in New York City in the United States.
I reached out to restauranteurs and food producers around the world to find out which Korean ingredients they used and asked how their guests reacted. Chef Hooni said they, “Sold out for every Saturday for 3 straight months. There were 25 pre-ordered servings every Saturday night.”
Paul Sullivan of Kimchi Human in London, the United Kingdom, created a line of kimchi that is sold in gourmet stores around the country. His product is marketed as “live fermented food” and it has been selling well. I asked him if he used any local ingredients and he said, “We use fermented shrimp, fermented anchovy sauce, and red chili flakes from Korea, all via Korea Foods London for our kimchi.” Paul started out in video production but his love of kimchi pushed him to create the brand.
Rachel Yang, a 2016 James Beard Award nominee for the Best Northwest chef is a native Korean that has worked in some of the top restaurants in America such as Per Se, Essex House, and DB Bistro Moderne. Rachel owns three restaurants in Seattle that have a prominent Korean edge. I asked this very busy chef and mother of two which Korean ingredients she uses.
Rachel replied, “We use Korean bean paste for braising pork belly that goes on kimchi pancake. People are always very impressed with the sweet and subtle earthiness that Korean bean paste would bring to the dish. Korean bean paste definitely has deeper and more complex flavor compared to other comparable product like Japanese miso. It would be great if there were more fermented products available from Korea.”
Special Mini Interview
It seems that the food truck craze around the world is still going on. Laura Lee, Chef-owner of Ajumama food truck, creates Korean dishes that have an American twist. Her creations, such as the Bulgogi Cheezesteak, Pajeon (savory filled pancakes) and Hodduk, have won numerous food competitions in the United States. She was able to give us a more extended interview.
DL: In which dishes do you use Korean ingredients?
Laura: All of them! We use soju in our marinades, Korean red pepper for kimchi and even potato chips, gochujjang for sauces, doenjang, perilla seed powder, tteokboki, black bean paste, danmuchi, munch beans, and, this time of year, pears straight from Korea. That is just for the regular menu; some of our specials use even more.
I use Sempio doenjang, Haitai gochujang and black bean paste, Assi dried goods like seeds and mung beans. For chili powder, I always buy the ones made or at least processed in Korea.
DL: How do your customers react to these dishes?
Laura: They love them, we have people who travel quite far just to find us and have their favorite dish. Some people aren’t sure at first but once they try it, they are hooked.
DL: How do you feel Korean food products compare to others?
Laura: I tend to buy only Korean products when it comes to things like gochujjang or black bean paste. I think the quality is the best and it’s important to me to have connection with Korea.
DL: Are there other Korean ingredients you wish were available to you?
Laura: I wish we could get more Korean organic products, a better selection of red pepper powder, and more fresh produce. I know the last one is a tough order but I hope more local farms start growing Korean veggies and herbs.
After talking to people in the industry, it is obvious that there is definitely a market for Korean products overseas. It is the lack of availability that causes these professionals to compromise and use substitute products. The Korean food trend is not going to die anytime soon, so it would probably be the best time to get Korean products on the shelves and in the hands of the chefs that know what to do with them.
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