Why kimchi isn’t the best face of Korean cuisine

This is from the Joongahn Daily

Kimchi is a condiment and it shouldn’t be the main dish to promote Korea. In order to popularize a country’s cuisine, you need to have a dish that appeals to the masses. Kimchi isn’t very universal. It alienates a great deal of people with its smell, its look, and the process in which it is made. Chef Shenks isn’t trying to be arrogant, he tries very hard to promote Korean food (I know, I’ve met him and he is very passionate about the topic.)

Here is the article below.

February 11, 2009
Paul Schenk, executive chef at the InterContinental Hotels in Seoul. [JoongAng Ilbo]

Paul Schenk, executive chef at the InterContinental Hotels in Seoul, is an expert on Korean food who knows that few non-Koreans understand the local cuisine better than him.

The 37-year-old Australian showcased a five-course modern Korean menu on Jan. 21 at CICI Korea 2009, an event promoting Korea hosted by the Corea Image Communication Institute.

Renowned conductor Chung Myung-hoon, who is also known for his professional cooking skills, joined him in creating the dishes.

“It was a superb reinterpretation of Korean food,” said Choi Jung-wha, president of the institute.

“Foreigners attending the event showed an enthusiastic response [to the food].”

In a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Schenk revealed his affection for Korean food and offered ideas on how to globalize it.

The interview was conducted in English but written in Korean.

For JoongAng Daily readers, it was translated again from the Korean article.

Q. How much do you know Korean food?

A. I have tasted hongeo hoe (raw fermented skate), bosintang (dog meat soup) whale meat, etc. I am really adventurous.

When I was 21 years old, back in Australia, I even tried making kimchi using a recipe that I worked really hard to get. It was, of course, not very well made kimchi.

A cook is always living under pressure to create new cuisine and is very thirsty for something new.

Unlike Japanese food and Chinese food, which have already been globalized to a large extent, Korean food is still uncharted territory, and holds many opportunities.

Galbijjim (steamed short ribs) has such a good ensemble of beef and seasonings that it could enchant people all around the world.

Gungjung tteokbbokgi (fried rice cakes), seasoned with soy sauce, also has an edge.

Suppose you assume a mission of globalizing Korean food. What would you do first?

I would stop promoting Korean food focused on kimchi. If kimchi, which is very distinct, is put out front, some foreigners could think that all Korean food is salty and spicy.

That misconception could hold foreigners back from getting to know Korean food.

If I wanted to introduce Australian food and then served kangaroo, what would people think?

When foreigners try kimchi, I always warn them that they need to be careful. I tell them that they could find it really spicy and salty.

I also serve a small quantity to them, to avoid their first encounter with Korean food being nightmarish.

What else would you do?

I would send Korean ingredients to renowned food critics and cooks across the world, teach them a recipe and let them create something new out of the ingredients.

If a famous cook says in an interview, “I love this Korean dish called galbijjim,” this would help a lot in globalizing Korean food.

It would have the same effect as having many people taste Korean food.

It is also important to encourage foreign chefs to use their creativity in dealing with Korean food.

Honestly, I think the current campaign to globalize Korean food only has resonance in Korea.

Can you give an example to back up your claim?

Recently there was an event to promote Korean hot pepper paste throughout the world in Sunchang (a South Jeolla county that is famous for hot pepper paste).

Shouldn’t that kind of event be held in New York or London?

Let’s stop shouting that Korean food is great in Korea, and go overseas to promote it.

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  1. Anonymous
    Posted February 16, 2009 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    Ah, Come on! Cheese can be as stinky and repulsive as Kimchi. Why give Kimchi all these bad raps? All cultures have some sort of pickled/fermented veggies, like Kimchi. Japan has Tsukemono and some are stinky and salty too!

    Also, the charm of Korean table is the presence of everything, rice, soup and ban chan, which Kimchi is a part of and how all the elements are balanced. I’d hate to see Korean table lose its food balance in the name of globalization.

  2. JC
    Posted February 16, 2009 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    I would argue that Kimchi is a great representative for Korean food, simply because it is not only food to Koreans, it is culture and tradition, like rice! Kimchi is served with every meal, and I’ve been asked countless times by my students, ‘Do you like kimchi?’ Kimchi is the people’s food. Moreover it is gaining popularity the world over…

  3. es
    Posted February 16, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    a famous chef HAS endorsed korean food, in a way. check these youtube clips of “No Reservations” … anthony bourdaine visits korea and expresses his enjoyment of the food!

    Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-9SOq_QgsQ
    Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDrH6bBCbHA
    Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxXatYZXrfo
    Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOs6Qf58OP4
    Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lpoGAQpj3E

  4. Anonymous
    Posted February 17, 2009 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    Read the article! he is not saying that Kimchi is not a great dish, He is saying that it is a condiment not meant to be used to globalize a countries cuisine, there are many, many delicous dishes out there that are better suited to do this…. I totally agree with him. Kimchi is a great condiment but not meant to be had as a main course meal..

  5. Anonymous
    Posted February 18, 2009 at 1:11 am | Permalink


    I had to shout this out, because, damn, what a frustrating thing to hear as a Korean person.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted February 18, 2009 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    OK!!! Side dish! Its definatley not a main course!

  7. Anonymous
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    yea, you all need to calm down… the man is not saying there is anything wrong with kimchi.. but Korea has a vast array of national food to its name.. So if a korean comes to my house in the west… am i going to serve him up cheese? ‘Welcome to the west’? No… i’ll cook him a roast… maybe ill put some cheese in the potatoes

    Posted July 8, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

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