Michelin-starred chef bets on casual Korean dining

By Yonhap
  • Published : Jan 20, 2018 - 10:14
  • Updated : Jan 21, 2018 - 09:42

Chef Yim Jung-sik burst onto the world culinary scene nine years ago with then a rather new concept of Korean fine dining.

In two years, he tapped New York, the heart of haute cuisine, with his restaurant Jungsik and earned a Michelin star the following year. The restaurant has had two Michelin stars since 2014, and his Seoul store was added to the second edition of the Michelin Guide for Seoul 2018 as a two-star eatery.

After nearly a decade of dedication to fine dining, Yim recently embarked on a new venture, opening a casual dining place, not in some affluent district like Gangnam, but in an airport.

Chef Yim Jung-sik poses for a photo during an interview with Yonhap News Agency at his new restaurant at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Jan. 17, 2018. (Yonhap)

"As the owner of a fine dining restaurant, I could not help but be aware of the crisis that struck the fine dining scene in recent years," he told Yonhap News Agency during an interview on Wednesday. 

Browsing through items that could work in the world market, Yim came to realize that Asian foods enjoyed worldwide share one common characteristic: soup. 

"Vietnamese rice noodles, Japanese ramen and Thai tom yum goong are all based on soups," he said. "Korea has a very unique culture where we put rice into soup and eat them together. I thought it could work." 

His new restaurant Pyunghwaok at Incheon International Airport, the country's main gateway located west of Seoul, mainly serves a spicy version of beef bone soup called "gomtang" in Korean and Pyongyang-style cold noodles "naengmyun."

"Some people ask if the soup would be too spicy for foreigners, but I actually think the charm is in this spicy taste," the chef said. "Pyongyang naengmyun, too. It is very lightly flavored, but that is all the more why it can be widely loved across borders instead of having a brief spike in popularity." 

Yim said the new restaurant's unique location was decided by his aspiration to introduce real Korean food from the country's gateway. 

The Michelin-starred chef plans to open chains for his take on the casual meal in Hong Kong, Australia and New York in the coming years. 

"I challenged the world food market with new style of Korean food in the past decade. In the next 10 years, I want to venture out into the world with real Korean food," Yim said. (Yonhap)