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In New York, cooking classes demystify Korean cuisine

NEW YORK (Yonhap News) ― On a recent Saturday evening, Youngsun Lee, culinary instructor and executive chef of the popular Kimchi Taco Truck, welcomed 12 curious students to “The Korean Plate” cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan.

Lee started the class by introducing a few basic Korean ingredients, including gochujang (red pepper paste), doenjang (fermented bean paste) and dried anchovies. Along the way, he shared anecdotes about the various ingredients and dishes from his childhood in Korea.

For the next three hours, the students made their first attempt at various Korean recipes, from the most famous dishes such as kimchi and bulgogi to the popular summer dessert of patbingsu, Korean shaved ice with sweet red beans and chewy mini rice cakes.

“These classes help people demystify Korean ingredients and dishes so that they can enjoy Korean food better at home and outside,” said Lee.

The ICE started offering Korean cooking classes back in 2008 with Lee. He taught several themed classes, in which he introduced standards like kimchi and bulgogi, Korean home favorites of banchan (side dishes) and street snacks.

After the initial success of Lee’s Korean cooking classes and seeing the increasing popularity of Korean food, the recreational division of the ICE developed a more streamlined menu and class structure. In early 2011, the institute introduced the “Essentials of Korean Cooking” class in addition to a few of Lee’s themed classes.

“Many administrators from the recreational department went on a tour of Koreatown restaurants and tried lots of things. We noted what was common on several menus, such as barbecue, rice dishes, pancakes, kimchi, vegetable sides and flavored soju. Then we came up with our own menu for class,” said Daniel Stone, chef instructor and recipe editor for the ICE.

Among the 1,500 recreational classes offered each year, the Korean classes are relatively new at the ICE. They are part of an ongoing effort to improve class content to better address students’ interests.

At Lee’s recent Saturday class, the students donned aprons and grabbed scallions for haemul pajeon (savory seafood pancakes), napa cabbages for kimchi and gathered other essentials like gochujang and soy sauce. 
Making “haemul pajeon,” seafood scallion pancakes (Yonhap News)
Making “haemul pajeon,” seafood scallion pancakes (Yonhap News)

Many of the students were professionals in their 20s and 30s who came with their partners and friends. They were willing to get their hands wet and learn something new and fun. They also shared a common interest in Korean food.

Steve Ahn eagerly volunteered to make kimchi. He remembered his mother making kimchi at home when he was growing up in Korea. “I want to learn how to make one of the fundamental dishes of Korea,” he said.

Working next to him was his wife, Yasmin Ibrahim, who measured ingredients for bulgogi. She hoped that they could learn to make more Korean dishes at home for guests.
Participants of “The Korean Plate” enjoy a spread of Korean dishes. (Yonhap News)
Participants of “The Korean Plate” enjoy a spread of Korean dishes. (Yonhap News)

Clare Langan, a student at the ICE, was here to learn more about Korean food in general because it’s not covered extensively in her professional culinary curriculum.

Although she’d had Korean food a few times, she considered herself a novice. But she was excited about working with completely new ingredients and bold flavor profiles.

On the other hand, Melissa Orellana had loved Korean food since her now-husband took her out for Korean food on their first date.

“I love kimchi, but I didn’t know you could cook with it to make new dishes. I like picking up cooking tips like this,” she said.

“Things that may be obvious to Koreans, because we grew up with them, may not be the case with non-Koreans,” chef Lee explained.
Chef Youngsun Lee (left) helps a student with salting mackerel, while Steve Ahn (right) prepares kimchi seasoning. (Yonhap News)
Chef Youngsun Lee (left) helps a student with salting mackerel, while Steve Ahn (right) prepares kimchi seasoning. (Yonhap News)

Diners have only recently learned to enjoy kimchi as a side dish or an accompaniment for meat dishes, he said, but many are still unaware that they can cook with kimchi to easily create savory stews and pancakes.

Currently, the ICE is the only culinary school to provide regular Korean cooking classes in Manhattan. Other cooking schools offer more special event-format classes.

Marja Vongerichten, the wife of celebrated chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, recently hosted a cooking demo with the theme of “A Taste of The Kimchi Chronicles: Korean Cooking for an American Kitchen,” at Astor Center.

The class coincided with the airing of the Vongerichtens’ TV series, “Kimchi Chronicles,” in which Marja, who was adopted from Korea, traces her roots through the country’s cuisine.

Kimberly Koharki, director of programming at Astor Center, said that past hands-on cooking classes on traditional Korean dishes performed well. The center will likely offer them again in the coming winter.

Chef Angelo Sosa, who found fame as a contestant on the U.S. reality TV show “Top Chef,” recently turned New Yorkers’ heads with his bibimbap burger. In September, he held a cooking demo class under the theme of “Asian Adventure” at De Gustibus School, a facility that offers recreational cooking classes with celebrity chefs.

As for students of “The Korean Plate,” after hours of cooking they surveyed the spread of Korean dishes they had made together ― hoe muchim (Korean-style spicy ceviche), haemul pajeon, bulgogi, kimchi, grilled mackerel with spicy sauce, kimchi fried rice, grilled pork with ssamjang (fermented bean sauce) and dak gang jeong (glazed balls of chicken meat). Chef Lee also made a special treat, a makgeolli cocktail that blended unfiltered rice wine with melon-flavored popsicles.

Digging into their Korean bounty and savoring their makgeolli cocktails, Lee’s students shared their thoughts on the night’s cooking experience and asked their instructor questions about where to get Korean ingredients.

“Bulgogi seems very accessible. I can get ingredients easily. I can make it at home and my friends would love it,” Langan, the culinary student, said.

As the night came to a close and students began packing up leftovers to take home, Orellana, who found love at first bite with Korean food, beelined for the plate of fresh kimchi.

“Yay! I’ll have kimchi for the whole week at home,” she said as she packed her jar full of the fiery red cabbage.
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