Chef Kwon Woo-joong has been losing sleep recently, contemplating how to best prepare and present Korean seafood cuisine in front of hundreds of global star chefs and business executives at the upcoming Madrid Fusion in Spain.
Kwon Woo-joong (Kwon Woo-joong)
Together with the Korean Food Foundation, Kwon will lead a team of five chefs from his Korean restaurant Kwon Sooksoo to represent Korea and introduce three seafood dishes at the global food congress on Jan. 25-27.
The Korean Food Foundation is part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, charged with promoting Korean food overseas.
The three dishes that Kwon and his team are preparing are: bugak, or vegetable and seaweed chips, with sweet rice and raw tuna mixed with red pepper paste; kkosiregi, or sea string, and parboiled fish mixed with pine nuts, sesame oil and Spanish herbs; and maesaengi, another type of seaweed, with rice porridge featuring anchovies and soy sauce.
“I’ve got a lot on my shoulders representing not only Korea but also the dishes. I can’t afford to make mistakes at the prestigious food conference, where executives and Michelin Star chefs will be present,” said Kwon in an interview at his restaurant in Sinsa-dong.
Kkosiraegi and parboiled fish mixed with pine nuts
“All recipes for the three dishes have been finalized, but more preparations will be needed to show the delicate details of Korean dishes using both Korean and Spanish ingredients.”
Bugak with sweet rice and raw tuna
Kwon said that he would stay true to his style, which is “striking the right balance in using traditional, modern and future-oriented cooking methods when creating modern hansik (Korean cuisine).”
Since starting his culinary career at the Westin Chosun Hotel in 2006, the 35-year-old chef has developed a keen sense for exploring and experimenting with little-known ingredients.
Using local produce from the various provinces, Kwon pays particular attention to detail in creating the aroma of his seafood dishes, as well as how well the fish is cooked.
“Korean cuisine is weak in bringing out the aroma in its dishes because the country has never really explored beyond using sesame oil and garlic,” Kwon said.
“Aromas can shape the texture of the food, and most importantly set off a wonderful chemical chain reaction in the mouth once it is tasted.”
Kwon added that compared to meat dishes, seafood cooking offers many opportunities to create aromas and tastes.
Also, since Koreans’ taste for meat tends to be “very conservative,” meaning that they are less willing to try new meat dishes, seafood can help chefs be inventive, as they can create a lot of variation.
“Seafood has helped me jump over the hurdles in trying to create new cuisines.”
Kwon started his career in western cooking, but his passion has always remained in cooking authentic modern Korean food.
Kwon Sooksoo in Sinsa-dong is his third dining start-up. His started a barbecue meat restaurant after his stint at the Westin Chosun Hotel because he wanted to cook Korean food. His second restaurant venture was a high-end modern Korean restaurant, which he ran while also working as an executive chef for CJ Foodville in 2013.
“I failed and closed down my second restaurant because I got greedy and got carried away with trying to gain ‘titles and positions,’ rather than being attentive to the food quality and the customers,” Kwon said.
“But I’ve learned a very important lesson from those days. I’ve learned how to read consumption trends and analyze markets while at CJ. I also learned to strike a balance between art and business, realizing that no matter how artistic your food may be, it will be useless if consumers don’t like it.”
Kwon is the only chef to be representing Korea at the Madrid Fusion later this month. The Korean Food Foundation, which was established in 2010, has participated in the global food forum annually since 2012.
By Park Hyong-ki (email@example.com