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[Korean Flavors] Chef Kim Sea-kyeong reinterprets Korean food with American-style cooking

Chef Kim Sea-kyeong poses for a photo at his restaurant Daon Bansang in Apgujeong, southern Seoul, on Dec. 7. (The Korea Herald/Park Hae-mook)
Chef Kim Sea-kyeong poses for a photo at his restaurant Daon Bansang in Apgujeong, southern Seoul, on Dec. 7. (The Korea Herald/Park Hae-mook)

Most of Kim Sea-kyeong’s career as a chef was cooking American cuisine in the US, but one thing he dreamed of for a long time was reinterpreting Korean food -- what he calls his “soul food” -- the way he had mastered through Western recipes.

“After working many years in the US with locals, I came to notice that what people aren’t familiar with is the way Korean food is enjoyed, such as side dishes, the experience can be made better through the concept of ‘bansang,’” Kim told The Korea Herald during an interview at his restaurant Daon Bansang in Apgujeong, southern Seoul, on Dec. 7.

Bansang, which is a combination of different dishes for one person, is normally served on a tray with a bowl of rice, a bowl of soup and several side dishes.

“I felt that idea would work. It not only looks neat, but is also timely as people have become more conscious of hygiene issues during pandemic,” Kim said.

As a former executive chef at Charlie Parmer, an international restaurant brand that operates more than 15 restaurants and has earned 20 Michelin stars, Kim is more familiar with the Western style of cooking. Braised beef ribs slow cooked for 48 hours at low temperature is one example.

“Combining such technique with Korean-style soy and lime sauce, the dish was very tender and savory, and it even enhanced the delicate flavor of the fresh, well-cooked rice called baeksemi when tried together,” said Kim. Kim had to hunt for the “right” kind of rice and eventually found it in Gokseong, South Jeolla Province.

Born in the southern port city of Yeosu, Kim said he had many opportunities to enjoy fresh, traditional Korean food from when he was young. His memories of his childhood has become his motivation for cooking.

“My mom is from Seoul, so she had to learn Yeosu-style cooking -- and I remember her spending the whole day in the kitchen. Looking at her, I always wanted to help her cook. Such memories made me want to reinterpret the food I enjoyed in Yeosu in my own way,” said Kim.

All the side dishes that come with rice cooked in a hot pot and the soup of the day are from his hometown Yeosu.

“I make mustard kimchi using ingredients from Yeosu, I searched laver farms there to taste them before buying them in bulk. Such effort in what I cook is well-presented in the food at Daon Bansang,” he said.

He also makes sure to add in interesting elements to his dishes.

Chef's special cockles rice in stone pot (left) and Truffle mushroom rice (right) (The Korea Herald/Park Hae-mook)
Chef's special cockles rice in stone pot (left) and Truffle mushroom rice (right) (The Korea Herald/Park Hae-mook)

Mushroom stirred in truffle oil or seasonal ingredients like cockle top off the stone pot rice dish. When mixed well with fresh water celery and Kim’s special soy sauce, people can taste the winter season inside their mouth, Kim said.

Before Daon Bansang, Kim opened his first fine dining restaurant, Hue135, in Hannam-dong, Seoul, in 2018 and casual dining place Cesta in the same neighborhood in 2021.

“I have done what I can do well with fine dining. My experiment of using charcoal for cuisines at Hue135 and Cesta was satisfactory. I’ll continue to use charcoal for my menu, and that is what Daon Bansang shares in common with my previous projects,” said Kim. His signature beef rib dish, for example, is grilled with charcoal at Daon Bansang.

Now he’s also advising others on the importance of elevating the food experience.

“I still remember when I first had Chipotle. It was about a dollar more expensive than McDonald’s, but it was innovative not only in terms of taste but as a whole experience. I want to give that feeling to the public, especially after the pandemic has made people spend more for better quality food and dining experiences,” said Kim.

He offered his consulting services for food and retail giant SPC Group in opening their salad franchise “Pig in the Garden.”

To do things his own way, he’s experimenting with Korean food by adding American cooking methods.

“I’m currently experimenting with crispy beef jerky that is bite sized, making it different from traditional jerky that is chewy. I’m testing it to be crispier and crunchier, which could be pricey, but can give people an enjoyable experience,” said Kim.



By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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