Jungsik Yim: Korea’s Best Chef on the Importance of Ingredients and Filipino CuisineMay 12, 2016
Chef Jungsik Yim, your food has been considered “new Korean.” So how would you describe “old Korean” food? How do you see traditional Korean food? Have you tried Korean food before? I’m doing some changes. The food now in Korea, what Korean people eat, that is Korean food. My cuisine is trying to find some way to give them something they never tried before. I try to give them little changes and little fine-tuning.
How did this cuisine of yours come about? Through my experiences in school in the US, working in French restaurants, and working in Spain as well—through all those experiences, I carefully mixed and tried techniques.
I ask that because, do you think that’s applicable for other cuisines? Do you think other chefs can do that for other cuisines? Let’s say, Filipino food. Where do you draw the line of adding small things before it becomes another cuisine entirely? In food, basically all the same. Seasoning, taste, spicy, salt, sour—humans have basically the same taste. So, even if you change a lot of things, it just makes it unique. It’s less about specific cuisine.
What were the big experiences that changed how you view food? I think working in Spain. It was a great experience for me because I went to school in the US. That time I was very young. I went to Spain, then Amsterdam.
How old were you then? At the time I was 28 or 29. I was surprised because New York City had all cultures together there. I could get any ingredients that I wanted—whatever spice, whatever meat, whatever fish. As a contrast, when I went to Spain—San Sebastian, that is the North part of Spain— there were many three star restaurants there, but they use only local products—it was all a big surprise for me when I was there at that time. That’s also why I decided to open my restaurant back in Korea. Because they would say “New Spanish,” and I was inspired to do that to Korean food. I still go to Spain many times.
Just to get inspired? Yeah, yeah. Then I go if they invite me to cook; I extend and then go five days more to get more inspiration, meeting some old friends, all the chefs, and then eating again.
Something I observed with food is that for the early 90’s to 2000’s, the trend was you’d have to have the best ingredients flown in. You get fish from the Mediterranean, or you get fish from Japan, but now it’s moving towards local. Why do you think that is? Why do you think that’s happening? Especially in places like Spain, where you said you can find three star restaurants and they just make use of what’s local, what’s there. I think it is more about making it special. Everybody can find some Mediterranean fish or fly in something expensive, but that’s not going to be special. Use local, some ingredients people don’t know about it. That makes your customer happy. Beef. Everybody use the same kind beef, there’s nothing special. People go to somewhere to see what’s going on there. So now, we have the internet, you get information about everything. That’s the big change. Just rethink. Rethink. Not just try to get the best ingredient from the world. Just focus on what you have.
Are there any traditional Korean dishes you’re ‘rethinking’ about right now? Yeah. I did a little demo last night. The gim, the seaweed—that is something that Korean people they don’t say is legitimate Korean food, because they just forget it. But they eat it every time. But I always try to make different dishes using the gim.
Anything else? Chwinamul? Chwinamul are roots or leaves from Korean mountain. If you’re in a Korean restaurant, they serve some rice and some soup, and then seaweed, but a side dish always consists of the chwinamul. Vegetable.
Since you’re talking about rice, how important is rice? For Asians, it’s the base.
Do you apply that to your restaurant in New York? Do you see the difference of how they perceive rice there? The New York market has been open to everybody. So they are familiar to rice. Before, nothing was eaten with rice. Now, it’s different. They eat, I think, more rice than bread. If you go to Europe, it’s bread. In America, a lot of Asians live there. The rice culture has begun to settle there.
Have you tried any Filipino food here? Not much! Because last time I went to Gallery Vask.
How was your experience? What are your thoughts? It is one of the best in Asia, I think. And I’ve been all around Asia!
Was this your first time in the Philippines? Yes, yes. But it was a big surprise, Gallery Vask. It was great. I see in the Philippines, there are a lot of great ingredients. In Gallery Vask they make use of so many Philippine vegetables and leaves. They were so surprising. I was like, “Whoa!”
So you think there’s potential in our food and ingredients? Yeah! Of course! Because not many countries have these great ingredients.
But what do you think it is that we are lacking in moving forward with food? What do you think we need to improve on? Do we need to be more open-minded with ingredients? I mean you’re good. I think you have good ingredients. What you need to do is grow your market. Because for every good restaurant, you need customers. Right? That’s why we grow together. And I think government investment? They are trying to make the Philippines a food destination right?