The K-Food World Festival‘s London round took place in Old Street over the weekend, and saw keen Korean food fans duke it out in the kitchen to win first place and a flight to Korea to compete in the Festival final! The Festival, organised in London by The Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the UK, lasted throughout most of the day and tested many aspects of the contestants’ food knowledge and skills. There were five people in the final, all of whom had been selected based on videos they’d submitted cooking a Korean dish of their choice. The two judges for the competition were Executive Chef of Bibigo in London, Kim Bong-gyu, and Culture and Information Attaché for Embassy of the Republic of Korea, Song Yoon-seog. On hand to help out were the ever cheerful and fun Embassy staff and staff from the venue for the day, the Central Street Cookery School. The main areas where the contestants would be judged on were taste and presentation, and with two dishes to make and no recipes on hand, all the contestants did amazingly!
The first section of the contest was to start preparations for the first dish, bulgogi/불고기. In 30 minutes, the marinade for the beef, and the beef itself had to be prepared. With the ingredients and equipment set out in front of them, the contestants got under way and started their tasks. All the finalists managed to start off the day looking relaxed, even when the cameraman and judges were observing their every move! The judges quietly took down notes and carefully monitored the finalists as they prepared the bulgogi, especially Chef Kim Bong-gyu, who knew exactly what to look out for in terms of kitchen skills and what they should be doing to the beef and marinade. With a helpful hint and comment here and there, Chef Kim was a kind judge and helped put the contestants at ease.
The contestants all looked so focused on their work and completely in the zone! Fully immersed in the task at hand, it was interesting to see how each finalist decided on which part of the recipe to start first. While some trimmed the beef, others were preparing the marinade ingredients. The contestants didn’t seem fazed when how much remainder time was announced, and always kept their cool. Even when Chef Kim threw unexpected questions at the finalists, like “do you know which cut of beef we’re using”, or tasted their marinades, all the five contestants remained calm and collected.
When the beef and marinade had been prepped, it was time for a lunch break, and everyone involved was treated to a fabulous picnic box from Bibigo! A delicious surprise, there was a great selection of japchae, kimchi, dak kang jung, rolled egg and seasoned greens. We’re definitely going to check out Bibigo in the future and see what else is on the menu! We were also given some delicious yakgwa, a sweet biscuit-like dessert made of honey, sesame oil and wheat flour. We’ll be stocking up on those later too! After lunch, the finalists had short interviews with the judges, which were filmed by MBC who would be broadcasting this Festival. These interviews involved questions on the finalists’ experiences with Korean food and how they became interested in the country’s cuisine.
The final part of the competition was the completion of the bulgogi, and the cooking of another dish, haemul pajeon/해물파전. One hour was given for this task, with the pajeons taking up most of the time as the bulgogi only needed to be cooked towards the end. Chef Kim gave specific instructions for how the bulgogi was to be presented. On one plate, the bulgogi was to be accompanied by seasoned namul, portabello mushrooms and julienned courgettes. How the haemul pajeon was presented was up to the contestants, as long as there was dipping sauce accompanying it on the plate. One important point that the Chef said was to make sure the pajeon was crispy. He also asked everyone to be careful and not to burn or cut themselves!
During this hour, the contestants were constantly kept busy. Squid and prawns where washed and chopped, pans were tested out for the pajeon frying, Chef Kim asked more unexpected questions and there was even a minor accident when a finger and knife had a disagreement. It must have been difficult for the contestants to manage their time, even though there were only two dishes, the number of items to prepare meant they had to be very careful with timing, ensuring nothing was overcooked or forgotten! As the time ticked away, the haemul paejons and beef began to form and everyone’s final dishes came together.
Once time had run out and everyone was finished, it was judging time! With the finalists’ two plates lined up in a row, the judges slowly worked their way down the row, giving advice and comments on the finished dishes. Chef Kim asked the contestants questions about how they prepared each component and gave constructive criticism about certain things they could do to improve each dish. After this, the judges went off to converse and everyone else got to tuck in to more food and tried out the finalists dishes! Second lunch, awesome!
Then came the big announcement, the winner! After thanking everyone who took part, the judges revealed who the UK representative for the Festival in South Korea would be. The winner was Jordan, a fellow Korean language student at the Korean Cultural Centre UK and our classmate of over 2 years! We were very happy for him! Jordan is also a food writer and chef, with recipe books published. You can find out more information about him on his website, The Guilt Free Gourmet. Everyone who took part got a prize, including restaurant vouchers and food hampers, with second place getting a Cuckoo rice cooker which the contestant’s husband was particularly ecstatic about. Many congratulations to everyone who took part and good luck to Jordan for the final in Korea!
We had a very fun, and well-fed, day, it was like being on an episode of Masterchef! We hope everyone who came enjoyed themselves and went home feeling happy and with a contended stomach! Hopefully this has inspired many of you to put on your aprons and get cooking, we hope this will become an annual event.