* This post is written by Elizabeth Shim, one of the Korean Cultural Service in New York’s Cultural Reporters.
America is in the throes of a Korean food craze. From kimchi taco trucks roaming the streets of New York and Los Angeles, to the proliferation of Korean fried chicken restaurants, there’s something about Korean food, or hansik, that just has its army of fans clamoring for more.
Perhaps the most salient feature of Korean cuisine is its appeal to diners with diverse tastes: there’s certainly something for everyone. That’s the premise of Kimchi Chronicles, a 13-episode television series soon to air on PBS. Each episode takes you on a different journey of the palate. From green tea tastings to a hearty meal of bindaeddeok at an open-air street stall, hosts Marja and her husband and celebrity chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, divulges Korea’s culinary universe in an unprecedented exploration of Asia’s best-kept secret. Friends often join their adventures, including the Hollywood star Hugh Jackman and the actress Heather Graham, who both prove they can take the heat as they eat their way through Korea.
At a Kimchi Chronicles launch party on Tuesday evening, celebrity friends, guests of the Korean Consulate General in New York, and the Vongerichtens converged at Jean-Georges’ opulent and Southeast Asian-inspired Spice Market. Together they celebrated a voyage, a cuisine and the bridging of two cultures through food. On her experience with Korean food, Graham confessed, “I really liked temple cuisine, it’s vegetarian, and it comes with about 30 different dishes.” On the flavors of bindaeddeok, she marveled, “they’re these pancakes, made of mung beans, and they’re amazing!”
Hugh Jackman, accompanied by his spouse Deborra-Lee Furness, exhibited a familiarity with Korean food that has grown over the years. The former goodwill ambassador for Seoul said he enjoys variety in the food he eats. “I like Korean food,” he said, and in a nod to his eating chops, he boasted, “I take the kimchi like baby kimchi. It’s for babies. That’s me.”
The true stars of the evening were of course the Vongerichten couple, accompanied by their daughter Chloe. Kimchi Chronicles is indeed a family affair, particularly for Marja, who is of Korean descent. Born in Uijeongbu, Korea, Marja was adopted by an American family in Virginia but was eventually reunited with her birth mother at 19. Episodes of the film often become a metaphor for Marja’s journey. Through regular trips to Korea and visits with her Korean family, Marja rekindled her love for the country’s food. Her family members also make guest appearances in Kimchi Chronicles, and provide much occasion for the hearty, communal eating that is part of the Korean dining experience.
The Kimchi Chronicles launch party brought together a cross-section of New Yorkers and visitors from Korea, united by their love of food, the convivial atmosphere of Jean-Georges’ Spice Market, and their hearty welcome of a film about Korea that’s at once overdue and timely. Through Kimchi Chronicles, viewers will discover not just a culinary journey, but a country and culture that has proved time and again that food and other channels of human creativity is the passionate pursuit of turning something ordinary, extraordinary.
Kimchi Chronicles is scheduled to broadcast nationwide starting in July 2011. Please check your local listings.