Names two 3-star eater­ies in first Seoul guide

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

The Miche­lin food guide un­veiled its first Seoul edi­tion on Mon­day, with two up­scale Korean restau­rants re­ceiv­ing the cov­eted three stars, but recog­ni­tion also for a hum­bler diner serv­ing veg­e­tar­ian tem­ple food. A to­tal of 24 restau­rants in the South Korean cap­i­tal re­ceived Miche­lin stars, re­flect­ing the city’s am­bi­tions as a fine-din­ing hub and the emer­gence of Korean cui­sine from the well-es­tab­lished shad­ows cast by those of Asian neigh­bors China and Ja­pan. “I think it’s widely seen as one of the hid­den gems of world cui­sine,” said Michael El­lis, the in­ter­na­tional di­rec­tor of Miche­lin guides. Of the two three-starred restau­rants, Gaon in Seoul’s up­mar­ket Gang­nam area of­fers two multi-course menus based on the daily meals en­joyed by the kings of the Joseon era (1392-1910) and priced at 180,000 won (US$157) and 250,000 won.

The guide cited Gaon for its “metic­u­lously-pre­pared dishes” and com­mit­ment to pro­mot­ing a “bet­ter un­der­stand­ing” of Korean food. Gaon’s ex­ec­u­tive chef Kim By­oung-Jin said he was stunned and “ex­tremely honored” with the three-star rat­ing, cred­it­ing his kitchen team and an in­sis­tence on the finest sea­sonal pro­duce. “All good food starts from fresh in­gre­di­ents,” he told AFP.

Hav­ing spent the past 13 years hon­ing his take on tra­di­tional Korean cui­sine, Kim said he hoped the ul­ti­mate stamp of ap­proval from Miche­lin would help South Korean gas­tron­omy “re­ceive the ap­pre­ci­a­tion it de­serves”. “In or­der for Korean cui­sine to be uni­ver­sal­ized, it must meet a univer­sal stan­dard and I think the Miche­lin list­ing will help Korean food be­come a more ap­proach­able cui­sine for many peo­ple,” he said. Of the 21,000 restau­rants fea­tured in Miche­lin guides around the world, just over 100 are rated with three stars. Starred restau­rants have in the past built big busi­nesses af­ter be­ing rec­og­nized.

The other three-star re­cip­i­ent was La Yeon in the Ho­tel Shilla, which was praised by Miche­lin for the chef’s con­tem­po­rary touch on tra­di­tional Korean cui­sine. Fol­low­ing the 2007 pub­li­ca­tion of the Tokyo guide-Miche­lin’s first foray into Asia-Seoul is the lat­est city in the re­gion to get its own ver­sion of the culi­nary bi­ble. There are also edi­tions ex­plor­ing Shang­hai, Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore. “Seoul is a gas­tro­nomic roller coaster,” El­lis said. “There’s so many things go­ing on: brin­ing, pick­ling, fer­ment­ing, fry­ing, bar­be­quing, sea­son­ing... great tech­niques,” he added. Among the one-star re­cip­i­ents was Bal­woo Gongyang, a pop­u­lar lunch and din­ing spot which serves strictly veg­e­tar­ian dishes based on Korean Bud­dhist “tem­ple” cui­sine.

Lu­cia Cho, the owner of Gaon and of an­other res­tau­rant, Bi­cena, which was awarded one star, said it had ini­tially been a strug­gle to marry Korean cui­sine and fine din­ing-not least be­cause of re­sis­tance among Kore­ans them­selves. “When we first opened Gaon, not many peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ated the value of Korean food and com­plained about our pric­ing,” Cho said. “But peo­ple pay 300,000 won on Ja­panese or Chi­nese course meals,” she said, adding that at­ten­tion from Miche­lin would “make Kore­ans think more about what de­fines good food”.

Not ev­ery­one was im­pressed by the Miche­lin choice. Joe McPher­son, founder of the coun­try’s old­est food blog, ZenKim­, had given Gaon a damn­ing re­view back in 2007. “It’s the poster child for ev­ery­thing wrong with Korean con­cepts of fine din­ing. They just took ba­sic Korean food, made it a lit­tle pret­tier and jacked up the price,” McPher­son said af­ter the Miche­lin launch. The two and three-star restau­rants on the list “felt like they had been put to­gether by Korean busi­ness­men, rather than food lovers”, he added. The Miche­lin guides, first pub­lished in France more than a cen­tury ago to pro­mote au­to­mo­bile travel, now cover 28 coun­tries and spot­light di­verse cuisines in­clud­ing Brazil­ian, Burmese, Ca­jun, Peru­vian and Ti­betan. — AFP

Three Miche­lin star ex­ec­u­tive chef Kim By­oung-Jin (cen­ter) works in his kitchen at the ‘Gaon’ res­tau­rant.

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