Celebrity Chef's Wife Returns to Ancestral Home

Marja Vongerichten (left) and Jean-Georges Vongerichten Marja Vongerichten (left) and Jean-Georges Vongerichten

Marja Vongerichten, wife of Michelin three-star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, traveled across Korea in May to film a TV series on Korean food. "The food and scenery of Korea, which is where my mother and I were born, are simply breathtaking," she said.

The series is sponsored by the Visit Korea Committee, Korean Food Foundation, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Marja said she was deeply moved by the Korean people and food she encountered while filming the documentary. She said restaurants in Insa-dong were especially memorable.

The 13-part series featuring the Vongerichtens is being produced by U.S.-based Frappe Productions and will be aired on PBS in January next year. Executive producer Charles Pinksy has traveled across North America, Central America and Europe with global celebrities and renowned chefs to produce documentaries on food. He said the Vongerichtens will continue filming the series after they return to the U.S.

It will feature the chef demonstrating easy ways to cook Korean food. Pinsky said bulgogi or barbequed beef, bibimbap or rice with meat and mixed vegetables, and bean paste stew have global appeal.

Marja was born in Korea in 1976 to an American father and a Korean mother. She was adopted by a family in Virginia when she was three years old. "I got the name Marja when I was adopted by an American family. I still have no Korean name," she said. She met her biological mother not in Seoul but in New York when she was 20. "My adopted father had a picture of my biological mother," Marja said. "When I told him I wanted to meet her, he went to Korea to ask around about her and found out that she was in New York." She finally got to meet her mother, who cooked her a meal of bean paste stew and bulgogi. "I will never forget that taste," she said.

Her husband has almost no time to cook at home. "He works 16 hours a day during the week and there is no time for us to eat together," she said. "He usually cooks for me on weekends." Jean-Georges, who was born in the Alsace, France, entered the culinary profession at the age of 16 and received the highest four-star ranking by the New York Times restaurant review when he was 29. His New York restaurant Jean-Georges has three stars in the coveted Michelin Guide. He now owns around 20 restaurants around the world, including in Los Angeles, Paris, and Shanghai.

Marja was Miss Washington D.C. when she was in high school and worked as an actress and model. "I will come back to Korea to film in September," she said. "We will film traditional Korean sauces, bibimbap and Korean beef. Even for someone like me who lived overseas for a long time, it is evident that Korean culture and food are admirable." She said rather than package Korean food for western tastes, she wants to present it to the world as it is.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jun. 29, 2010 07:15 KST