Young Chefs Adapt Korean Food for American Palates

      May 30, 2012 12:53

      In early May in front of the New York Maritime Museums along the Hudson River in Manhattan, dozens of people were queuing up in front of a tiger-striped truck. Bearing the name Korilla BBQ, it offers a peculiar fusion cuisine and is run by three second-generation Korean-Americans.

      Edward Song, who majored in finance at Columbia University, and his two friends offer Porkinator, a taco made with pork and kimchi, and Wonder Bird, a taco with chicken and kimchi. Korilla BBQ has over 18,000 followers on Twitter.

      Korean cuisine was first introduced to the U.S. by first-generation Korean immigrants, and now their children are having fun reimagining it. Many of these successful second-generation Korean cooks are young, business-minded graduates of prestigious universities. They strictly try to approach Korean food from American point of view and reinvent it to appeal to the taste of local people.

      Employees of Korilla BBQ stand in its food truck. /Courtesy of Korilla BBQ co-founder Paul Lee

      Philip Lee, a 1.5-generation Korean-American who operates another Korean food truck in New York -- the Kimchi Taco -- has a master's degree in hospitality management from Cornell University. He worked as a general manager at a famous restaurant in New York until he opened his own stall in 2010.

      "Americans admit that Korean food is tasty, but they don't know how to eat it. I started Kimchi Taco to let them know that Korean food too can be easy and fun," he said. His Kimchi Taco can be held in one hand like a hot dog, and therefore fits the ambulatory lunch habits of busy New Yorkers.

      Debbie Lee is a second-generation Korean-American chef who runs Korean pub Ahn-joo in Los Angeles and has published a Korean cookbook titled "Seoultown Kitchen." It was nominated for the James Beard Foundation Awards, seen as the Oscars for cookbooks. Hooni Kim is the chef-owner of Danji, the first Korean restaurant ever to receive a Michelin star, and Akira Back is a chef at Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant and Lounge in Bellagio, Las Vegas.

      On May 20, the Korean Chef Association of America, consisting of 70 young second-generation Korean-American chefs working in the U.S., was launched.

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