November 17, 2012 08:25
Kwon Woo-joong, the owner and chief chef of East Village, a Korean restaurant located in Itaewon, Seoul, starts his day at 6 a.m. with a trip to a local fish market. Then he prepares the day's ingredients while teaching his staff how to handle each ingredient and use the knives properly.
"Like any other field, it's important to get the basics right first in cooking. So I teach my staff while working with them. Even though they graduated from culinary schools, most of them still don't meet my standards," he said.
Kwon decided to become a chef while still at school. He majored in hotel culinary arts at college in Korean cuisine.
The menus served at East Village reflect his experiences in Tokyo and New York, two world gastronomic centers.
"When I was working there, I tried hard to develop Korean menus that could suit the palates of non-Koreans, as well as learning about foreign cuisine. Those experiences formed the basis of what I do at East Village -- offering a new style of Korean cuisine," he said.
Rather than trying to push traditional Korean cuisine to perfection, Kwon tries to add a modern twist with new flavors or seasonings in the classics. He wants his high-end restaurant to be a cozy place young people can visit for a date or to mark a special occasion, unlike the common perception of Korean restaurants as being more suitable for family gatherings.
He opened the restaurant last year after preparing for more than two years. Although he wanted to deviate from the conservative way of Korean cooking, he couldn't deny the fact that soybean-based sauce and paste are essential ingredients of Korean food. He learned from his mother how to make ganjang (soybean sauce) and doenjang (soybean paste), which all start from making meju, or soybean malt.
"I make meju in a traditional way by boiling soybeans for 12 hours on a wood fire. This is why I can proudly say we stick to basics in cooking and at the same time serve the best food in my restaurant."
In addition, he uses fresh seasonal ingredients and relies only slightly on condiments so the natural taste of the food can shine through.
Kwon says that with his restaurant, he wants to set an example for aspiring chefs who want to specialize in Korean cuisine while venturing into new territory.
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