July 25, 2015 07:49
Restaurateur Baek Jong-won is the discovery of the year on TV, captivating the hearts of viewers across the country with his relaxed, easygoing demeanor and easy-to-follow recipes. Nicknamed "sugar boy" for his love of the condiment, Baek has encouraged many viewers to take up cooking themselves.
The 49-year-old CEO of Born Korea, which runs a number of restaurant franchises nationwide, does not impress with sophisticated cooking or artistic plating skills. Instead he appeals with his love and passion for cooking.
Each time he heats up his pan on TV, the number of fans goes up. Cable channel tvN's "Mr. Baek the Homemade Food Master" is racking up ever-growing ratings. In the program, Baek shows viewers how easy it is to cook a satisfying meal, encouraging even novices to roll up their sleeves and have a go. Every recipe on the show has been a massive hit.
Not so long ago Baek was only known as actress So Yu-jin's husband, but now he is more famous than her.
"I've always said that I'm not a chef, and I don't have proper training. I'm a businessman with a lot of restaurant chains, but that's not entirely who I am. I can understand criticism that I'm not qualified, but I truly love food, both making it and eating it. I just wanted to show people cooking is for everyone," he said.
His secret is simplicity. If celebrity chefs impress viewers with their exceptional skills and immaculately presented food, Baek stands for the polar opposite.
When sophisticated culinary trends such as molecular gastronomy or thermal cooking dominated the fine dining scene, Baek found his niche with simplicity. His trademark phrase, "It's not that hard, is it?" encompasses his approach to cooking.
His meteoric rise was not always met with praise. Some predicted his popularity would be fleeting. But Baek's life experiences help him stay grounded.
He is a successful businessman with 27 restaurant chain brands with over 650 outlets, earning nearly W100 billion in annual sales (US$1=W1,135). But he too got a bitter taste of failure and once found himself W1.7 billion in debt when Korea was hit by the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. But his patience paid off.
"I was completely broke. I failed big time. Before then, I'd never failed at anything. I was born to an affluent family, got a good education, and succeeded in everything I did until then. I’d never experienced any hardship, but at that point, I found myself in a deep, deep hole," he recalls.
Baek says until then he only pretended to be a nice and humble person, but the experience changed his life. "I wanted to be as honest and genuine as possible, just showing what kind of person I am without any affectation."
Now Baek is the same on TV as in person. He too makes mistakes, sulks and sometimes swears, but it is that ordinary humanity that has made him a star.
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