Before I endured a half-a-day flight to Seoul, South Korea earlier this summer, bulgogi (marinated thinly-sliced beef) and kimchi were one of the few Korean foods I was familiar with. But at the end of my five-week stay there, my palate had been pleasured with raw baby octopus drenched in sesame oil and raw slices of sea cucumber . . . served with a side of kimchi, or course.
Since I’ve been back in the States, I’ve been craving a home-cooked Korean meal. Luckily, Marja Vongerichten – wife of famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten – is sharing with the world her cooking techniques and love of Korean food through a new TV series. And she’s going straight to Korea to do it.
“This show has closed the circle – it’s closed the hole that I’ve always had in my heart,” Marja said, as she began get to get teary-eyed during her LA screening of Kimchi Chronicles last week. “This show has enabled me to see Korea in a way I never was able to see it, even when I went back to visit my family,” she says.
Marja is only half-Korean and was adopted by an American family after her birth mother gave her up for adoption when she was only three years old. Since being reunited with her birth mother at 19, her love of Korean food has grown. Now, she’s a huge fan of spicy foods, made apparent in the first episode when she doles out huge dollops of gochujang (a red chili paste commonly used in Korean dishes) into a bowl of bibimbap (a variety of vegetables atop a bed of rice). That same episode, celebrity guests were Hugh Jackman (X-Men) and wife Deborra-Lee Furness.
Each of the 13 episodes fuses together Marja’s journey of reconnecting with her roots, cooking lessons from her and her husband, and a bit of history behind each of the dishes they feature. Each episode holds a theme, usually focusing on a certain kind of meat, and episode two is about rice!
“Most people thought we were crazy, ‘cause they said ‘Nobody’s gonna watch anything on Korea food,’” said producer Eric Rhee. Rhee said his goal was to take the culture behind Korean food and “simplify it, demystify it, and make it entertaining.”
The show premiered on July 7 on KCLS.