Cooking, eating, chef: keywords that dominated 2015

December 29, 2015
Visitors wait in front of a food truck at the KOREAT Festival held on Jeju Island in October. (Courtesy of KOREAT)

Visitors wait in front of a food truck at the KOREAT Festival held on Jeju Island in October. (Courtesy of KOREAT)

By Yun Suh-young

One of the biggest cultural appetites among Koreans this year was for local and international cuisine.

TV line-ups were dominated by cooking shows, eating shows, talk shows about food, food-related documentaries, and more food, food and food.

The fervor for cuisine has skyrocketed since the end of last year and is approaching its peak this year. It was impossible to define social interest in the nation without mentioning cooking and dining.

Poster of "Please Take Care of My Refrigerator" (Courtesy of JTBC)

Poster of “Please Take Care of My Refrigerator” (Courtesy of JTBC)

TV shows

The zeal for all things culinary was set off by television programs.

From cooking shows that guide viewers through a myriad of recipes, to eating shows that offered vicarious satisfaction, to entertainment shows that featured “cheftainers” (chef + entertainers), television channels were flooded with programs that dealt with food.

The biggest hit of the year was “Please Take Care of My Refrigerator” aired at JTBC, a cable broadcasting station. The show has aired since November last year and has maintained an average viewer rating of 4 percent, a successful number for a cable broadcasting station.

With “Please Take Care of My Refrigerator” came the star-chef syndrome, after the program catapulted top-restaurant chefs to stardom and created the formation of large fan bases for the chefs who appeared on the show, such as Choi Hyun-seok, Oh Se-deuk, Lee Yeon-bok, Lee Chan-oh, Sam Kim, and Mikhal Ashminov. Non-chefs such as TV personality and restaurateur Hong Seok-cheon, and cartoon artist Kim Poong also enjoyed popularity due to the show.

One of the biggest stars on TV in S. Korea this year was Chef Baek Jong-won.

One of the biggest TV stars in S. Korea this year was Chef Baek Jong-won.

Then came the likes of “Home Food Master Baek” with celebrity restaurateur Baek Jong-won sharing his recipes, “Wednesday Gourmet Meeting” with entertainers and foodies talking about the best restaurants in town and “Three Meals a Day” where celebrities are taken to a remote location to cook three meals a day using ingredients they harvest themselves — all on tvN, another entertainment-focused cable channel.

A food-oriented cable television channel, O’live, also showcased the eating and travel show “Tasty Road,” the chef’s cooking entertainment show “Olive Show,” and another cooking show “What Shall We Eat Today?” hosted by two celebrities, singer Sung Si-kyung and emcee Shin Dong-yeob.

Events

The biggest culinary event in the nation was the launch of KOREAT, a Korean restaurant guidebook inspired by the Michelin Guide but with a more transparent rating process that includes publishing a list of critics that participate as judges.

The list, launched online in September, announced the top 50 restaurants in Korea chosen by a panel of 100 individuals from food-related fields. Among them were chefs, journalists and restaurateurs.

A portmanteau of “Korea” and “eat,” the KOREAT list is only available online and is available in three languages Korean, English and Chinese.

The month following the launch of the list, in late October, a festival was held on Jeju during which some of the restaurants listed provided food trucks for ordinary people to enjoy a bite from some of Korea’s finest restaurants.

Movies

There weren’t that many food-themed films this year despite the culinary fervor. A noticeable trend was that a couple of films released years ago were released here for the first time, riding on the public interest of cuisine. “Les Saveurs du Palais (Haute Cuisine)” released in 2012 and “The Trip” released in 2010 are examples.

“Les Saveurs du Palais (Haute Cuisine)” released in March locally, started off the culinary journey in theaters this year.

The film featured eye-pleasing French cuisine but was basically an autobiographical film based on the true story of Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch who served as the private chef of French President François Mitterrand. It revealed her struggle to fight her way through the male-centered kitchen community as the only female chef in the history of the Elysee Palace.

In September, a sweet Japanese film, “An,” about an old lady making dorayakis (pastries filled with sweet red bean paste, called “an” in Korean), was released, warming the hearts of movie audiences.

Then in November came a road-movie comedy, “The Trip,” which was a gourmet tour film featuring two famous British comedians and actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.

What might have excited Korean viewers most was the release of “Burnt” in late November featuring a star-studded cast consisting of Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Bruehl, Uma Thurman and Emma Thompson. The film focused on the challenges facing a former Michelin two-star chef in pursuit of his third star.

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