There is a great deal of enthusiasm for food in Korea these days, with YouTube full of eating shows and TV having lots of cooking programs and cooking-related books on the bestseller list. Chefs were once ranked next to teachers and medical doctors in jobs favored by elementary school students.
It seems that the Republic of Korea has been enthralled by the food business.
in this era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Korea Post met with Kang Jee-young, CEO of Lucid Kitchen, for an interview. CEO Kang won the top prize in the food sector of the Korean Wave Culture Awards, the Korea Future Management Awards, and the Korea International Cooking Contest. CEO Kang, as a world-renowned Korean chef, developed and exported distinctive Korean kimchi that passed the strict U.S. FDA standard. Following is a summary of the interview which was held at the headquarters of Lucid Kitchen in Daechi-dong, southeastern Seoul recently.
Question: Your job as a food consultant seems different. What kind of job is it?
Answer: If a culinary researcher is a person who studies food ingredients, cooking, or taste, a food stylist can be said to focus more on styling than on research. Food consultants are the ones who do business with cooking. It's not a high-level concept, but it's the convergence of the two businesses.
Cooking researchers can style dishes pretty enough and food stylists can make delicious dishes, but it's another problem to do business with them. This is because taste and style is basic in the popular food business. It needs other ingredients to attract people. It is the food consultant who embrace all of these factors.
The most common task is to help develop restaurant menus, so it is considered as a menu developer. In fact, food consultants link food and culture to carry out urban regeneration projects or participate in product development, promotion and sales. I'd appreciate it if you could understand me as a person who does various business related to food. It can be said that a food consultant manages everything.
Q: If there is a case in point that led to business?
A: We have Purureun Unripe Apples Powder products made with Samyoung Cooperative in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do and Gyeongbuk Farmers' Academy. Unripen apples are usually discarded as fruits in advance for ripe and delicious apples. They are freeze-dried to create the new value of diet products.
There is also a beverage made of Mungyeong Omija introduced at the Food Expo held in LA. Koreans don't like acidity that much, so we reduced the sour and bitter taste, but Americans were attracted to the storytelling of Omija's five flavors, so we developed the product accordingly. At Starbucks, Omija was used as a handmade sparkling drink “Fizzo” and received positive results.
Q: I think enterprises are as different as jobs. Could you explain about Lucid Kitchen?
A: It's a shame to call it an enterprise, but it started out as a place to teach food and do catering. Now it is expanding into consulting.
For 15 years, I’ve hosted a food lecture in Daechi-dong in southeastern Seoul, which is full of other things as much as enthusiasm for study. I felt sorry for serving only people who came to us, but on day I was offered catering service for those working in enterprises. Since then various VIP catering services have been held for luxury brands, foundations, schools, and hospitals.
While catering was financially helpful, it was stressful because it was time-consuming and subjective, so it was hard for my taste to match that of customers. Then, the Korea Agricultural Technology Center offered me a cooking consulting lecture and product development, so I expanded my activity to consulting and product development, and now I am engaged in overseas sales of products.
Now we are in the course of developing concentrated stick products that use Dong Chung Ha Cho (cordyceps) and red ginseng, which are good for improving immunity, various salts (reishi mushroom salt and unripe apple salt), and kimchi juice.
Q: You launched Kang Jeeyoung Kimchi in the U.S. market that got approval of the U.S. FDA. What is the distinctive difference between Kang Jeeyoung Kimchi and typical kimchi?
A: Most kimchi try to find a market after they are produced. However, Kang Jeeyoung Kimchi was produced at the request of an American buyer. Kang Jeeyoung, a salted seafood sommelier who studied “geot-gal,” Korean fermented fish, for a long time and won the presidential award at an international cooking contest last year, was asked to make kimchi and export it to the U.S.
The biggest difference between Kang Jeeyoung Kimch and other kimchi products is jeot-gal. While jeot-gal is rarely used in export kimchi, low-temperature-fermented saury and anchovy are used in Kang Jeeyoung Kimchi. Saury has a strong flavor and anchovies have a refreshing taste, and the combination of the two jeot-gal is the biggest difference. Another difference is that we use chives that are rarely used in ordinary export kimchi. There is a certain taste of chives, but I rarely used them because of the price issue and the color changed in the distribution process. Kang Jeeyoung Kimchi solved the taste and color problem by grinding chives.
Q: Unlike ordinary processed foods, kimchi is a fermented food, so it is easy to change its taste and difficult to store in the fermentation process. How did you solve this problem?
A: For three years, we've been using low-temperature, fermented jeot-gal and also cared much about packaging containers to keep it fresh. Thanks to our efforts, Kangjeeyoung Kimchi gained the approval of FDA. When exported, we maintain the temperature at minus 2 degrees Celsius and slightly slow the fermentation process to preserve its freshness.
Q: What are the major consumer targets in the U.S. market?
A: Kang Jeeyoung Kimchi will be on sale first through online markets such as Amazon. After that, we are planning to expand to offline distribution networks such as Asian market, Mexican market, and Korean market in LA. A lot of Koreans already make and eat kimchi in the U.S. but I think our product will be an attractive kimchi for consumers who miss the traditional style of jeot-gal kimchi. We will target Latino consumers, including Mexicans, who like spicy and spicy flavors, and we believe there will be a chance of winning for Asian consumers who get used to the taste of joet-gal.
Q: Convergence has emerged as a hot topic along with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As you said earlier, urban regeneration projects that link food to culture are a kind of convergence.
A: Convergence is a grand expression and I think it's “harmony.” Just as food that is harmonized with color, taste, and aroma is called delicious food, so is culture. There are various cultures that enjoy watching, doing things, and listening, and I think it's the latest culture to experience them all at once. Just as YouTube has become a viewing culture by combining audiovisual and sharing needs.
Based on this, I designed a city regeneration project that harmonizes food, culture and business. Usually, urban regeneration often involves painting murals or building welfare centers, but right now, there are many regeneration projects that have been abandoned without being used in a few months, although the pretty paintings and facilities may be good. The reason is there's no effective way to preserve the facilities.
That’s why I came up with is a “shared kitchen” that utilizes the characteristics of the countryside. It is a system in which self-employed people and young people wanting to open restaurants use local agricultural and fisheries products to generate new profits from shared kitchens and stimulate regional development.
Who will come to see if there is a well-organized stream like Cheonggye Stream in the countryside, and how many people will apply to make a VIP-only lunch box using local agricultural and fisheries products like in Seoul? I don't think it's going to work here only because the response was blindly good elsewhere. It is most important whether it can be harmonious or not.
It tastes different even though it's made with the same recipe. It even depends on when you use the soy sauce you opened, and how difficult would it be to integrate a much more complex industry? But I think we try again and again because of the benefits that will come at the moment of harmony.
Q: Although Korean food is gaining popularity worldwide thanks to the popularity of eating shows, some say that globalization still has a long way to go. Do you think Korean foods need improvement?
A: I don't really like the globalization of Korean food. It's because I think it's downward leveling. In fact, there is a salt standard designed by the globalization of Korean food, and foreigners don't like salty food, so they make kimchi accordingly.
Of course, it is important to match consumers' tastes, but personally, I think these standards are the main reasons for hampering the globalization of Korean food. It could be wrong to believe that all kimchi bound for overseas markets will succeed.
It's not important to lower the salinity of kimchi, but how to preserve and ferment it well with sufficient salinity is the key to the taste. I think it's just focused on salinity because it's tailored to taste and price. For exports, it is spicy, less salty, and often has a strong sweet taste. It is hard to preserve the true taste of kimchi because the unique crunchiness of the kimchi is gone.
Personally, I think that for the globalization of Korean food, it should be divided into universal low-end kimchi and premium kimchi focused on the taste. There are the premium products of Jamon, Spain, and Anchovy, Italy, that have the local flavors, and the low-end products that are modified to suit the taste of Koreans. Kimchi also needs to be developed into premium products like royal kimchi and low-end products.
Jamon of Spain or Anchovy of Italy do not give up their original taste to suit the taste of the world. The real globalization means that people around the world match our tastes.
Q: You must have had as much joy and sorrow as you have gone through diverse experiences. What was the most memorable moment?
A: Since I also worked as a salted seafood sommelier, I have worked a couple of times with a factory that produces jeot-gal. However, the jeot-gal I made was delicious after 5 years of washing and drying the salt out of salty water, but it was difficult to mass-produce it, and it was not easy to meet the price range that the factory wanted. We managed to develop the product after many twists and turns. I think I could explore the premium market with jeot-gal, but I haven't tried.
Recently, I remember winning the Presidential Award at the Korea International Cooking Contest the most. Just as we made the product using the discarded unripe apples, we made kimchi using the Korean melon this time. The texture of Korean melon is very hard, so it is used as pickled vegetables, and it is based on eating pickled vegetables using blue go like pickles in Thailand.
Korean melon kimchi is pickled with rice wine and vinegar, not sugar, for your health. I was able to win a good award and I remember hearing from the judges at the World Wine Fair that they wanted to pair the products.
Q: Of late, jobs has emerged as a hot topic. Please tell me how to create a good job as a good job commissioner in Gyeongsangbuk-do.
A: In fact, it may be unreasonable to say good jobs. Today, there are no good or bad jobs as all jobs are equally important. Changing the perception of jobs is very important. Who knew a chef would get this much attention? When I was in college, I took it for granted to enter a company after graduation. But recently, I think this is the stepping stone to create a good job as I share my dreams on SNS and pursue a good job.
Now there is a favorable social environment in which we can find what we want to do in advance, experience trials and errors, and get enough financial benefits in the process. Society does not classify good jobs and bad jobs, but it paves the way for people to experience and judge jobs.
I do hope people don't challenge themselves by only looking at the success stories. Without knowing how many steps successful people have taken to get there, it is not good if people rush to take up the seemingly good jobs. I think education should solve this problem because if these cases file up, it will eventually lead to conflicts between preferred and non-preferred jobs holders.
Q: Cooking can be said to manage ingredients in the end, but as a representative of a company, is there any similarity between management and cooking?
A: I think it's the right harmony of compromise and determination. In the case of cooking, I think it's delicious, but if it doesn't suit other people's tastes, it means that there's no business. But if you only pursue food that people like, you lose competitive edge. The right balance between what you think and what people like becomes a business. I think the same goes for business management. It's similar to the process of taking a stance that can be pushed to the end based on your firm belief and philosophy, searching for the right compromise and harmony that everyone can be satisfied with.
Q: You reportedly recommend food items for business managers when you travel all over the country looking for good ingredients.
A: I've learned much from looking for food ingredients, not food, and one of them is diversity. Just by looking at the “gat kimchi,” Jeolla-do (province) uses “dolsan gat” with a lot of salted fish, but Gangwon-do uses various spices such as salted fish and sesame oil. Gyeongsang-do uses plenty of salted fish such as anchovies. How can I recommend one while each province has a different material or process?
If I give you a tip, it is best to eat beef in areas where a lot of beef are produced, and it is best to eat fresh seafood in areas where plenty of seafood are produced. That’s because even the same ingredients have their own taste..
Q: Finally, would you like to discuss about your future plans?
A: I've learned from various experiences that I'm the best at cooking and I'm doing various things based on food. We develop products and publicize or market them directly to the world. In the future, I want to create a culture where food-based companies and local people can be happier through food. I think this is the most important and easy way for young people, older people, the haves and the have-nots to live a happy life.