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Last Sunday was the premiere of The Kimchi Chronicles on PBS, billed as a star-studded exploration of Korean food & culture.
Being a somewhat of a “kimchi chronic” myself I was looking forward to this and learning more about Korean food.
Watching the first episode, it’s clear to me that this show is aimed at inquisitive Americans who’ve never tried Korean food. The whole production is very low-key, easygoing, and nonthreatening. They introduced only a couple of ingredients and concepts very patiently so as not to overwhelm. At one point Hugh Jackman gets uncomfortable at the sight of hot pepper paste, and they are quick to reassure him that it’s not going to get out of hand.
They talk about bibimbap and BBQ, and how delicious and healthy and easy it is, and there is nary a Korean face or accent in sight, and no hangul either. They are trying to coax apprehensive Americans into trying it out. It’s very pleasant.
The show is sponsored by HMart and the Korean government who have an obvious stake in the success of Americans loving Korean food, and the show’s creators have stated that they aren’t going the “Bizarre Foods” route and things like live octopus are not going to be included. Each episode is going to concentrate on one ingredient at a time, nice and slow and thorough.
Will it be popular with Americans? Surely fans of guests like Heather Graham might tune in and get exposed to Korean food by accident. Apparently a large part of the upcoming episodes will center around the host exploring her heritage as a Korean adoptee, so if that story is interesting people might get invested in it. From what I saw, I think a lot of Korean adoptees in America will be interested in this show if they don’t know much about their Korean heritage and don’t speak Korean.
As for a kimchi chronic like me, this first episode was pretty remedial, but they haven’t even got to Korea yet, so I’m going to give them a chance.
The Kimchi Chronicles airs on channel 13 in New York, almost every Sunday at 4pm.
Last Sunday I watched the third ep of The Kimchi Chronicles, this one spotlighted green tea grown on Jeju Island. I always thought Boseong was known for green tea, but apparently the Jeju variety gets a nice flavor from the salty ocean air.
This was news to me, so already I’m learning something new about Korea from this ep, a good sign.
The first part of the show follows Marja and Jean-Georges Vongerichten as they learn about tea in Jeju, which is followed up in their home in the US where they use the ingredient to create their own interpretations of a Korean dish.
This episode maintained the easygoing, gentle timbre of the first, the entire affair coming across as quite soothing. In fact, as Jean-George prepares his dish, Marja slips out for a facial and massage in what appears to be the “massage room” in her house. No doubt, watching someone get a massage makes for relaxing TV, but I couldn’t help but feel that the segment was a bit ostentatious to the point of being otherworldly. Famous chef in kitchen working with an expensive ingredient; masseuse giving rubdown. All is well in the world.
Having said that, Jean-Georges’ end result, abalone with green tea, looked pretty awesome. The recipe, and all the others in the show, will apparently be posted at http://www.kimchichronicles.tv/, which isn’t finished yet. And there will be a book, too.
All in all this show is off to a great start: it’s beautifully shot, good natured, and the recipes look innovative and delicious. I’m definitely going to tune into more episodes, even though the 4pm Sunday air time is hardly a prime TV viewing hour for me.
Now I know what to DVR– thanks for the write-ups!
Last Sunday was another episode, this one on Jeju seafood.
And what would a report from Jeju be without stopping in on on the haenyeo, the female divers who gather shellfish? And so Jean George suits up and gamely dives with the ladies, while Marja and daughter spend the day being pampered in the hotel spa (which seems to be a recurring theme).
Jean George is super-enthusiastic, but I have to say I only understand 60% of what he’s saying: he mumbles a bit, and speaks fast with a French accent. I thought maybe it was just me, but every now and then the editors take pity on the viewer and subtitle what he says, but very rarely.
He’s probably too embarrassed to be subtitled all the time, but someone should tell him he needs it. It’s just too hard to follw him otherwise. On top of this, Marja confuses “sea cucumber” and “sea squirt” in her voiceover. I’m going to assume the best, that this was a slip of the tongue. Still, someone should have caught it and fixed it, at times the show is just plain hard to follow.
However, when they get back to America, they make their own fusion recipes, which again look really great to me. I might not understand all of what Jean George is saying, but I know what a good-looking dish is when I see one.
The last 2 episodes have been on beans and BBQ, respectively.
The bean episode featured doenjang and mung beans, both of them interesting and delicious-looking. Marja is joined by a Korean “food guru” friend and the lady who runs http://www.fatmanseoul.com/ which is an odd choice as that blog is nearly defunct.
In the BBQ episode the fatman seoul lady teases Marja about the number of shoes she travels with, this apparently is a joke amongst Marja’s crew and handlers, continuing with the recurring “pampered Marja” theme running throughout the series so far.
So far I’m still waiting for more on Marja reconnecting with her Korean history. Maybe it’s still to come, or maybe I missed it, but there hasn’t been anything about where Marja was born, or a cameo by her birth mother, or even much about Marja’s own children reconnecting with their Korean heritage. I could be wrong but I thought this was something they were going to explore.
By the way, Channel 13 is giving away a Kimchi Chronicles prize pack:
Jean George whips up a galbi-style steak (no pear marinade!) and some kimchi butter. I’ve heard about kimchi butter a few times now and I’m totally skeptical of the idea. But it looked so good, I’m totally going to try this out.
The recipe? Mix kimchi with butter.
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