Though still in his early 30s, chef Mingoo Kang has built up an impressive international résumé. After becoming the youngest head chef at the iconic Nobu, Bahamas restaurant, Kang has returned to his homeland where his innovative Korean cuisine now reflects his sense of duty for bringing his international experience to the table.
‘Korean food has yet to achieve the popularity enjoyed by Chinese and Japanese food. Of course, consistent food quality is a key aspect of a restaurant but I think identity is equally important.
‘Over the past few years, restaurants in Korea have started to have their own diverse food offerings. If there’s one identity that Mingles (Seoul, South Korea) can claim, it’s that of serving innovative hansik.’
Hansik is Korean food containing less meat than most traditional Western or Chinese cuisine and featuring a wide variety of fermented foods, assorted vegetable dishes and rice.
It is very nutritious and popular for its health benefits. Initially at Mingles, Kang used recipes from other restaurants he had worked in and simply substituted Korean ingredients.
‘It was ok at first but suddenly I felt something wasn’t right. I couldn’t put my name to this food so I started to learn what real Korean food was.’
Kang points out that to do this he had to learn from his master, chef and mentor Cho Hee Sook, and the priestess Jeongkwan.
He now has an intimate knowledge of Korean vegetable culture. More than 70% of Korea, a peninsular country, is mountainous, making it very easy for people to forage seasonal vegetables.
The west coast of Korea also produces sea salt high in minerals. Easy access to vegetables and high-quality salt have resulted in different ways of preserving food, and have given rise to many dishes based on fermented vegetables and fermented sauces such as Jang (ganjang, doenjang, gochujang). Kang makes excellent use of Jang and fermented vinegar to create authentic Korean cuisine.
‘I provide something refreshing with a familiar feel. It would be too restrictive to focus purely on unique and eclectic dishes. Instead, I believe in using familiar ingredients to innovatively capture the essence of the traditional dish, hence the keen use of Jang.’
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