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The Key to good hobakjuk: don’t take it for granted

Foreign CEOs cooking Korean (20) Margaret Key makes hobakjuk

Oct 06,2010
Margaret Key, chief executive of Burson-Marsteller Korea, said her mom used to make juk for her when she was growing up in the United States. All photos by Jeong Chi-ho
Though decades have passed since Margaret Key, chief executive of Burson-Marsteller Korea, had the first bite of her mother’s special juk, or rice porridge, she vividly remembers how simple but impressive it was.

“When I was really young, my mom used to make me white juk when I was sick, like all Korean mothers do,” the Korean American said, likening its health benefits to chicken soup in the United States.

“Then I realized there are so many different types of juk, not only porridge made with rice, but also with red beans, pumpkin, and chicken,” she said.

And since hobakjuk, or pumpkin porridge, is one of her favorite types, Key decided she wanted to learn how to cook the dish.

“When you eat hobakjuk, it looks simple [to make], but in reality, I have a feeling that it won’t be so simple,” Key said ahead of the cooking session. “You have to know what kind of pumpkin to buy, how to cut it up, either put sugar or not put sugar. That’s the reason why I wanted to learn.”

At the open kitchen of the Asian Live restaurant in southern Seoul, Key - head of the Korean unit of Burson-Marsteller, a leading global public relations and communications firm - rolled her big dark eyes with surprise upon seeing a large pumpkin that chef Shin Hyun-joon had prepared in advance. Assisted by a chef from the COEX InterContinental Seoul hotel, Key started peeling and deseeding the balloon-sized pumpkin.

Because the pumpkin was quite large, Key sliced the pumpkin into small pieces with difficulty, then put it in a mixer for a few seconds. She then put the sliced pumpkin into boiling water and let it simmer for 40 minutes to make a puree.

While the vegetable was left to boil on low heat, Key spoke about her business in Korea, the promotion industry and what changes she has overseen in her time in Asia.

Before joining Burson-Marsteller Korea in March, Key was the managing director of Edelman Japan, also a global communications promoting firm. She also served as general manager of Edelman Korea for more than eight years. Her work for Burson-Marsteller Korea has mainly been with the Korean government.

“In the past, every client on the consultancy side, would ask for a media-monitoring report, whereas today, more and more clients want an online-communications report,” she said. “Clients are willing to know which bloggers are writing about them and [who] searches them online. The monitoring or surveillance space has become larger.”

With that trend, Key suggested that promoting hansik, or Korean food, using social media networks, such as Twitter, Facebook and blogging services, could help raise global awareness and create buzz. Uploading videos on YouTube on directions to cook Korean dishes is also a great way to promote Korean food, she said.

“A tweet is 140 characters - very limited in what you express - but that’s the power of Twitter as it picks up somebody’s interest,” Key said. “The Korean government should create a Twitter account only for Korean food. But it should be prepared to maintain consistency in sending out messages.”

Key proposed several strategies based on her decade-long experience as a PR specialist.

“Inviting journalists from around the world [who] write about food [to] come to Korea, give them a tour of the best and letting them go back and writing stories would definitely pick up interest globally,” she said. “Invite the world to come to Korea and let them see themselves.”

Promoting something, however, is never easy, Key admits, just like how making hobakjuk is more complex than it is seen on the outside.

“Many people take PR for granted. They would think it’s simple than it really is,” she said. “It is important to find the right channel to be able to give people the right information, which is the role of us, PR practitioners.”

On one side of the kitchen, the pumpkin porridge was boiling and nearly cooked. Key tasted the porridge to see if either sugar or salt should be added for flavor. Key, however, shook her head and said that “the pumpkin itself is already sweet.”

After placing porridge inside a traditional bowl, chef Shin put in several kidney beans and sliced dates as decoration, and Key’s first creation of pumpkin porridge was finally prepared.

“I’m definitely going to the grocery store this weekend to buy a nice big pumpkin and will try making the dish alone,” she said.

She also suggested she might tweet about the pumpkin porridge.

“How great would it be if you go to a New York deli and get hobakjuk?” she said with a giggle.


Margaret Key

* CEO, Burson-Marsteller Korea

Experience:
* Edelman Japan managing director
* Edelman Korea general manager
* Pharmaceutical companies (GSK, Pfizer, Merck, Novartis) for both corporate and product related PR
Hyundai Development Company as assistant manager of its overseas IR team
* Bachelor’s degree from Wofford Collage
* Master’s of Arts in international relations/political science from the Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies and Duke University


By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]



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