FOOD CRAFT"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."
-- George Bernard Shaw
Some experts these days believe it's not enough to cook food; you have to know how to make that food presentable and alluring.
Make food look good? Is that really a job? Well, it's part of a job.
"I like to think that a 'food coordinator' is like a curator in an art gallery or a museum," says So-young Lee, 30, the manager of La Cuisine, a food business that offers a wide range of services related to culinary arts, including the decoration of those dishes.
"The aesthetics and visuals of the surroundings are just as important as the actual foods presented," says Ms. Lee. "You have to understand what kitchenware and what decorations goes with what food."
As a former assistant curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Ms. Lee applies the same skills she used in organizing art exhibitions to managing her business.
Ms. Lee spends most working days with a staff of 14 -- attending meetings, planning the curricula for cooking and food stylist courses, making phone calls to food critics, setting launching dates for new restaurants and trouble-shooting. To ensure that the cooking classes are run smoothly by the lecturers from various hotels and restaurants, in the spacious studio next to hers, she checks in before the students arrive to see that all the physical displays and arrangements are in place.
Before the start of a cooking class, the staff of La Cuisine busy themselves by preparing fresh lettuce and tomatoes, setting the table and arranging flowers and lighting for the students. In one Italian cooking class, the chef-lecturer demonstrates to 10 students how to prepare shrimp fetuccini, then lets them try out the techniques. After all the dishes are made, the students sit on a large table in the studio, where they are served their creations by La Cuisine's cooking assistants. The participants are then taught table etiquette along with how to enjoy and recognize fine cooking as they test their own chef d'oeuvre. The lecturer comments to the students about how the lighting, flowers and china must be in harmony with the food. "As people come to galleries to look at works of art," Ms. Lee says, looking on, "I want people to genuinely appreciate cooking and all the activities that go into making great food."
Creating great food has earned her high marks from local food critics. "[La Cuisine] is one of the first of its kind to provide culinary classes as well as food stylist courses," says Jinny Salmon. "They are very trendy and up-to-the-minute."
At La Cuisine, which Ms. Lee founded along with four food-loving friends, one can learn not only everything that goes into making great culinary dishes, but also a wide range of services related to food. When it opened in May 2000, La Cuisine began as a cooking academy, but has expanded to offer food coordination classes, party organizing, catering services and consulting on culinary subjects in general. The cooking courses are taught by chefs from renowned restaurants and hotels who give lessons in French, Italian and Chinese food, dessert-making and spa cooking, according to the students' demands and the season.
"Most cooking institutes have single or few food stylists," Mrs. Salmon says, "but La Cuisine has a wide variety of stylists so that students can choose which stylist they wish to follow."
Contrary to popular belief, these private cooking classes are not just for privileged housewives or brides-to-be. These days students, professional working women and even men line up to take the courses that usually run about 50,000 won ($40) per two-hour session. The food coordinator courses range from six months to a year, whereby students are taught food styling, party catering, table decorating, flower arranging and food writing through seminars, workshops, internships and practical training. La Cuisine also offers "customized classes" for foreigners wishing to learn traditional Korean recipes and other international dishes, with an interpreter on hand for the chef.
Ms. Lee's first job was planning assistant at the Daeyu Cultural Foundation, an art gallery. She then went on to take museum studies courses in the United States, and afterward worked as an assistant curator in the video department at the Museum of Modern Art. During her time in New York, Ms. Lee, an avid lover of fine foods, had the opportunity to visit diverse restaurants in the city and work as a party and events planner. "That got me hooked," Ms. Lee says, "and I started thinking there was more to food that meets the eye. Food is a way of life. There's a whole new field of activity related to the culinary arts that has yet to be explored." Returning to Korea in the fall of 1999, she and a group of friends rented the top floor of a furniture and kitchenware store called "A Room with a View" in Sinsa-dong, near the Galleria Department Store. Ms. Lee started her business in the hope of creating an "edutainment" company, where people would learn the joys of cooking, as well as be entertained by the sophistication that culinary services provides.
Today's food stylists, cooking class coordinators, food writers and table-setting consultants are becoming increasingly popular as women and men recognize that cooking means more than just eating good food. It's about savoring the taste, enjoying the atmosphere and celebrating life that a wonderful meal brings.
What's in the future for La Cuisine? "We are planning to open a restaurant next year," Ms. Lee says. "The first thing people ask me when I tell people of my plans is, 'What kind of restaurant?' For me, it's not the type of restaurant that's important, but the chef and the people I will be working with. Choosing the right kind of chef is a bigger priority because that will determine the overall concept, the setting of the restaurant and the design of the kitchen."
For more information on La Cuisine, visit www.lacuisine.co.kr or call 02)518-7592~4.
What is a food stylist?
It's more than just making what's on a plate appear pretty.
A food stylist is someone who displays food on a dish to make it aesthetically pleasing.
To be a food stylist, one has to be not only a connoisseur of fine foods, but also knowledgeable in utensils, ceramics, flower and lighting decorations, photography and table setting.
Food stylists are often employed as designers for magazine layouts and as consultants for restaurants.
Their job is to make the food come alive with the visual touches that they apply to the dishes.
In recent times, enjoying the appearance of food has become just as important as the taste, as more and more people seek to indulge the senses in the entire dining experience.
by Choi Jieho