Diplomat of dining takes aim at world’s palates

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Diplomat of dining takes aim at world’s palates

NEW YORK ― It is rare to find something as common as food that involves a large part of a nation’s culture.
“I came to New York to show the diplomats of various countries the taste of Korean cuisine, in which nature is neatly melted in,” says Lim Jie-ho, 49, a chef who specializes in using edible mountain herbs as ingredients in his dishes. Mr. Lim has been head chef at the United Nations’ in-house restaurant since the first of December, a post he will keep for another week. He is the Korean Cultural Service’s representative for the second Korean Food Festival at the UN.
For 10 days, six chefs, including Mr. Lim, will serve a range of Korean cuisine to 500 UN staffers and representatives from 189 countries, during their lunch hour.
On the first day, the chefs invited 60 of the world’s toughest reviewers ― New York restaurant critics. “We were nervous but everyone raised their thumb and complimented us,” Mr. Lim says.
“Taste is about environment and the served dish has to look delicious,” is how Mr. Lim sums up his philosophy on cooking.
Mr. Lim steers clear of artificial seasonings. Instead, he produces natural seasonings, using plants, flowers and pine needles.
Diners accustomed to artificial seasoning are puzzled at first, he says, but they soon warm to the mellower taste.
Just one look at his menu ― boiled sultan’s parasol fruit, steamed glutinous sorghum, pumpkin and fried crab ― and you may conclude that Mr. Lim boasts a talent to transform any ingredient found in Korea into an irresistible dish.
Mr. Lim wrinkles his nose at the suggestion that his dishes fall in the same category as conventional cuisine. In his hands, even a most unusual combination can turn into something delectable.
“I could turn asparagus into delicious kimchi,” Mr. Lim says. “Even deep-fried lotus root would taste marvelous when dipped in red wine.”
The chef, who grew up in the mountains outside Andong, North Gyeongsang province, first tried cooking at age 10 out of necessity. After leaving home, he found the best way to satisfy his unending hunger was by working at a restaurant.
Eatery by eatery, he gradually worked his way up to become a chef at Seoul’s Seorin Hotel. Today, Mr. Lim runs his own restaurant, Sandang, in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi province.

by Shim Sang-bok
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