Seoul’s top chefs open up their kitchensThe Seoul International Women’s Association can never be accused of being lazy.
One of the activities the group offers its members is the chance to learn from the top chefs in Seoul. That’s in addition to volunteering for charity events and balls, attending general meetings and coffee mornings, going on tours, singing for the choir, attending speeches, organizing a bazaar, helping new members find a good supermarket and more.
This social scene has been going on since 1956, when it was founded by a handful of American expatriates living in Seoul.
Today, the association, known as SIWA, boasts some 700 members. The association’s event coordinator, Siv Arvelid, a Swede, said expatriates and Korean women here can become members.
The latest event Ms. Arvelid organized for 20 members was a cooking class and lunch led by Michael Mangan, the head chef of the Renaissance Hotel in southern Seoul, who hails from Melbourne, Australia. Under SIWA’s “Great Chefs in Seoul” program, members can meet famous chefs in town for a private lesson.
“Chefs come from all over the world, so we can learn all kinds of cuisines, from Indian, Thai, to French to fusion. Sometimes chefs in small restaurants contact us, and we arrange a class in homes or in hotels,” Ms. Arvelid said.
On a recent Thursday morning, the 20 SIWA members were led to the main kitchen of the hotel, where Mr. Mangan and Japanese chef Hiroaki Yamaguchi demonstrated some of their specialties at the hotel restaurants.
Mr. Yamaguchi introduced what he called “fusion sushi” using salmon, halibut and tuna.
The chef stressed the importance of the Japanese way of slicing the fish: on a slant with a Japanese sashimi knife, cutting thinly along the line of the flesh using three-fourths of the blade.
For the sushi, instead of sculpting the rice with his hands, the chef rolled up a small amount of rice into a ball and placed it on some plastic wrap, which had been dipped in lemon-flavored water.
On top of the rice, he placed wasabi and Japanese plum leaf and tightened the wrap. The nodding crowd murmured “Ahhh!” as it saw how the sushi was garnished.
When Mr. Mangan took his turn, he cooked a fusion Chinese dish called bak kut teh, which has its roots in southern China. To the veal shanks, Chinese herbs, including slices of dried angelica and licorice root were added. Unfamiliar with the ingredients, the participants sniffed and nibbled tiny bits.
Saying he was inspired by southeast Asian and Chinese cuisine, Mr. Mangan introduced an exotic flavor captured in a tiny bottle.
“Pendan essence is the vanilla of the East. The aroma is unique and complex,” Mr. Mangan said. A few drops were added to the hot mango souffle dessert and then the bottle was passed around.
After the demonstration, the participants toured the hotel’s kitchens, seeing where soup bases are made and where the meat is cut. The aromas of bittersweet chocolate from one kitchen and plump pretzels and brown buns fresh from the oven at the bakery whetted everyone’s appetite.
After the tour, the three dishes demonstrated in the kitchen were served for lunch.
Three balls of sushi on a white plate were served with condensed soy sauce in the shape of a Chinese character meaning “heaven.”
Halibut sushi, topped with golden shreds of shark’s fin, looked lovely and tasted unusually aromatic because of the fragrant plum leaf inside.
Salmon sushi topped with salmon roe tasted smooth and rich with an unusual flavor of ginseng. Tuna sushi, topped with bits of black truffle, was earthy from the rare fungus.
The dim sum served before the main course surprised everyone. Inside the steaming dim sum basket were three cold sorbets cupped in crispy rice paper; the “steam” was from the dry ice under the basket.
Colorful vegetables ― bok choy, young corn, carrots, mushrooms, leeks and peppers ― surrounded the slow-cooked veal shanks. The taste of the meat was rich and complex from various medicinal herbs, Chinese wine and sauces.
Fried Chinese bread also went well with the brown sauce.
By the time SIWA members were admiring Mr. Mangan’s creative fusion desserts ― mango souffle, green creme brulee with pendan flavor and ice cream inside a mango-steen-shaped chocolate shell, Ms. Arvelid announced sign-ups for the next cooking class.
SIWA members such as Kristina Hagman from Sweden and Pilar Quintero from Mexico came to Korea about a year ago with their husbands. Both of them found the cooking class fun.
“What’s interesting besides cooking was we got to look behind the scenes and what’s happening in the kitchen,” Ms. Hagman says.
Yoo So-young, a Korean native who spent a few years studying in the United States, joined SIWA six months ago to make new friends.
“When you go out to restaurants, you just eat and leave, but through this kind of cooking class, we have chances to get to know the chef in person. It’s great,” she says.
Slow-cooked Veal Shanks in Asian Herbs
2 kilograms veal shanks (about four pieces)
2 liters beef stock
1 whole garlic clove
1 tablespoon thick soy sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
30 ml Chinese wine
1 tablespoon sugar
3 pieces angelica root
3 pieces licorice root
1 cinnamon stick
2 pieces star anise
2 tablespoons white and black peppercorns
1 piece ginger
3 pieces dried shiitake mushroom 50 grams leeks or green onions
4 pieces bok choy
4 baby corns
1 red pepper
2 liters water
1. Bring the water to a boil and quickly blanch the veal for about 1 minute to remove impurities and blood.
2. Pour the beef stock into a slow cooker.
3. Put the peppercorns, cloves, star anise and roots in a muslin cloth and tie up.
4. Add the rest of the ingredients and the shanks and simmer for 7-8 hours until the veal is cooked.
5. Remove the shanks and keep them warm, and discard the muslin pouch.
6. Add bok choy, baby corn and red pepper, and simmer gently until bok choy is tender but still bright green.
7. Place a shank on a plate, strain some of the stock over it. Arrange vegetables around the shank.
8. Serve with fried Chinese buns, steamed rice or noodles.
Serves 3 to 4 people.
15 grams very fresh tuna
15 grams smoked ginseng salmon
15 grams very fresh halibut
33 grams sushi rice (steamed and vinegared)
3 grams chopped black truffle
5 grams shark’s fin
3 grams ikura (salt-cured salmon roe)
1 sesame or plum leaf
2 grams wasabi
2 slices lemon
100 ml water
1. Wet the plastic wrap in the water spiked with lemon juice so that the fish won’t stick. Spread the wrap on a flat surface.
2. Cut the fish into extremely thin slices. Place the fish in the center of the wrap.
3. Place a plum leaf in the center of the fish, then a dab of wasabi on the leaf.
4. Roll rice into a ball the size of a chocolate truffle, and place it on top of the wasabi.
5. Gather the ends of the wrap. Hold and tighten the ends together to mold the rice.
6. Remove the wrap and place the sushi on a dish with the smooth part up.
7. Garnish the halibut sushi with shark’s fin, the salmon with ikura and the tuna with chopped truffle.
Serves 1 person.
by Ines Cho
For information on SIWA, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Web site at www.siwapage.com.