Korean baker triumphs at international awardsA 53-year-old baker whose family was so poor they sometimes had to skip meals has won a prestigious cookbook award.
On May 20, Kim Young-mo, 53, the chairman of the Korea Bakery Association, became the first Korean to scoop the grand prize in the dessert category at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Kuala Lumpur. More than 6,000 cookbooks from 65 countries competed for the awards, which debuted in 1995. Mr. Kim is the president of the Kim Young-mo Bakery, which he started in southern Seoul some 20 years ago.
Soon after Mr. Kim was born, his parents went their separate ways, and the young Mr. Kim spent the next 10 years living with an uncle. When Mr. Kim was in the fifth grade he moved back in with his father, who was by this time remarried. The happiness of being reunited with his father, however, was tempered by the family’s abject poverty. With his father unable to find work and the family having to rely on his stepmother’s meager earnings, Mr. Kim often went hungry. In those days, he would often sit for hours in front of a bakery near his school, where he could imagine having his fill of the steaming goods fresh out the oven. If he was lucky, the bakery owner would treat him to some cream-filled buns or sweet red bean buns.
“I’d never tasted such delicious breads in my life,” Mr. Kim said.
Several years later, Mr. Kim left his father’s house and stayed with relatives, landing an assistant’s position at a bakery when he was 17 years old. From then on, he devoted himself to becoming one of the best bakers in Korea.
“I wanted new challenges after I’d gained a measure of success in Korea,” Mr. Kim said. “A few years ago, when I went to Harrods Department Store in London, I saw a cookbook written by a famous sushi cook in Japan. I thought that it would be nice to write a cookbook in English and show off my bakery skills around the world.”
An opportunity soon arrived. Mr. Kim published “A Collection of Fine Baking” in the United States in July through Dream Character, an American publisher. Users of Amazon.com, the online book seller, gave Mr. Kim’s book five stars, and it subsequently became a bestseller at Barnes & Noble bookstores. Late last year, a Korean version of the book was also published.
“In the beginning, some people were cynical about an Asian writing a bakery cookbook. But Westerners were attracted by my later recipes with Korean flavors, such as green tea chiffon cakes and muffins, wine-added rye bread and sweet potato cakes,” Mr. Kim said.
Certainly, the decision makers at the Gourmand World Cookbook Award were taking notes. “Previous winners in the dessert category include world-renowned bakery masters. I was overwhelmed,” Mr. Kim said.
Having taken the grand prize, Mr. Kim’s book will now be published in many languages, including French and Spanish. The hungry boy’s dream has finally materialized.
by Shin Ye-ri