Eateries can serve up taste of KoreaIf I am asked which traditional Korean value has the potential to be developed, integrated and introduced to the world, I will say “taste” without hesitation. Just like music is a universal language, taste has a universal value that everyone can enjoy and communicate regardless of race and age. Globalization of traditional Korean cuisine needs to be supported by tourism, with a special focus on restaurants. The thriving restaurant industry is a key to cultural prosperity and global integration. Restaurants are great assets in the Park Geun-hye administration’s drive for a flourishing culture and can bring a social bond of empathy.
Japan’s sushi and France’s wine have proved that cultural empathy through the palate can bring a sense of accomplishment. Culinary history is a history of civilization and a road map for the future. While Korea’s historical background is a potential for cultural prosperity it could also pose limits. Culture evolves, develops and progresses with the changes of the times, and the tradition we find today should be integrated with today’s values. However, the progress of Korean culture was discontinued with the fall of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and remains outdated. As we went through Japanese colonial rule and the 1950-53 Korean War, the creation of economic values from traditional culture has halted and foreign cultures have become widely consumed. While we have accomplished an economic miracle, we have abandoned subjective spiritual growth. Korean society has to pay the price of materialism, social discord and extinction of cultural identity.
I presume that President Park came up with cultural prosperity out of the awareness that Korea would not be able to become an advanced cultural power without amending its cultural negligence. By re-establishing the cultural identity of the Republic of Korea, the values of cultural products and services need to be estimated and reinterpreted so that they can be improved to meet international standards and boost domestic consumption. The president must be determined to improve cultural, moral and ethical awareness to enhance Korea’s cultural status.
I found inspiration for cultural prosperity from El Bulli, a small restaurant in Spain that revolutionized the food world, until it closed in 2011. Ferran Adria became its head chef in 1987, and his belief and efforts spread the prestige of Spanish culture around the world. Having invented what is commonly called “molecular gastronomy,” Adria served customers for only six months of the year; the rest of the time he researched gastronomic cultures around the world, looking for inspiration. The restaurant operated at a significant loss for years. It may be hard to understand his management philosophy, to make up for those losses at the restaurant with income from lectures and publications. However, el Bulli and Ferran Adria’s passion and research enhanced the image and brand value of Spanish culinary culture.
Korea’s cultural flourishing could be accomplished from a small restaurant. By understanding and reinterpreting 5,000 years of history and tradition, a restaurant can offer a Korean global culinary experience by presenting a distinguished structure, interior design, kitchen, uniforms, crafts and decorative objects, plate settings, drinks, music and serving styles. Let’s serve dishes that can embrace Korea’s philosophy and stories. We can create and operate a restaurant that can impress people from around the world and bring true enjoyment.
When original culinary values and cultural stories spread at home and abroad and the derivative lifestyle culture can progress and communicate with the world, each of these small restaurants will be an exhibition hall and experience center for cultural integration. Restaurants may be the best experiment site for cultural prosperity.
*The author is the chairman of Kwangjuyo.
By Cho Tae-kwon