[TRADING PLACES] Seasonal sustainability, served Danish-style

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[TRADING PLACES] Seasonal sustainability, served Danish-style


From left, Danish Ambassador to Korea Thomas Lehmann, Danish-Korean chef Minzi Kim Wind, who runs the restaurant Mish Mash in Itaewon, central Seoul, and Oh Jin-kyung, who recently studied sustainable development in Copenhagen, at the ambassador’s residence in central Seoul on Dec. 1. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Wind power may determine the next chapter of Danish-Korean relations, said the citizens of both countries gathered at the residence of Danish Ambassador Thomas Lehmann over strong coffee, tea and a bowl of pebernodder (spice cookies) just in time for the end-of-year festivities.

Oh Jin-kyung: I took up studies on sustainable development in Copenhagen because I had heard that the social awareness on this issue was very high in Denmark. I had read that Denmark pursued sustainable energy policies from the 1980s, after the oil shock in the country, which made people think about green energy issues. They had huge support from society to make some green transitions.

Thomas Lehmann: Denmark is a leading nation when it comes to green transition. We are gradually transforming our society from being dependent on fossil fuel to being completely based on renewables by 2050. And one of our trademarks is wind energy. We are world leaders not only in making wind turbines but also in getting the energy from the wind.

Lehmann: More than 50 percent of electricity generated in Denmark comes from wind. On very windy days we can produce more than we need and we would export electricity to Germany, Sweden and other countries. If you want to have efficient use of wind turbines, you need them built very big. We put them out at sea so they don’t disturb your view. This is the most efficient way now to produce energy in Denmark.

Lehmann: And that’s what we will do in Korea. There is a huge demand for offshore wind. And the new government in place in Korea has put extra focus on renewable energy and one of the areas will be wind. I think in a few years you will see wind power plants offshore in Korea, and there will be a Danish element in it. It could very well be around Jeju, as you have very good wind conditions there. Jeju is also seeking to be carbon-free by 2030, which means every car will be electric. And these cars will have to run on renewable energy.

Oh: I worked in the field of economic cooperation and development for years before I realized that development cannot go alone - the discussions on sustainability needs to be at the crux of development plans, as they have big impacts on the climate, biodiversity, the sea level and industries throughout the world. We cannot talk about development without thinking through its sustainability.

Lehmann: Green energy, green technology and green growth are the core part of Denmark-Korea relations. We have what we call a green growth alliance between Denmark and Korea, and Denmark chose Korea and Korea chose Denmark because Denmark is a leader when it comes to the technology on implementing and transforming our society into green economy and Korea is extremely innovative and very fast moving. It has proven that it can adapt very quickly and transform its society.

Lehmann: I’m just back from a meeting in Denmark with the Korean minister of the environment. We had meetings on green transitions and we talked about a new concept - the circular economy. It’s about reusing your resources - industries, food waste, sewage, sludge, and whatever you have in your waste; finding a way to recycle a building instead of demolishing it, by reusing every single component in an old building to build a new one.

Oh: I saw green buildings in Copenhagen - they had glass ceilings to make the most use out of sunlight during the day and minimize the use of electricity. Many buildings I saw in the city were being run sustainably.

Lehmann: Copenhagen is hosting the International Union of Architects (UIA) congress in 2023 and it’s the first time that this kind of “world Olympics of architects” is coming to a Nordic country. We will be discussing how architects can play a role in sustainability and we expect to gather 10,000 architects from all over the world, because I think there is a strong demand for green buildings in many countries. One interesting project to look out for here would be what’s going to happen to Yongsan when U.S. forces vacate the area - there are plans to make it into a park, and here Danish architects could offer good inspiration.


Left: Minzi Kim Wind with a menu from last season at her restaurant Mish Mash in Itaewon, central Seoul, where she created a version of Danish-style open sandwiches using Korean-style boiled meat slices. Center: Minzi Kim Wind in front of her restaurant Mish Mash in December. Right: Oh Jin-kyung at park Fælledparken in Copenhagen in May, which Oh said she frequented to see soccer games. [MINZI KIM WIND, OH JIN-KYUNG]

Seasonal sensibilities

Minzi Kim Wind, who grew up in Denmark, Switzerland, France and other parts of the world, creates Korean comfort food at her restaurant Mish Mash in Itaewon. The menus are designed with seasonal ingredients from Korea and with adaptations of Korean culinary styles, but not always meant to look traditionally Korean.

Minzi Kim Wind: After five years of working as restaurant manager, sommelier and taking up various positions in the kitchen in Denmark, I came back to Korea. My family has been in the restaurant business, and I grew up witnessing that. But the 38 years of what my mom and my grandma did, I realized that was not me. I wanted to do something to show my colors, who I am and how I grew up because that is what I know best.

Wind: I came back three and a half years ago, and I started asking Koreans and friends what they like to eat, and everyone kept telling me that they like pizza, pasta and all the dishes that are not Korean. So I’d ask them, what about Korean food, like kimchi jjigae [kimchi stew], doenjang jjigae [soybean paste stew], and they’d say something like, “Oh, that’s just something to eat at home.” So that’s when I thought it may be a good idea to create something that looks visually Western, but reminds people of comfort food when they eat it.

Wind: So the base of ingredients and flavors are Korean, but we would reconstruct it, like the “Porky Pork” dish at my restaurant, which is pork cooked in the Danish way - the skin is cracked and the meat is juicy - but you eat it bossam-style [eating meat by wrapping it up in a vegetable] with kimchi marmalade. Another fun and interesting dish we created was the “Sole Crudo,” which we developed after studying some eating habits of Koreans - the dish is raw fish served with chogochujang [tangy red pepper paste] shaped into caviar form, to look like fish roe.

Focusing the menu based on the ingredients of the season is something typically Danish, and gained prominence at the Copenhagen restaurant Noma.

Lehmann: Claus Meyer was the guy behind this new development in Danish food that turned into a new trend in Nordic food, to have food based on the seasons. It’s a very interesting concept that Noma, which was for many years voted one of the best restaurants in the world, is famous for. And after this development, Denmark became the trendy place to go for gastronomy.

Both the Danes and the Koreans are big eaters of pork.

Oh: I could have all the samgyeopsal [grilled pork belly] I want there, I just had to go to a grocery store and buy the meat, flæskesteg, all cut and packed and cook it in the oven. I also can’t forget the open sandwiches I had in Denmark.

Lehmann: Open sandwiches come close to what I could characterize as a national dish of Denmark, and we usually love to use dark rye bread full of fiber.

Untouched beauty

The first year that Ambassador Lehmann arrived in Seoul, he received a gift that changed his life.

Lehmann: Sofie, my first child, was born in Korea, just a few months after we got here. So one of our first experiences in Korea was its health care system. And I have to say, from my experience at least, these doctors and nurses were just phenomenal. Not only were they extremely professional, they were very caring as well - the fact that the doctor we met was the same doctor we had throughout the whole process, and was the same doctor who delivered the child, that was just a very positive and happy experience. I was also in the delivery room when Sofie was born and I cut her umbilical cord, so it was very touching and very, very special.

Lehmann: For my wife, it meant a lot that she had somebody she could always call or speak to, and whatever time we came to the hospital, the same doctor would always be there. This I think was a very personal and special relationship that you could get with doctors in a situation where a new life is born.

The Lehmann family and the doctor still keep in touch, occasionally having dinner together. Sofie, who is turning 3 next year, knows one or two things about being Korean.

Lehmann: One sweet thing I noticed is that when she receives something, she says thank you and does a little bow (laughs). She must have seen people do it here, as the action is so much part of the Korean culture of respect and politeness.

An occasion that the top envoy recalls as having left an imprint on the way he thinks about an issue was a visit to the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

Lehmann: I have been to the DMZ a couple of times. I believe that you do not truly understand Korea and the situation on the Peninsula unless you actually go to the DMZ and see or feel the tension for yourself. You feel the tension when you are there and you stand and look across to North Korea. It is a demilitarized zone but you also see that it is actually over-militarized - the soldiers, security, barbed wire, and so on. There, you also realize how sad it is, that these two nations are divided. Hopefully one day you will have a reunited Korea.

But Ambassador Lehmann has also seen a beauty in the area that may not be so apparent at a first visit.

Lehmann: I have experienced the DMZ through different seasons - in one sense, the DMZ is sad and very serious, but in another sense it’s very beautiful because you have nature that has been untouched for 60 to 70 years. So it became a nature reserve. I have read that the environment in the DMZ is unique in the world in that you have nature that has been untouched for so long, you could discover species there that you didn’t know existed. But I think it’s important for anyone who comes to Korea who was not born here to go there to understand the tragic fact that these two nations are divided.

Danish Ambassador Thomas Lehmann

Ambassador Thomas Lehmann came to Seoul with his wife Jule Helen Glaser Lehmann in August 2014. He was previously head of the department of EU coordination at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and deputy head of mission in Stockholm, as well as in Dublin. The couple’s daughter Sofie was born in Seoul in 2015. During the envoy’s tenure in Seoul, Copenhagen won the bid to host the International Union of Architects congress in 2023. The congress will focus on green buildings, which is not the first time a conference on sustainability was hosted in the city. “COP15 in 2009 assembled all world leaders in an attempt to make a climate change deal,” Lehmann said. “It was the first step that eventually led to the Paris Agreement.”

Minzi Kim Wind

Born in Denmark but raised in Korea, Switzerland, France and other countries, Minzi Kim Wind was trained in different culinary practices and styles across cultures before she opened her restaurant Mish Mash in Itaewon, central Seoul, in 2016. She says she strives to create dishes that are Korean but appear Western in their design as a new idea in the Korean culinary world. Her mother runs restaurant Woonsan in Seoul.

Oh Jin-kyung

Pursuing a master’s degree in environmental planning at Seoul National University, Oh Jin-kyung flew to Copenhagen to study sustainability from February to June this year. After five years of a career in economic development, Oh says she chose environmental planning because she felt development cannot be discussed without sustainability. She says she would fly to Denmark again in a heartbeat if an opportunity arose.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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