Expanding Korean food in the UK: Korean Home Cooking interview
Until now, Korean food and events in the UK have been centred almost exclusively in London with only a few Korean restaurants existing outside of the capital and despite London’s vibrant scene, very few cultural events taking place. Thankfully, this seems to be changing gradually and recently we managed to discuss this with Jin Kim of koreanhomecooking.co.uk who is helping to share Korean cuisine further through her website and the cookery classes she holds in York.
Hi Jin, first of all could you tell us a little about yourself and your website?
Hello Beyond Hallyu, my name is Jin. I am Korean, born and raised in Seoul. I moved to the UK in 2009 with my husband, and I’m currently a wife and mother of a three-year-old. I studied Anthropology in College, worked as an overseas marketing assistant manager in a Korean company, finished my MA in TESOL just last year and here I am as a cookery teacher in YORK Cookery School in York and running a website called Korean Home Cooking by Jin. On my website I update my class schedules and post about my cooking – basically a Korean person cooking at home in the UK (and not always Korean food). I focus specifically on readers who want to cook Korean or East Asian food whilst living outside the region, and who might struggle to find the ingredients they think they need, yet who still want to cook authentic Asian dishes.
How did you get involved with cooking in the first place?
I have loved cooking ever since I was little, thanks to my mother who is a talented cook. I used to help her out in the kitchen a lot growing up. Living by myself in the United States during my college years really got me into cooking, since I missed my mother’s food so much. To recreate the hearty Korean meals that my mother used to cook for me, I’d call her all the time and cook the dishes myself to share with friends, Koreans and non-Koreans alike. I was also a food channel junkie, watching programmes on an almost daily basis (Ina Garten, I love you!). I moved back to Korea for work (in between my years living in the US and UK), and I found myself enjoying a great opportunity to learn Japanese home cooking from a talented Japanese-Korean chef after work, expanding my culinary repertoire.
Cooking in the UK was a whole different challenge for me, since the required ingredients for East Asian cooking are very limited, especially living in North Yorkshire. After four years of trial and error experimentation as a home cook, and hosting countless Korean meal get-togethers with the locals, I found my way around cooking authentic Korean meals with ingredients available locally. Recently, more and more East Asian food ingredients are becoming available in York, which also makes things easier. Friends who tried my food started to ask for recipes, and so I started writing some down in English, which was a stepping stone to setting up my website. I came across several extraordinary Korean food blogs written in English, but I try to focus on the readers who want to cook Korean and East Asian food specifically when living in the UK or Europe, where there might be a struggle to find authentic ingredients in spite of a real desire to cook the meal without sacrificing flavour.
You’ve just started running Korean cooking classes in York, what inspired you to start this?
I often have friends and their children over for meals, as I mentioned. A few months ago, one of my English friends who came for a casual Korean lunch enjoyed the food so much that she suggested I should establish a catering business. Until then I hadn’t thought of my cooking as a commodity – more than anything, it was something I enjoyed doing as part of my daily routine as a home cook. All the same, it got me thinking that I could do something with my cooking. Using the few recipes that I had written down in the past, and thanks to my husband’s great photography, I set up a website to act mainly as a journal – a way to archive my cooking exploits. At the same time I began making inquires at local cookery studios in the hunt for a room or facilities available for hire in which I could host a cooking class. I knew the importance and the benefit of cooking classes myself so well that it seemed like a natural step to look to Korean cooking as a career. Luckily, YORK Cookery School (a locally owned new venture with fantastic cooking and baking facilities in York) got back to be and scheduled a meeting with me. I showed up to the appointment with rice and bulgogi (marinated beef stir fry) and a few other things I had cooked in my kitchen, along with freshly brewed roasted brown rice green tea, all of which impressed them enough that they invited me on board as a regular cookery instructor at YORK Cookery School. I also have plans to host a cookery class on Japanese cuisine since it forms such a big part of my own personal cooking repertoire.
Yes, I hope to do more classes locally and build a strong relation within the community whilst spreading the goodness of home cooked Korean and East Asian food! If the opportunity arises, I’d be willing to host classes outside the York area. My website remains a convenient medium for connecting with people who are interested in Korean and East Asian cooking, and is a great space for updating my scheduled classes. Above all, my biggest and wildest dream is to feature in Observer Food Monthly magazine every month. I’m not all that keen on the idea of becoming a celebrity, but it would be nice to see East Asian home cooking become a regular culinary fixture in the UK, enriching the already popular food culture.
It’s unusual to see Korean cultural events happening outside of London, do you think there is growing interest in Korean food and culture in the rest of the UK? Is there anything else Korea-related happening in your area?
I don’t have much information about other areas, but in York we are lucky to have a Korean diner in the city centre that opened recently and has become quite popular, and a number of strong Korean/Asian food shops in town. Sadly there are not many Korean-related cultural events going on in my area. I hope there are more to come that could coincide with my cookery classes.
What do you think makes Korean food unique from other cuisines? What do you think it has to offer?
Korean food can be healthy, environmentally friendly and easy to adapt to people with special dietary needs. We have various ways of cooking and seasoning a wide variety of vegetables dishes, which is necessary in what is otherwise a meat-heavy diet these days. I first discovered the environmental benefits of Korean food during the first year on our allotment. We planted Asian radish used for making kimchi and the yield was excellent, in spite of the dreadfully wet summer; since Koreans make kimchi using the whole crop, root to leaf, nothing goes to waste. Finally, by tweaking some of the ingredients, Korean meals can easily be made gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan, depending on your dietary needs, and retains the goodness at the core of Korean cooking.
You have kindly agreed to write for Beyond Hallyu about Korean food on a regular basis. What kinds of things can we look forward to reading from you?
I want to help people who want to cook Korean meals (whether traditional or with a modern twist) when living outside of Korea, providing simple recipes for everyday cooking in the readers’ own homes. The good thing about cooking is that there is no right or wrong way to do things – it’s a completely subjective and personal matter. As such, if I can provide even a tiny dose of inspiration to anyone who cooks, I will be delighted. By stocking a few (not very expensive) additional basics in your pantry, it’s possible to create authentic Korean home cooked meals – nothing fancy, but a truly hearty Korean feast.
For class bookings, contact YORK Cookery School 01904 500 700 or online.