When I first heard that PBS was coming out with a TV series called Kimchi Chronicles, I was really stoked. I thought it was going to be all about kimchi: how great it is, how many different varieties there are, how it goes with any food. And it is all of that, and much more. Describing itself as “part travelogue, part food fantasy, and part documentary of self discovery,” Kimchi Choronicles follows Marja Vongerichten, the half-Black, half-Korean wife of world-famous chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten of the Manhattan restaurant Jean Georges as well as an empire of more than a dozen restaurants that includes Perry Street, 66, Vong, Jo Jo and Mercer Kitchen. Vongerichten travels back to Korea (where she was born) to retrace her past and connect with her Korean roots.
The show is a great introduction to Korean cuisine and culture, with lots of beautiful footage of Korea and its people. Each episode also has a few recipes from the Vongerichtens’ that are either very traditional or “Korean fusion.” One of my favorites was when Jean-Georges incorporated kimchi into his family’s traditional lamb casserole, literally and symbolically incorporating Korean culture into his own French background. I also loved the bulgogi marinade sweetened with Sprite, which is just so K-trash!
Marja has a firecracker personality and is a great host. Korean women are the shit! They work hard. And not just my grandmom, mom, sis, and eemos (aunts), but also those popping the “kimchi squat” at the night markets and the “mermaids of Haenyo,” women who free dive up to 20 meters into the sea to look for abalone and sea urchine off Cheju Island as part of an ancient tradition.
Kimchi Chronicles provides a good introduction to Korean culture and cuisine, and I’m happy that we Koreans are getting our moment in the sun.
Kheedim Oh, a Maryland native, is the founder and proprietor of Mama O's Premium Kimchi in New York City.
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!