Learning from Korean masters, renowned foreign chefs compete in Korean cooking show

"Korean Food Battle" is a popular television show where traditional Korean food masters from all over the country boast regional delicacies and compete against each other.

The new season on the food channel Olive TV came back with a twist. This time, Korean masters pair up with popular foreign chefs from Canada, Belgium, Italy, the United States and Mexico who have little knowledge of Korean food and teach them how to make authentic Korean dishes.

At a press conference in western Seoul on Tuesday, producer Hyun Don said the idea first occurred to him while watching the popular tvN reality show "Youn's Kitchen," where a guest chef casually mentioned that he would love to take a vacation to Korea to learn how to cook Korean food.

 

The five participating chefs are Dale MacKay, a Canadian chef and the winner of the first season of "Top Chef Canada" in 2011; Michelin-starred chef Marcelo Ballardin; Fabrizio Ferrari, who judged a Korean food contest in Italy; Amar Santana, who runs a popular fine dining restaurant in Laguna Beach, California; and Sergio Meza, one of Latin America's top chefs chosen by the UK media company William Reed Business Media.

It seemed next to impossible to cast the busy chefs in the beginning, the producer said, but the production team's sincere attitude finally succeeded in moving their minds. He also added that he was very impressed how passionate these chefs were in learning Korean food.

Dale MacKay, who owns and operates Japanese and Korean restaurants in Canada, said being able to become part of the show is a great chance for him to learn from experts and bring authenticity into his food.

"It is a large commitment, but this kind of opportunity only comes a few times in life or never. I consider myself one of the lucky ones," he said.

As the show deals with traditional Korean foods, it primarily focuses on the chefs learning the very basics about Korean food and ingredients. As it advances, each chef can have a chance to present their unique, individual interpretations, according to the producer.

Businessman, chef and popular TV personality Baek Jong-won talks during a press conference for the new season of "Korean Food Battle" on Olive TV on Sept. 11, 2018, in this photo provided by the channel. (Yonhap)

Businessman, chef and popular TV personality Baek Jong-won talks during a press conference for the new season of "Korean Food Battle" on Olive TV on Sept. 11, 2018, in this photo provided by the channel. 

 

Businessman, chef and popular TV personality Baek Jong-won leads a team of judges who will choose the final winner after rounds of cooking competitions.

At the conference, Paek said he was surprised to hear the names of the participating chefs as he had already been to three of the restaurants a few years ago where some of the chefs work.

"Before the filming started, I visited the five restaurants to taste their foods, learn about their styles and study how these chefs would interpret Korean foods," said the popular host of multiple food shows, such as "Street Food Fighter," "Baek Jong-won's Alley Restaurant," "Baek Jong-won's Food Truck" and "Baek Jong-won's Top 3 Chef King."

   He also expressed a special affection for the upcoming show.

"'Korean Food Battle' is really my favorite show, and this season is especially what I have hoped to see. It is not like foreign chefs staying in Korea for a few days and acting as if they understand Korean food. These chefs are here for months and get to have a deeper understanding about Korean food and people."

   Italian chef Ferrari said there was no knowledge about Korean food in Italy except in big cities. So playing the role of a Korean food ambassador is "what I am here for. I want to understand (Korean food) and be taught by masters as much as possible."

   Chef Santana found it really amusing and interesting to learn that there are so much variety in Korean food. When he tasted Korean food for the first time some 15 years ago, "Everything was red and spicy. I didn't really like Korean food. I thought it was boring, chewy and spicy," he said.

"One thing I notice now, being here for a while, is that Korean food is ... super flavorful. I am looking forward to learning more."

   The first episode is set to air at 7:40 p.m. on Saturday on Olive TV.

 

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