This past Sunday I attended a free cooking class at CJ Food World, in Dongdaemun, a famous shopping area in northeastern Seoul.
CJ Food World is the national headquarters of brands like Tous les Jours (Canadians: think a French-inspired, self-serve version of Tim Horton’s) and Twosome Place (a Starbucks-esque “dessert cafe”). They also have an in-house cooking studio, where the class I was in took place.
I found out about the cooking class through a group called Community Korea. They have a very active facebook presence, and regularly advertise events, contests, and sales for foreigners. This was the first time I’d attended one of the events they’d promoted, and I was really excited. I’d won the class from an online draw (been so lucky lately!).
So, I took a bus from outside my school right to the CJ Food HQ:
Upon arriving, we were led into a meeting room which had free coffee and tea (silly me, I’d already spent $4 on a soy vanilla latte – but in my defense, it’s not often you see one of those on a cafe menu here in Korea!).
After the meeting room, we were ushered into the cooking studio, where we began cooking our Lunar New Year-themed dishes, “doenjang goggi buchu jeon” (soybean pancake with chives) and “haemul beoseot soondubu jeongol” (Seafood & mushroom soft tofu stew).
The chef presented a lively and engaging cooking demo. His English was really good; turns out he’d spent several years as a restauranteur in the US.
We were supposed to pair up, so I went with a girl I’d met at an event the weekend prior; 10 Magazine’s Sunday book club (which featured Michael Breen, author of “the Koreans”).
All in all, it was a lot of fun! The organizers had altered the dishes a bit to make them appeal to foreign tastes though. A couple of us noticed this, as the mixture they’d provided actually had sugar added, giving the pancakes an unusually sweet flavour. As well, we were given beef to use in our pancakes, another non-traditional addition to the original Korean recipe. The chef noted during the demo that they wanted to “spoil” us foreigners (hence the beef), but I think many of us would’ve just preferred the traditional version! But, it was so thoughtful of them to go the extra mile.
The chef explained several times throughout the demo that since Korean food is too often overshadowed by “sushi” (Japanese food) and Chinese food, the goal of the class was to try and make Korean food appeal more to foreigners. Part of this was promoting a new line of products, which essentially cut out half of the prep involved in cooking many popular Korean foods (which traditionally take more work than other Asian cuisines). Some of these included Korean BBQ marinades, soup stocks, and hotteok (Korean sugar pancake) mix.
To cap off the lesson, we all gathered for a few photo ops coordinated by a very serious Korean photographer. Actually, it kind of reminded me of the “Suntory Time” scene from one of my favourite movies, “Lost in Translation” (clip below).
Of course, it was very different because it was set in Japan, and my cooking class was in Korea 🙂 Korea and Japan are very different. Dokdo is Korean. My Korean friends would be very proud of me right now 🙂
Some of the products that we used:
Anyways, probably the best part of the day was getting the freebie pack they sent us home with! Holy guacamole, Korea LOVES too give out free stuff to foreigners!
What the f-ck am I going to do with all this kimchi… It’s a non-resealable bag, by the way.
They even gave us thank you cards!
“Thank you for your time” – seriously? You gave us a free cooking class, plus what I’m estimating was around 30,000w ($30) worth of free samples. My pleasure!