The Back Kitchen Seoul...
Here's the story of two food lovers who met in Seoul through the wonderful world of blogs.
Wanna hear a nutty story behind our first pop up?
So it begins.
Joe McPherson from Zen Kimchi and I randomly discussed doing a pop up in a car ride back in March. We never shared a kitchen before, let alone run a 40 seat pop up! So we decided to make our lives more complicated and fun by setting the date on Seoul's first pop up. Yeah, we're nuts. So what the heck is a pop up you may ask? Well, you may have heard of supper clubs or underground restaurants. Similar concept, but you basically take over a space (preferably a kitchen space in an existing restaurant), come up with a creative food menu, and feed folks who want to eat your food. Oh by the way, there is money involved. Either a set fee for the meal, or suggested donations. For our pop up, the suggested donation was 35,000 won/guest for a 5 course meal. Uhm, I think this was a steal! hahaha.
After racking our brains with what type of food we wanted to explore, we finally decided on the concept of
'Re-interpretation of Korean.' Joe has been in Korea for about 8 years, and his palate in Korean food has developed into something quite amazing. Then you add his southern American palate to the mix, and you really get something that makes you do a double take.
I grew up with Korean food all my life, as my family opened the first Samgaetang (ginseng chicken soup) restaurant in Chicago back in the 80's. We also had a ginseng farm, in which I remember riding on big tractors and spending some summers on the farm. With that said, my mom is quite the cook. Not just your ordinary Korean mom chef…but her creativity in making Korean food more than just typical Korean items still amazes me today. I have to attribute my passion for creativity to her, and am truly thankful for her always challenging me in the kitchen!
So when Joe and I joined forces to do this pop up, most of our meetings over the menu consisted of giggling about some crazy ideas. When it came down to it, it was collaborating our past food history, personal journey with food in Korea, and the vision we have for the unexplored.
The making of tea soaked marbled quail eggs...
We were quite amazed how it turned out!
The crazy menu:
Starters: Cream of mushroom soup with perilla seeds and dates
Next up: Cajun style shrimp boil with 3 sauces: ketnip pesto (Korean sesame leaf), spicy mayo aioli, and pepper wasai (gochujang based sauce)
The hearty: Sujaebee pasta made with potatoes, topped with soju tomato sauce
The main: Braised pork belly (galbijjim style), marbled quail eggs, pickled onions, served with cilantro kimchi
The sealer: Makgeolli cream cheese tarts topped with fresh blueberries, candied deodeok root
My fingers were pretty much done after peeling the eggs...Joe's rendered pork to the right before the braising. Yum!
Testing out the makgeolli tarts...
There were only 40 seats available in this quaint, cozy cafe in Gaedong-Cafe Gondry. We actually booked all of our seats within hours when we just tweeted the pop up, this was before our facebook announcement and our invite in 10 magazine! And we had a waiting list…now this started to make us nervous, since we had no idea how our food was going to turn out. Seriously.
A ton of logistics and planning were involved. Stress at every angle. Sleepless nights. It's one thing if you're cooking for a party of 10 in your home..but 40 hungry foodies, waiting to be fed all at once on a Saturday night? Ok we kinda knew what we were getting ourselves into. Then the week of the dinner-the word crazy cannot even describe what we went through. Just the shopping alone at Garak market was let's just say 'food delivery!' hahaha. We just had to learn it the hard way. You know, we did this to make our story more interesting. Joe carried around a 6 kg bag of onions and a 10 kg bag of pork! Then we took an hour long bus ride back to the commissary space where we prepped for the next few days. All this going on, while I was putting in full time hours with my other work.
Kyotofu (Japanese dessert and sake bar) was very gracious in lending their commissary to do all of our prep work! It just would not have been possible without this space. It was perfect.
The chefs getting busy...
June Chang-the best sous chef!
The 10 Magazine crew-thanks for your support!
The day of: it rained. Yup. Weather was perfect all week long, but Saturday was a bit of a down pour. Yet we knew that our guests would come through! Cocktail hour started at 6, and the room was filled by 6:45. There were compliments after compliments between courses, which really encouraged our back of the house staff:)
Cajun shrimp boil-we literally threw large prawns on the tables for everyone peel and share...
Seems like everyone had a lot of fun!
Joe & June getting busy prepping the main course-braised pork.
The final course-Makgeolli tarts with blueberries and candied deodeok root!
I love this spot in the cafe-right by the front and it's tucked away by the 'Team button shop.'
Some of our close friends who came out to support us!
Bernie & Eunice Cho taking the front end. Thank you for your continuous love and support!
This photo taken by Dan So, one of our volunteers. Must say, you have a great eye.
Another one of Dan's photo.
The evening was perfect. It's pretty strange how things turn out, because everything really did come together at the end. Depsite the rain and the somewhat stressful planning that was behind it all, it was truly a blessed evening!
Sharing the evening with those we love, new friends we met that came out to support us that evening, and most importantly doing the very thing that Joe and I really love to do, was what helped us get through the evening.
A special thanks to our volunteers-Bobby Choy, Jennifer Flinn, June Chang, Ravi Chandra, Crystal Kang, and Dan So.
Also a big thank you to Cafe Gondry for the perfect space, 10 Magazinefor your support, and Kyotofufor the prep space! Finally, to all of our guests-Back Kitchen Seoul could not have been possible without your eagerness to try something new, your kind words of encouragement, and your open hearts in giving us a chance to be part of something amazing!
For those who missed out on our first pop up stay tuned for our next one, we will keep you posted!
Photos in this post were taken by Dan So, Joe McPherson, and me.
Dan & Crystal enjoying the staff meal afterwards...
My partner in crime that night-Joe you're awesome!
Life is really too short not to eat what you love…every meal counts.