Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
That is, unless you buy a box from Piaf Artisan Chocolatiers in South Korea. And if your life revolves around studying, like most Korean students during the annual college entrance exam season, a box of Piaf Artisan chocolates might be exactly what you’re looking for.
The latest work from the Seoul-based chocolatier features candies decorated with calculus equations. Assuming the chocolate is delicious, this could very well be the perfect food for thought.
“I hope these can bring a smile to their faces as they get themselves prepared for the exams,” creator Ko Eun-su told the Wall Street Journal.
Ko, who left a seven-year career as a computer engineer to pursue his passion in chocolate-making, explained that he took the project “very seriously.” But the feedback wasn’t quite what he expected.
“[Customers] said people cracked up when they got these [chocolates],” he said.
The calculus chocolates are sold in box sets of four, nine and 15, and they will run you 13,000 won ($12), 25,000 won ($23) and 39,000 won ($36) respectively. Each box also comes with a helpful booklet explaining the equations.
You can check out the rest of Piaf Artisan Chocolatier’s creations at their Facebook page.
Two South Korean-born chefs endeavor to bring traditional Korean dishes into the limelight with a modern culinary makeover.
by JANE KIM
photos by AYLA CHRISTMAN
Above photo: Brian Sehong Kim, left, and Tae Kyung Ku were classmates at the Culinary Institute of America when they discussed opening a restaurant together one day.
Between Seventh Street and St. Marks Place just west of the historic Nuyorican Poets café in New York City, a small sign dangles next to a set of French windows that look out onto First Avenue. Etched into the distressed wood is a single word: Oiji.
The word may be foreign, and basically meaningless, to most New Yorkers who whisk by this corridor in the East Village. Yet, for those who grew up with home-cooked Korean meals, oiji (pronounced o-ee-jee) brings to mind a humble banchan, or side dish, of thinly-sliced pickled cucumbers that is as common to a Korean household as kimchi.
Although the restaurant’s namesake is not on the menu, it represents the type of traditional Korean fare that is offered: cold buckwheat noodles, smoked mackerel and slow-cooked oxtail, to name a few. The spare 14-item menu reflects the conceptual approach Oiji’s two Seoul-born chefs—Brian Sehong Kim and Tae Kyung Ku—took when developing the idea to serve timeless, albeit lesser-known, Korean dishes to diners.
“When I was in Korea, I thought that Americans knew a lot about Korean food from what I’d seen on TV,” says the 33-year-old Ku in an interview in Oiji’s intimate space, formerly occupied by Dok Suni, a modern Korean restaurant. “But, when I came here, there was a huge gap in development and flavor.”
To bridge this gap, Kim and Ku, who were roommates at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in upstate New York, intentionally steered away from popular Korean dishes with proven mass appeal, such as bulgogi and bibimbap. Using what they knew about what everyday Koreans eat as a guiding light, the chefs honed in on such foods as nooroongji (crispy rice) or jangjorim (soy braised beef) and reworked and refined them.
Cold buckwheat noodles with preserved spring ramps.
“Chil-jeol-pan,” or “Seven Flavors.”
Truffle seafood broth with sizzling crispy rice.
Gochujang braised chicken with winter vegetables.
“From a business perspective, these dishes might be criticized as boring or too commonplace. But we don’t agree,” says Kim, 35. Neither do diners.
Dubbed as one of the hottest restaurants in Manhattan at the moment by Zagat and Thrillist, Oiji—which opened this past May in a space that seats only 40—both brightens and broadens the spotlight that chefs such as David Chang, Hooni Kim and Roy Choi have placed on Korean cuisine and flavors.
Kim and Ku keep the dishes small in portion and the meal interactive in true Korean fashion. Yet, equating their take on classic Korean foods to the rise of gourmet mac ‘n’ cheese, the chefs have transformed beloved banchan into proper, stand-alone entrées. And so, while diners watch, a server pours rich seafood broth over a slice of nooroongji instead of the traditional barley tea. Beef tartare, or yukhwe, is accompanied by ramp aioli. Oiji’s jangjorim is braised using French-influenced techniques, and layered over butter rice.
“These are the foods that we loved to eat growing up. So, we asked ourselves, ‘Why can’t they work in a restaurant?’” says Ku, whose vision is to ultimately see these dishes become as popular across America as they are back home in Seoul.
And did we mention the honey butter chips? Not a traditional Korean dish admittedly, these wafer-thin, sweet-and-salty chips glisten with melted honey and sugar. The chefs admit they came up with a house version of the hugely popular snack item in Korea as a marketing ploy to get the word out about their restaurant—not that it needed any additional boost.
Kim and Ku seem like an unlikely pair at first glance. Resembling a K-drama character in looks, Kim stands long and lean, sporting clean-cropped hair, hipster black frames, a designer white tee and slick jogger shorts during our interview. Meanwhile, Ku is far more unassuming, dressed in cargo pants, a flannel top and Patagonia cap. During the interview, the pensive Ku often paused to mull over a question, or occasionally waited to respond until after Kim spoke.
“Ku is a patient teacher, who waits and observes before he says anything,” describes Kim. “He’s also willing to do the work that no else wants to do.” Kim, on the other hand, says he has a hotter temper and scrutinizes the little details.
In the kitchen, these opposing personas result in a wholly complementary pairing: Ku hyper-focuses on capturing the authentic flavor notes that hit as close to home as possible. Then, Kim takes over to edit the dishes for public appeal and plate them in a style entirely his own.
The chefs each hail from families with long histories in the food and beverage industry, although both started careers in corporate marketing before switching gears in their late 20s. A passion for culinary arts brought them to the same seminar in Seoul. When they met again in 2009, they were randomly assigned as roommates at the CIA, from which they graduated in 2012. It wasn’t long before they discovered their mutual passion for Korean cuisine, and talked of one day opening a restaurant together.
At first, Kim worked in the kitchen of David Bouley’s eponymous restaurant while Ku worked at Gramercy Tavern. Less than a year passed before they decided to leave their respective posts and devote their full attention to the making of Oiji.
There have been the obvious roadblocks, such as scouting 18 months for a location and their limited English (parts of our interview were conducted in Korean, and later translated into English). Some other experiences took them more by surprise. For instance, even after the major pieces fell into place—the menu, restaurant, staff and operations—the chefs were aghast to learn that some Korean diners would leave complaining about the portion size.
To this, Kim unabashedly says, “Then, go to K-town.”
While the business consumes their every waking moment, both Kim and Ku say that the hard work has been worth it. Whatever the future holds for Oiji, the chefs agree, “If we can succeed in New York City, anything is possible.”
This article was published in the August/September 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/September issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days.)
Pictured Above: Kim Sung-jin, 14, broadcasts himself eating delivery Chinese food in his room at home in Bucheon, south of Seoul. Better known to his viewers by the nickname Patoo, he is one of the youngest broadcasters on Afreeca TV, an app for live-broadcasting video online launched in 2006. (Photo courtesy of Julie Yoon/AP Photo)
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Every evening, 14-year-old Kim Sung-jin orders fried chicken, delivery pizza or Chinese food to eat in a small room in his family’s home south of Seoul. He gorges on food as he chats before a live camera with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of teenagers watching.
That’s the show, and it makes Kim money: 2 million won ($1,700) in his most successful episode.
Better known to his viewers by the nickname Patoo, he is one of the youngest broadcasters on Afreeca TV, an app for live-broadcasting video online launched in 2006.
Kim, who has a delicate physique and chopstick-like slight limbs, has been broadcasting himself eating almost every evening since he was 11. Sometimes he invites friends to eat with him. To add fun, he once wore a blonde wig and dressed as a woman.
While the Internet has been making stars for years — from bloggers to gamers who play for millions of YouTube viewers — outsiders may find it puzzling, if not outright bizarre, for young people to spend hours watching someone eating. But in South Korea, Afreeca TV has become a big player in the Internet subculture and a crucial part of social life for teens.
Shows like Kim’s are known as “mokbang,” a mash-up Korean word of broadcast and eating. They are the most popular and often most profitable among some 5,000 live shows that are aired live at any given moment on Afreeca TV.
Kim started the show essentially to find someone to eat with. His parents worked in another city so he was living with his grandparents, and they ate dinner so early he got hungry at night.
He says the show made his dining more regular, although most of his meals on Afreeca TV begin after 10 p.m. The show also brought him unexpected joy: He said that even though he’s just an ordinary teenager, “people say hello to me on the street.”
“I do what I want. That’s the perk of a personal broadcast.”
Many connect the popularity of mokbang to the increasing number of South Koreans who live alone, and to the strong social aspects of food in this society.
“Even if it is online, when someone talks while eating, the same words feel much more intimate,” said Ahn Joon-soo, an executive at Afreeca TV. He noted South Koreans’ common habit of bidding farewell to friends by saying, “Let’s eat together next time,” even when they don’t literally mean it.
There are plenty of other quirky offerings on Afreeca TV. Late at night there is “Sool Bang” — broadcast drinking — in which melancholic South Koreans drink liquor alone discussing their tough lives. Then there is “Study Bang,” or broadcast studying: A screen shows the hand of an unidentified person writing notes on a thick book under the light of a desk lamp.
About 60 percent of the 8 million unique monthly visitors to Afreeca TV are teens or in their 20s. That means nearly 40 percent of the 12.5 million South Koreans aged 10 to 30 watch a show on Afreeca TV at least once a month.
“Young generations believe that TV is naturally something like Afreeca TV where they can interact with broadcasters,” said Ahn, the company executive. He believes TV in the long run will be completely replaced by such apps.
Cho Young-min, a 12-year-old who has watched an online game show on Afreeca TV since he was a third-grader, aspires to have his own show on Afreeca TV, not on the TV in the living room.
Ahn Won-jun, a 17-year-old high school student, said he prefers to eat dinner in his room to watch Kim’s mokbang, rather than dining with his parents.
Kim isn’t a particularly polite virtual dinner guest. He burps loudly before his audiences and sometimes walks off abruptly, announcing with some specificity that he needs to use the bathroom. He usually leaves his fans with a mission, during his absence, promising a prize to the person who last clicks the “like” button when he is back.
Hardcore Afreeca TV viewers are drawn to hosts like Kim because they can interact with them, unlike more distant TV stars. Fans say they feel their blood rush and heart flutter when a host reacts to their comments, singling them out in the stream of hundreds of live chat messages.
“I was so moved,” said Lee Yeon-joo, a 15-year-old recalling the moment when a 26-year-old man read her message in the middle of his live show. “You cannot really approach celebrities.”
Afreeca TV users can get broadcasters’ attention by giving them “star balloons,” which cost them about 10 cents apiece. The show hosts keep most of that money, though Afreeca TV takes a cut of up to 40 percent.
Most broadcasters, including Kim, are reluctant to reveal how much money they make. Afreeca TV said out of some 300,000 broadcasters who air their show at least once a month, top 500 make more than what one would normally make by working full time, but the company declined to be more specific. In 2013, a South Korea television network TV Chosun cited a lawmaker’s office that the top Afreeca TV host earned 298 million won ($250,000) a year.
Live-streaming videos are going mainstream, both in South Korea and overseas.
In Asia, services such as YYTV in China have been in use by tens of millions of users for years, and also have developed ways to let broadcasters generate income.
Meerkat and Periscope from Twitter, two live-streaming apps in the U.S., were launched in March. Facebook is launching its own live-streaming service called Live, although it will be only available for famous people.
South Korean search giant Naver rushed to launch a real-time video service where K-pop stars can live-stream their behind-the-scenes lives. One of the most talked-about TV shows on a South Korean TV network this year was “My Little Television,” which adopted similar features to Afreeca TV, such as the format of one person broadcasting a show live while responding to comments from viewers.
Afreeca TV’s model may not translate across borders, however. The company’s efforts to make inroads in Japan, Taiwan and the U.S. have met with little response.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
South Korea’s most popular restaurant discovery company Mangoplateis eyeing expansion both domestically and throughout Asia after securing a $6.1 million Series A round of funding, according to TechCrunch.
Since emerging from a Seoul-based accelerator program two years ago, Mangoplate has raised $7.2 million in total from investors, including Qualcomm Ventures, Softbank Ventures Korea and YJ Capital.
Available in both Korean and English, Mangoplate is currently estimated to include around 40 percent of Korea’s restaurants and is aiming to double that to 80 percent within a year.
The company prides itself on personalization, as it relies on algorithms and data gathering to present restaurant deals to a user based on their location and cuisine preferences.
“Lots of companies claim to use big data but just crawl [through] Naver and blogs,” Mangoplate co-founder Joon Oh told TechCrunch. “Mangoplate really is a big data-driven personalization service, it’s like Yelp on steroids.”
The company is also planning to expand into the rest of Asia in 2016. Oh said the company is eyeing markets that share similarities to Seoul, including Singapore and Hong Kong, but emphasized getting a strong footing in the domestic market was a top priority.
Before Mangoplate, there was Naver’s Wingspoon, but the Korean government ordered Naver to shut it down back in 2013. Until then, Wingspoon had been the go-to food discovery service in Korea, but it eventually drew criticism for fake reviews and restaurants abusing the system.
Mangoplate has since filled the void. To address the concerns people had with Wingspoon, Mangoplate apparently has a “number of systems in place to detect specific behavior,” said Lee, including sign-in via Facebook or Kakao to rate and review.
Pictured above: Ships Coffee Shop, 1971. (Image courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library)
by KARIN CHAN
Can the history of a city be told through its restaurant menus? Visitors to the Los Angeles Public Library may ask themselves this question as they feast their eyes on a rare collection of old menus, now on display at the Central Library through November 13.
The exhibit, “To Live and Dine in L.A.,” shares the same name with a book published in partnership with Angel City Press, which includes a foreword by L.A.-based chef and restaurateur Roy Choi.
Written by Josh Kun, an author and associate professor of communication at the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, To Live and Dine in L.A. explores the history, urban growth and social stratification of Los Angeles through food menus spanning as far back as 1875 to the 1980s.
The collection of menus is the result of a decades-long effort that began when two LAPL librarians began collecting menus in the 1980s; today, the library has amassed around 15,000 menus. Choi was one of those who helped curate the collection of roughly 200 menus for the book and exhibit.
“The menus we saw told us a story, but what were the ones missing telling us?” he told KoreAm by email—adding of the collection, “Expect to think about the haves and have-nots and expect to sit and experience the growth of a city with all its bumps and bruises and how that’s a reflection of today as well.”
Included in the collection are menus from the likes of such ritzy restaurants as Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, which was branded as “Californian Cuisine” in 1981, with its offerings of crab ravioli and Chinese-style duck breast. Conspicuously absent, however, are menus catering to California’s working class: After all, food trucks that stopped outside construction sites or lunchrooms had no handheld menus, opting to write food items on boards or not having them written at all.
Choi told KoreAm that the disparity between the rich and poor reflected in these sampling of menus reveals other aspects of the city’s history. “I found the racial propaganda surprising,” he said.
Indeed, one featured menu is from the Golden Pagoda restaurant, whose cover artwork appeals to “Western stereotypes of Asian culture,” Kun writes in the book. The 1943 menu depicts an image of a pagoda structure and rickshaw driver and uses a font associated with traditional Asian-style calligraphy brushstrokes.
Golden Pagoda (1943)
In Choi’s foreword for To Live and Dine in L.A., he writes that most places he grew up eating in didn’t have menus—such as his home, burger stands and delis. (Fans of the chef may recall he wrote about his youth and L.A.’s food culture in his 2013 memoir, L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food.)
While most people may know Choi as the founder of gourmet Korean taco truck, Kogi, the Angeleno is not only a seasoned chef but also an activist, as he applies his culinary background to help address the still-existent social disparity of food accessibility in L.A.
Since opening in 2013, Choi’s South Central L.A. restaurant, 3 Worlds Café, has partnered with nearby Jefferson High School to sell healthy, all-fruit smoothies, coffee and other items. The mission of the project is to create equitable access to healthy food and foster the development of young entrepreneurs. Choi is also preparing to open his fast food restaurant, loco’l, which will aim to serve healthier and affordable food options in Watts.
When asked what inspired the project, Choi replied, “They are my friends and family. I’m here to feed. That’s all. And I give a f—.”
The Redwood House (1945)
Recognizing that it’s a privilege to be able to dictate what is on the menu today, Choi wants those who visit the exhibit or pick up the book to get to know L.A. better, warts and all.
“You can see L.A., right before your eyes, grow through these menus and ask questions about what is and was and what is and isn’t,” he said.
For more information on To Live and Dine in L.A., visit its official website.
With additional reporting by the Associated Press. All images courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library.
We’ve seen water purifiers that double as a coffeemaker, but is humanity ready for a “ramen water purifier”?
Perhaps the Ramenia 21, an automated instant ramen cooker, is too much power for South Koreans to handle, as they already eat the most servings of ramenper year. Worry no more about overcooked noodles, veggie add-ons and the absolute perfection of a square of American cheese. That perfection is captured in the Ramenia 21.
You don’t even have to take the ramen out of its packaging. Insert the entire thing into a slot, like the video cassettes of yore, and the Ramenia 21 will take care of the rest.
It even detects the brand of ramen and plays the jingle of the brand’s commercial. No one can truly ever get Nong Shim Shin Ramen~ out of their head.
Once the Ramenia 21 has removed the contents from the packaging, its “smart package care” system will dispose of the wrappers in the only way possible–by folding them into ddakjis, or paper disks.
From there, it’s only a few more button presses. Break your ramen noodle block into halves or quarters, then select your noodle firmness (anything other than slightly undercooked makes you a barbarian).
Next, it’s time to tap into the topping combination system to choose which fresh veggies to add on. There’s none of that freeze-dried nonsense. Green onions aplenty, always; carrots when you feel like it; an egg, because the yolk is the best; onions if you’re not going out; sausages if you just don’t care anymore—the Ramenia 21 has everything. Of course, we can’t forget that final square of American cheese. Absolute perfection.
The Ramenia 21 is just that. Instant ramen never looked as good as it does on its packaging, until now.
The system also comes with a laser beam to cut your chopsticks perfectly down the middle. No more unbalanced chopsticks! However, the cutting process takes three minutes. Future Ramenia 21 iterations should have faster cutting speeds.
Oh, but what happens if you’re busy doing with an important task, such as binge-watching on Netflix, during the cutting process? No worries, the Ramenia 21’s drone delivery system has you covered.
The Ramenia 21 can be to ramen what the Keurig was to coffee. In that light, perhaps it’s a good thing that Ramenia 21 doesn’t exist in real life.
It seems as if we have another reason to scream for ice cream.
Chef Roy Choi and Portland-based ice cream company Salt & Straw have teamed up to bring forth a new flavor, and if you know anything about both of them, they know a thing or two about coming out of left field.
Papi’s Korean Fluffernutter joins an already delectable medley of flavors at Salt & Straw. It draws inspiration from the Korean spiced peanuts Choi ate as a child, and his reimagining sounds amazing. The peanut ice cream base is mixed with marshmallow fluff and blackberry jelly, infused with Thai spices and nut chunks, according to food blog Roaming Hunger.
In addition to the Fluffernutter, Salt & Straw founders, Kim and Tyler Malek, collaborated with Border Grill chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger to create a green corn tamales-flavored ice cream, fused with agave and candied corn.
It’s summer, which means it’s time to hit the beach and eat cool summer treats. Of course, in South Korea, nothing says summer treats more than patbingsu, or shaved ice.
This incredibly popular dessert can be found almost everywhere–in bakeries, hotels, specialty shops and street vendors. Traditionally, patbingsu consists of shaved ice and three other ingredients: red bean paste, rice cakes and ground nut powder. Fruits and ice cream are occasionally added for presentation and taste.
But according to Kotaku and Korean forumInstiz, several students at all-girls high schools have been adding a few more ingredients of their own.
Here’s what a traditional patbingsu looks like before it’s mixed:
Simple, cute, classic. Now, this is what these schoolgirls made:
I’m not sure whether I should be more impressed by the number of ingredients or the sheer massive size of the bowl. In the past few months, images of these female students’ hodgepodge of sweets have popped up on various Korean foodie sites like GreedEat and several Internet forums.
The ingredients seem to include tubs of ice cream, Peperos, cookies, chocolate bars and pretty much anything sugary enough to give you a heart attack.
This looks like an explosion of colors and future regrets.
Death by chocolate, anyone?
They really should have added more popsicles.
If you’re looking to create your own gigantic patbingsu, you’ll need a lot of ingredients and some hungry friends to help you finish the meal. Seriously, do not attempt to eat this junk food beast by yourself.
I counted, and there are 20 cups of nutella on that bench. No one needs that much nutella.
You pour everything into bowl like this…
Attack the bowl with your spoons!
Make sure to eat everything.
Lick the bowl clean if you have to. You don’t want to waste precious ingredients.
And you’re done! Good job, you’re a champion.
Many of these female students seemed to have participated in the giant patbingsu challenge to create memories and bond with their fellow classmates. You have to admit, the dessert is a pretty good dish for group study sessions.