Inkun Kim, 26, from Seoul, Korea, is the newest chef to have joined the Dining Room (or as many locals still know it, Arthur Purchase’s) in a beautiful Georgian building on Chichester, West Sussex. And he’s already put kimbap on the menu. I’m impressed.
He graduated at Korea Culinary Arts Science High School, the best of its kind in South Korea, and trained in Sydney’s Three-Michelin-Star Bilson’s. His first job at 17 was at the prestigious Westin COEX Hotel, Seoul. For his two years military service, he was private chef to the minister. He’s earned those nasty-looking kitchen burn-scars up his forearms.
Because he studied cooking instead of English at school, last year he started taking a course in English at an institute in downtown Seoul, in addition to working long hours as a chef. He was sleeping only three hours a night and not eating properly, and eventually he collapsed one day and was taken to hospital.
When he recovered, he spent two months travelling around his own country and then decided to go and live somewhere far away. Not a big capital city like London or Sydney, where everything’s too loud and aggressive. He gets enough of shouting working in an upscale kitchen. And not in New Malden, surrounded by other Koreans, either, because the whole point was to experience something completely different.
‘In Chichester I can think, I have time for me.’ He started out studying Hospitality at Chichester College and met a group of Korean students who begged him to make kimchi, gochujang and doenjang for them. Are you good at making them, I ask, thinking he’s been cooking in international restaurants for a while now.
‘Yes,’ he says, ‘I learned from my mother.’ These essentials of Korean cuisine are passed down from generation to generation within a family.
‘So many foreigners think Korean food is dangerous,’ he says. Really? ‘They think because it is cooked for a long time, left for a long time to ferment, it cannot be good or healthy!’
He’s also found many foreigners found Korean food too spicy, though I’m surprised, as it really isn’t, and so many Brits like spicy food. So what about that kimbap on the summer menu of perhaps the oldest, most established restaurant in Chichester? Or ‘Rolls of Seasonal Vegetables and rice wrapped in seaweed with crispy sweet potato and celeriac puree, finished with a Radish and sesame dressing’.
‘Before our vegetarian main course was pesto pasta, which used lots of oil. Kimbap is very healthy: seaweed, fresh vegetables, ginger…’
I say if he can encourage British people to eat seaweed, I’ll be very happy. Why, when we live on an island, don’t we eat such a great source of nutrients?
‘Yes, you know, there is… samphire? No-one complained yet about the seaweed – we will see!’