The Korean Cultural Centre was packed for a cookery demonstration by Master Chef Tony Yoo, executive chef at the Korean embassy, entitled Introducing Korean Cuisine.
Slightly to my surprise most of the audience were Koreans, who have possibly spent such a long time in Britain that they feel more at home making baked beans on toast than kimchi or bibimbap, and many of the young women seemed as interested in Tony’s youthful good looks as in his culinary skills.
Anyhow, Tony started out with acorn jelly with seasonal vegetables and sesame oil, which took me by surprise as I didn’t know acorns are edible, still less that they can be made into jelly. You don’t need to pick your own acorns, you can buy acorn powder in any Asian supermarket, or so Tony assured us (though I think it would help if it had a strong Korean section and wasn’t mainly Chinese or Japanese). The acorn powder is mixed with water and oil and pressed into moulds — highly decorative ones are sometimes used – and the result is a shiny, dark brown jelly. Frankly, I found it rather tasteless on its own but it’s normally served with fresh vegetables and herbs and a spicy sauce, which makes it much more interesting.
This was followed by anchovy and seaweed broth, made with dried anchovies which need to be headed and gutted, a rather fiddly job, but the result is no doubt delicious (I didn’t manage to get a taste unfortunately) and then a brief introduction to kimchi, the crowning glory of Korean cuisine. Ideally, kimchi, made with cabbage, garlic, vinegar and chilis, and other spices to taste, should be left to ferment at 10°C for about three weeks but there wasn’t time for that. Nevertheless Tony’s impromptu kimchi was pretty tasty even if I’m not convinced that if I were to try making it home it would be as pungent and authentic as the real Korean thing.
Finally Tony gave us a demonstration of how to make my favourite Korean food, bibimbap, a kind of spicy risotto which is at its best served scalding hot in an iron hotpot. A good bibimbap has well over a dozen ingredients including such esoteric items as bellflower roots and soaked bracken, but I found Tony’s introduction to this dish a bit sketchy and I don’t feel ready to try making this at home quite yet.
After the demonstration we were served with a tasty cold bibimbap, which I enjoyed so much that I helped myself to a second serving, with side dishes of kimchi and some slightly mysterious sauces. Tony came round to serve acorn jelly and to answer any questions, and everybody enjoyed a fascinating and delicious evening. We were given a booklet of recipes to take away and I’m sure the evening will inspire plenty of people will to experiment with Korean cuisine — though they may need to venture to New Malden to get hold of acorn powder and bellflower roots.