|Chefs from different countries, including Alejandro Cuellar from Colombia, Karol Okrasa from Poland, Kang Gil-soo from Jeju Island, makes toast at gala dinner at Jeju Food and Wine Festival, Saturday./ Courtesy of Jeju Food and Wine Festival Organizing Committee.|
Art meets cuisine at 2019 Jeju Food and Wine Festival
By Jung Hae-myoung
Jeju Island ― In the southwestern part of Jeju island, about an hour away from Seongsang Ilchulbong Tuff Cone, there is an iconic cultural facility ― The Bonte Museum.
Last week, a creative, rare art-cuisine partnership was created there as a Spanish artist became a middleperson to help international chefs get inspiration from Jeju's female divers.
The brand-new museum, designed by globally-renowned architect Tadao Ando and opened to the public in 2012, attracted several rare visitors― chefs ― last week. They came to Jeju for the Jeju Food and Wine Festival (JFWF) that started a 10-day run from May 2.
Spanish artist Eva Armisen showcased her artwork featuring haenyeo, or female divers, who free-dive to gather abalone, sea urchins and other shellfish for a living.
Armisen said Wednesday that she became fascinated with the strong Jeju women when she first visited the southern scenic island about a decade ago.
|Eva Armisen, a Barcelona-based artist well-known for her artwork featuring "happiness," explains her paintings inspired by haenyeo, or traditional Korean female divers, to a group of chefs at The Bonte Museum on Jeju Island, Wednesday./ Korea Times photo by Jung Hae-myoung|
In 2016, she was determined to participate in the "haenyeo project." She lived on Udo Island northeast of Seongsan-ri for a month to observe the divers and their lifestyle on the island.
"I saw 95 women going down at the same time, and how they went down in the waters off Jeju Island was truly inspiring," Armisen said. "I was especially inspired and moved by how they interacted with nature. Their way of getting the ingredients is independent, strong and proud for women."
Armisen's haenyeo exhibition was held on the sidelines of the annual JFWF. International chefs, who participated in the festival, met the artist last week as the organizers invited them to the exhibition to spark inspiration for a possible collaboration between art and gourmet cuisine.
|Jeju Food and Wine Festival- Eva Armisen talks with Poland chef Karol Okrasa and Alejandro Cuellar from Colombia./ Korea Times photo by Jung Hae-myoung|
"I think haenyeo culture is very interesting. Most of young girls may think it as old-fashioned, but it can be their future and cultural heritage," one chef said, after hearing Armisen's speech.
Chefs participating in this event from abroad were Karol Okrasa from Poland, Edgar Quesada Pizarro from Spain, Tatsuhiro Takayama from Japan, and Alejandro Cuellar from Colombia. Okrasa and Cuellar were each recommended by their country's embassies as one of their "top chefs."
"I love food and wine, especially seafood. I remember the first time I ate conch here. It was really nice and one of the greatest experiences on Jeju Island," Armisen told the chefs.
Chefs made yeot, a kind of taffy made with pheasant meat, an indigenous snack that Jeju haenyeo love.
"Haenyeo often eat pheasant taffy to improve their respiratory system when they need energy after coming out of the water. They hold their breath while collecting shellfish underwater, so they burn out once their hours of work are done," said an organizer Kang Joon-nam.
Although making a dessert with meat may sound strange to foreign chefs who are unfamiliar with the local culture, some said they have food similar to the snack.
"We have similar-looking food in Poland. But it is sweeter than this one, because we use beat root instead of barley. Beat root gives a neat reaction of sweetness," Okrasa said, showing a picture of the Polish dessert.
Cuellar, from Colombia, showed great interest in making haenyeo's healthy food, noting, "It is very interesting that countries have similar food but use different ingredients to make the same taste. In South America we use sugar cane.
"For Poland people use beat root for sweetness, and for us we use sugar cane, so I guess in Korea they use barley to add sweetness," he said after tasting the yeot.
The chefs also had the opportunity to experience the haenyeo's work. They dived into the sea to see what it was like to gather shellfish while holding their breath. Some were excited about the experience and decided to try it again the next day.
|Chefs from Poland, Spain, Colombia and Japan taste raw octopus they caught in waters off Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone, Wednesday. They joined a haenyeo experience tour during the Jeju Food and Wine Festival held from Wednesday to Saturday. / Courtesy of Jeju Food and Wine Festival Organizing Committee|
Chefs searching for own ingredients were inspired by the Food and Wine Festival in Hawaii, where the whole festival is competition among them. Unlike the Hawaii festival, the Jeju organizers encouraged chefs to work together.
"When I first came to Korea, I saw so many cheap and low quality Spanish food which did not really show the gourmet culture of the country," said Pizarro, who has been running a Spanish restaurant in Seoul for three years, stressing the use of fresh ingredients.
"I have been searching for suppliers who can bring fresh ingredients for our restaurant and thought this festival could be a good opportunity to find one," Pizarro said.
Recently, he has been growing his own herbs and tomatoes in his garden for freshness, which is also the reason that he decided to take part in this festival.
For local Jeju chefs, interaction with nature is part of their lives.
"Piccola Cucina," an Italian restaurant run by chef Kang Gil-soo, makes food with ingredients that he cultivated. Although it may be slow, Kang's sincerely prepared tables have become one of locals' favorite restaurants.
"Due to the location of the restaurant, which sits in the middle of a wood on Jeju Island, the water supply is not stable. So we have to close our restaurant for a while during winter when heavy snow hits the island," Kang said. For him, the process of cooking justifies his dishes.
The festival was full of various types of interactions. Through the event, Jeju Island met Colombia, and local chefs were able to interact with global chefs. Nature met cuisine, and food and drinks were recreated.
Kim Sook-hee, the CEO of traditional liquor company Jeju Saemju, said she wanted to make variations by adding flavors to Korean traditional liquor when she first started her distillery.
"I wanted to make liquors that even people who do not drink would like to taste," Kim said. "Even though it is traditional, new perspectives and attempts are necessary," she added.
|Chefs prepares pork steak with abalone, local ingredients at Jeju Island, at Jeju Food and Wine Festival, Wednesday/ Korea Times photo by Jung Hae-myoung|
|Chef Edward Kwon prepares food for customers at his booth at garden dinner, one of the programs during the Jeju Food and Wine Festival 2019, Friday./ Courtesy of Jeju Food and Wine Festival Organizing Committee|
Mark Tetto, the representative of the United States in JTBC's talk show "Non-summit" was also invited to the event as a goodwill ambassador.
"Most people in the U.S. are only familiar with specific dishes in Korea, such as bulgogi and bibimbap," he said. "If you go to L.A. downtown the menus are already fixed, when there are so many dishes in Korea."
Tetto says he was deeply inspired by doenjang (traditional sauce made with fermented beans). "I think the history and the process of making food is the charm for Korean food," he said.
During the 10 days of Jeju Food and Wine Festival, around 15 top chefs introduced their dishes at the Garden Dinner and Gourmet Market where local Jeju residents could visit and taste the food made only from Jeju ingredients.
This is the fourth annual Jeju Food and Wine Festival, at which the organizing committee promotes 80 local restaurants in the area. On Thursday a Junior Chef Contest between university students who aspire to become chefs was held. Other programs included Chef Talk and Master Chef Class.