Cooler Kitchen traveled to South Korea this summer, which was an amazing experience that we’ve previously posted a lot about. We learned about O’ngo Korean Culinary School while cruising Trip Advisor for fun food oriented adventures in Seoul. I emailed with Chef Yebin Lee about whether I should take the beginning or intermediate class, and she very graciously suggested that it would be best for me to enroll in the beginning level class. I’m so glad that she steered me in this direction, because it turned out that I had so much to learn ahead of me! I am an experienced home cook here at the Cooler Kitchen headquarters in NYC, but I had never tried my hand at Korean cuisine. More than just learning recipes, I learned so much about Korean culture and history by taking the class.
Yebin is one of the most interesting and enthusiastic instructors I’ve ever had across all areas of study I’ve ever undertaken. She is very knowledgeable and passionate about Korean cuisine, and it turns out that she actually lived in California for several years and had a strong sense of where I was coming from with my Western culinary experience. She instructed and demonstrated while us students tried the steps hands on.
Meanwhile, there were two other chefs in the kitchen who helped keep us on track, removed used dishes and utensils, and took lots of great pictures as we cooked (the whole time I thought, I could get used to this!).
One of the cooking lessons that she taught us I will never forget. Yebin was instructing us how to make kimchi by stuffing our freshly mixed chili paste into the layers of a cabbage. She described that it was not enough to just assemble the kimchi, but in order for it to taste good you also need to feel happy while you do it. It’s true that mushing a cabbage can take you out of your comfort zone if you’ve never done it before, and I have spent so much time of my own cooking experience by following directions, setting timers, and connecting with ingredients through instruments and utensils (yes, like 9″ EZ Grip Silicone Tongs). Massaging kimchi into cabbage is not an exact science, and there’s no way to do it well without love and care in your heart, otherwise you will never saturate the cabbage with enough of the paste. The smell of the chili is intense and brings you right down to earth, right into the moment you are in. It’s remarkably meditative. I loved it.
At the end of the class, the chefs prepared an elegant lunch spread for us while we ate the food that we cooked, which included beef bulgogi, kimchi pancake, and a simple traditional banchan spread which included kimchi, sesame leaves, rice, pickled vegetables and chili sauce.
Yebin also gives you the kimchi that you made to take with you and enjoy in 3 days so it has time to ferment properly, as well as the recipes of what you cooked so you can continue to use the skills that you learned in the class.
As I mentioned before, O’ngo is highly rated on Trip Advisor, and they also have a beautiful website with all kinds of useful information about the different classes and programs that O’ngo offers. (http://www.ongofood.com/cooking-class/) They also host night market tours which I now wish we had been able to partake in during our time in Seoul. We hope to make it back to Korea soon, and if you find yourself in Seoul I can’t recommend this cooking class more.
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