Photo by James T. Murray
This summer Marja Vongerichten launched Kimchi Chronicles, a PBS series of her culinary journeys with her chef husband, Jean-Georges, through Korea’s markets, farms and restaurants. Half Korean and adopted at age 3, Marja has been rediscovering her roots since meeting her birth mother in 1995. With her newfound knowledge, Marja also published The Kimchi Chronicles cookbook (Rodale) in August. Here, she shares her thoughts on Korea.
Q: After spending so much time in Korea, how would you describe it?
A: The people are warm and as curious about you as you are of them. In the U.S., when people think of Korea, they think of the North. Most have no idea that South Korea is the size of Kentucky. Yet out of this small nation, we’ve become a leader in auto and electronics. And our history is filled with amazing stories about kings and queens and famous courtesans.
Q: Korea’s often overlooked as a travel destination. Would you recommend it?
A: It’s one of my favorite places to vacation. Korea is mountainous, so for outdoorsy types, there’s hiking, temple stays and camping, and the beach is never far away. If you like fast-paced, go to Seoul or Busan [in the south]. The language barrier is challenging, but there are lots of translation apps.
Q: What’s a favorite dish of yours?
A: My must-have is the kalchi jorim, braised belt fish in a spicy sauce with daikon.
Q: Has Jean-Georges incorporated Korean food into his menus?
A: He makes a steak with gochujang butter at Perry Street and a kimchi hot dog at Mercer Kitchen. I think I influence his cooking…I just let him think it was all his idea!