It's taken 15 years for chef Insup Kim to be able to cook the food of his homeland in a professional kitchen.
The 35-year-old left Korea when he was 20 to study at the Culinary Institute of America before cooking Italian food at Babbo restaurant in New York and modern Australian food at Altitude in Sydney. Now, he's finally cooking contemporary Korean food at Jung Sung in Chippendale in Sydney.
Jung Sung's menu incorporates classic Korean flavours, such as perilla, sesame and gochujang, with fermenting and pickling methods (staples during wartime), French technique and Australian native ingredients.
It's a new kind of Korean dining experience, but Kim says the dishes are based on the food he remembers growing up.
"Mum would make a different type of bibimbap, she would steam the rice and marinate the prawn in soy and now I use a soy-marinated Balmain bug and puffed grains to add texture to the dish. Flavour-wise it is basically coming from Mum and then I added technique to the menu," he says.
Kim's mother was a driving force behind his career.
"When I was a kid, 12 or 11, when my cousins come to my house, I used to cook for them. I really liked it. My mum pushed me to go to culinary high school, which we didn't have in our town, so I postponed it and started military service, and then decided I wanted to be a chef," Kim says.
Kim's paternal grandmother was from North Korea and many of the recipes his mother made came from her. One of his favourites was a mung bean pancake.
"She used to make it a lot when I was at home. It's kimchi, beansprouts, pork mince and pork fat. Normally, when people cook the pancake they use oil, but she used lard, which is rendered pork fat which is a lot of flavour inside," he says. "I sometimes cook it now for my wife and my family. It tastes a little bit different, I think she maybe put more love on it."
He thinks the secret is that his mother always went to the effort of rendering her own pork fat.
"It is hard to render the fat. She always buys some pork leg meat, she renders it and uses it instead of oil. It is quite traditional, not a lot of people cook like that at home, it is a lot of effort. I always love the fat from the pork or beef, animal fat has a lot of flavour when you cook it," he says.
"I always love the fat from the pork or beef, animal fat has a lot of flavour when you cook it."
Another favourite dish of Kim's childhood was cold buckwheat noodles, which his grandmother would make in summer.
"There's a buckwheat noodle you can find in a Korean barbecue restaurant. She makes a white version of kimchi with radish and always use that liquid with the beef brisket stock to mix half-half. She keeps it ice cold," he says.
"She used to make cucumber kimchi for that dish, always. I use that on the menu. Cucumber is fresh and doesn't have a long fermentation period, can be eaten the next day and still has a lot of flavour."
Kim says there's a reason his grandmother was a good cook. She was from the north.
"North Korean cuisine is more delicious. People say that North Korean women are more beautiful and the food is better. It might be some weather or plenty of good soil, before (the Korean war) not now. Maybe more rich people used to live in North Korea, some dishes are really famous," he says. These include a pig blood pancake and pigeon, two ingredients that are unusual in the south.
When people think of kimchi, they think of cabbage, but Kim says any vegetable can be fermented to make kimchi, such as daikon or radish. One of his favourites is Brussels sprouts.
"I make my own gochujang chilli paste and use it for making a Brussels sprouts kimchi. It's not very common because no Brussels sprouts in Korea but I know the flavours of Korea and using local Australian ingredients is an attractive thing," he says.
"Always whatever I cook, the ingredients must be fresh first and really tasty. If not right or not fresh, it doesn't really taste good. It has to be super fresh and anything local and native from Australia I tried to put them in a Korean dish or technique."
"I want to introduce Korean food to deliver a unique experience."
Traditional Korean techniques of ageing and fermentation and his mum's preference for rendering pork fat are prevalent throughout Jung Sung's menu.
"We use two types, belly and pork jowl. Koreans love pork jowl, it is underappreciated on the market. The belly is sous vide overnight for 12 hours then cool down and puff the skin. For the pork jowl, I cut off as much fat as possible, render it so fat is super tasty and cook it on the charcoal grill to finish. I serve it with Brussels sprout kimchi and I love matching it with pear, I blend it and put it in kimchi," Kim says.
"I want to introduce Korean food to deliver a unique experience, not traditionally Korean but another version rather than the barbecue restaurants."
Soy-marinated seafood bibimbap
The soy-marinated Moreton Bay bug bibimbap at Jung Sung uses Kim's mother's recipe for soy-marinated prawns, plus French techniques for the garnishes. There are several steps to prepare each garnish, but consider yourself worth all the effort.
Soy marinated prawns
- 3 kg of sashimi-grade King prawns
- 600 g soy sauce
- 400 g kelp stock
- 80 g sugar
- 80 g Korean mirin
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 red chillies
- 2 g ginger
- 4 g apple vinegar
1. To make the marinade, mix all the ingredients, except the prawns, in a pot and bring it up to boil before cooling it in the fridge.
2. Pour the marinade liquid on top of the prawns so they are completely covered and keep in the fridge for 12 hours.
3. Repeat the previous step; drain the liquid, bring it up to boil, cool it down then pour over the prawns. Age it for minimum of 12 hours and it is ready to eat.
- 20 g soy-marinated Moreton Bay bug (or prawns)
- 40 g steamed short-grain rice
- 5 g poached egg yolk
- 5 g poached egg white
- 5 g puffed buckwheat
- 5 g puffed quinoa
- 2 g thinly sliced brown onion
- 1 g micro chives
- 1 g sesame seed
- 1 g seaweed powder
- 1 g butter
- 4 leaves garlic flower
- 1 g cold compressed sesame oil
1. For the puffed buckwheat and quinoa, bring three litres of water to boil in two pots so you can cook quinoa and buckwheat separately for 10 minutes. Drain the water and rinse them under running water two times.
2. Dehydrate quinoa and buckwheat in an 80C oven for 6 hours until completely dry. Heat up a pot of oil to 200C and fry quinoa and buckwheat for three seconds until they puff up, then season with salt.
3. For the poached egg, cook the egg in boiling water for 10 minutes and cool down in ice water. Peel the skin and separate egg white and yolk. Pass them through a drum sieve, separately.
4. To assemble the dish, mix steamed rice, butter, seaweed powder and liquid from bug or prawn as a seasoning in a mixing bowl.
5. Add the rice, marinated seafood, puffed quinoa, puffed buckwheat, egg white, egg yolk, onion, micro chives and garlic flower. The sesame oil is served on the side.
- 6 large cucumbers
- 2 tbsp
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 6 tbsp Korean chilli powder
- 2 tbsp Korean fermented anchovy
- 1 tbsp Korean fermented krill
- 3 tbsp plum extract
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp sesame seed
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1.5 tbsp minced garlic
1. Peel the cucumbers, cut in half length-wise and then in half-centimetre slices. Add salt, sugar and mix well so that the cucumber is pickled evenly. Set aside for one hour.
2. Mix all the other ingredients for the kimchi sauce in a separate mixing bowl.
3. Rinse the cucumber in water to remove the salt and sugar mix and gently squeeze the cucumber to remove as much water as possible.
4. Combine the pickled cucumber and kimchi sauce.
5. Keep it at room temperature for three hours then move to the fridge to age for 24 hours before serving.
These pancakes are one of the easiest things you will ever make. The batter keeps well in the fridge for a few days, so only cook what you need when you need it.