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Seventh Door: flavor sentation of fermentation



The joy of fine dining goes beyond merely "What's on the table." The story about the chef is integral to the experience. While expensive fine dining is expected to feature "well-made food" with "good ingredients," simply observing it might cause you to overlook crucial elements. Fine dining, in essence, is an expression and at times a performance by an artist, the chef, conveyed through the medium of food.




Chef Daechun Kim is a prime example. Although it's challenging to envision him without his cooking uniform now, as a teenager, he never harbored dreams of becoming a chef. Instead, he was a drummer with a passion for rock music. His journey to Japan at the age of 24 to study music exposed him to the culinary delights of the country. Perhaps it was this exposure that fueled his decision to embark on a lifelong career in cooking.


Kim commenced his culinary journey at a later age, enrolling in the Tokyo Culinary School in Japan. His career blossomed across various establishments, from Japanese to French fine dining restaurants. This diversity is reflected in the chef's dishes, which boast an array of recipes, spanning from delectable pasta to well-aged fish like sushiya and intricate French techniques.


Returning to Korea after leaving behind his life in Japan, Chef Kim founded Toc Toc in 2013 with a determination to "cook as he wants" after gaining experience in diverse restaurants. This marked the establishment of casual dining in Korea—a space where individuals in their 20s and men in their 50s could comfortably savor gourmet food, escaping the heaviness of formality. However, Chef Kim's desire for a more sophisticated gourmet experience led to the creation of his fine dining outlet, "Seventh Door," in 2020.


The name itself, the Seventh Door, holds unique significance. It is described as the seventh door for diners to open after a process of fermentation and aging, incorporating five flavors. The entrance is designed to guide patrons through six pillars before entering the seventh door.




Once seated, a French luxury plate named Bernardo is presented as a show plate. A collaborative petri collection by Vik Muniz and Tal Danino, depicting bacteria under a magnifying glass, complements the theme of fermentation seamlessly.

The culinary journey unfolds with the first dish, 'Jjuk' (rice porridge), a creation that varies with the seasons. The chef reminisces about his childhood, emphasizing the warmth and love associated with the porridge made by his father. This sentimental touch sets the stage for the first course, and I thoroughly enjoyed the savory and comforting depth it provided.


Moving on, the second course comprises an array of small dishes, offering bite-sized delights that span a spectrum of fermented and mature flavors. From crispy to soft and melted textures, the dishes present a delightful interplay of salty, sweet, light, and sour notes. Accompanied by a glass of champagne, the experience is elevated to new heights.


The initial small dish is the 'Chodang Corn Barbarua' with blue crab. Notably, the chef personally cultivated the Chodang corn on his farm, introducing rare seeds like multicolored radish to diversify the produce. The Barbarua, a French dessert transformed into an appetizer, combines soft sweetness with the richness of savory corn and crab meat.




Following this, a hot rice yeast bread, served in a stove slightly smaller than a fist, makes its appearance. Accompanied by plum syrup and non-fertilized perilla oil, the combination of sour plum and subtly savory perilla oil creates a delightful harmony, reminiscent of the balsamic and olive oil pairing in Italian restaurants. I found myself savoring every bite, finishing it before realizing.


The next offering showcases seasonal fish with a familiar sauce—Ssamjang! In Busan, people prefer seasoned ssamjang over red pepper paste or soy sauce when enjoying raw fish. This unexpected Korean twist is sure to surprise international food enthusiasts. The 'bunsik' menu follows, displaying the chef's wit through the luxurious Truffle Tteokbokki with condensed truffle flavor.


The dining space features a half-open kitchen, resembling a stage where the chef takes center spotlight. Here, the chef personally grills large abalone, enveloping the surroundings in the irresistible aroma of abalone grilling. To enhance the flavor, dried pollack powder is delicately applied to the abalone, adding an extra layer of depth to the sensory experience.

 

Following the oriental melon sikhye, the culinary journey advances to the full-fledged main menu. Typically, French fine dining features sorbet at this stage, but Chef Daecheon opts for "sikhye" instead, providing a less sweet and more comfortable palate experience.




Now, the much-anticipated main dish takes center stage! A meticulously grilled oyster blade of Hanwoo, Korean beef, exudes a smoky aroma. The specific cut of beef varies depending on the day's aging situation, adorned with a rich and savory sauce based on soy sauce, making it the highlight of Seventh Door.




In the realm of restaurants, where Korean beef often graces the main dish, this Hanwoo steak stands out as the true star of Seventh Door. Its impact is particularly evident in terms of taste. The thick-looking sauce at the base is a fusion of Hanwoo and salted hairtail sauce aged for over three years, delivering a savory experience that tingles the taste buds. It transcends the typical steak encounter, earning acclaim as the "best steak of life." This is not the toughness of an American steak or the delicacy of a well-roasted French steak but rather a "fermented and aged Hanwoo steak" imbued with the chef's distinct personality.




Moving forward, Chef Kim crafts gimbap, drawing on his name 'Kim Daechun'—or 'Daechun Kim' in English. This delectable gimbap, based on the familiar Daechun gim found in Korean households, features two key ingredients: caviar, a globally cherished delicacy, and eggs of soy sauce-marinated crab, a Korean favorite. A simple composition of white rice, caviar atop, and a piece of soy sauce-marinated crab showcases the aesthetics of simplicity. While the taste aligns with expectations for those familiar with it, foreigners reportedly find the soy sauce-marinated crab surprising.


Subsequently, anchovy noodle soup makes its appearance. The traditional noodles, infused with a flavorful anchovy and shrimp stock, emphasize the chef's commitment to showcasing Korean culinary roots. The concluding touch is a seasonal dessert—the intriguing 'water jelly.' With its light and clean taste, this dessert serves as a refreshing palate cleanser. The culinary odyssey culminates with two simple yet satisfying refreshments.

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