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Yun Seoul: Korean cuisine, embodied by chef's Madness to Ingredients

Yun Seoul represents Korean cuisine through the chef's passionate and innovative approach to ingredients.

In the vibrant dining scene of Seoul, Yun Seoul stands out as the most eccentric among the Korean food establishments. Recognized with a one-star rating by the Michelin Guide Seoul, Yun Seoul promises a "sophisticated yet outspoken experience of Korean food." Chef Doyun Kim, the mastermind behind the culinary creations at this restaurant, asserts that the essence of Korean cuisine lies in its seasonal ingredients. According to him, the diverse array of seasonal components embodies the true taste of Korea, and to capture it authentically, preserving the original flavors of the ingredients is paramount.

Kim, a self-taught culinary artist, recounts his humble beginnings, revealing that his foray into the culinary world was motivated by a need to overcome hunger. Reflecting on his journey, he shares, "It's been 30 years since I started cooking, back in 1992. Living alone at the time, I experienced about three days of hunger in a challenging situation. The desire to eat well led me to seek employment at a restaurant, and that's how I began my culinary journey. It wasn't a grand life plan; it just happened."

Recalling his early experiences, Kim expresses the joy he found in preparing his own meals at work, sharing with those around him. He stumbled upon his natural inclination for cooking through trial and error, experimenting with his own recipes to gauge taste and preferences.

His culinary expertise extends beyond Korean cuisine, encompassing Japanese, French, Italian, and more. His diverse background is rooted in a belief that good food requires a comprehensive understanding of various culinary traditions. Despite his extensive knowledge, Chef Doyun Kim remains humble, acknowledging that the learning process is never-ending. He emphasizes the importance of continually expanding his culinary knowledge, regardless of how much he has already acquired.

Throughout his culinary journey, Chef Doyun Kim has observed the significance of ingredients sourced from Korean soil. He emphasizes the pivotal role of ingredients in the culinary realm, asserting that understanding the environment and nature in which these elements thrive is more essential than adhering to a specific cooking style, whether it be French, Japanese, or Korean. This deep connection with ingredients has become a habit for him, developed over years of watching the growth and harvesting processes. Kim's dedication even led him to explore agricultural and marine products firsthand, embarking on a journey around the country to gain insights into their production. Reflecting on the challenges of the '90s, he recalls the scarcity of resources like photos and videos on the Internet, making his pursuit of knowledge a more hands-on and immersive experience.

Studying from the simplest ones

Sesame oil and perilla oil hold a fundamental place in Korean cuisine, being essential ingredients in every Korean household. However, the chef emphasizes that delving into the study of these basic elements reveals a wealth of knowledge waiting to be uncovered. Explaining further, the chef notes that perilla oil, for instance, is derived from dozens of perilla seeds, each possessing distinct characteristics. To truly understand Korean cuisine, the chef suggests exploring the commonalities and subtle differences among various ingredients.

For Chef Kim, ingredients transcend mere components of a dish; they serve as a profound source of inspiration and a guiding philosophy in cooking. He emphasizes the paramount importance of understanding the origin, variety, cultivation methods, distribution, and storage of ingredients. In Chef Kim's culinary approach, even the process of squeezing perilla oil becomes a meticulous task, with the oil no longer offered to customers once its scent fades or its quantity diminishes.

According to Chef Kim, the essence of a dish is ultimately embodied in its "scent." Authentic and natural aromas, not artificial ones, are integral to quality ingredients. He aspires to create an experience where even something as commonplace as noodles can evoke savory scents and flavors, offering a familiar yet novel sensation to the diners.

The chef's impressive aging process further sets his culinary approach apart. He reflects on the study of the essence of cooking, reminiscent of ancestral practices predating the advancements in technology and science. Over 300 glass bottles house an array of ingredients sourced from all corners of Korea. From drying fish by parts like fins and bones for broth to preserving and aging a variety of Korean wild vegetables, Chef Kim's methods involve traditional techniques infused with his innovative ideas. The chef, along with fellow culinary enthusiasts, actively participates in seminars to exchange knowledge and opinions, collectively contributing to the exploration of preserving, drying, aging, fermenting, and experimenting with numerous ingredients, be they fruits, meat, or fish.

What you expect on the table...

Yun Seoul's culinary journey commences with a focus on dried and preserved ingredients. The array of small bites includes dry-aged Korean squid, shrimp, scallops, and Korean beef jerky, each offering a delightful combination of moderately soft yet firm texture and unique flavors.

Moving on to the next delicacy, the Stella-maris type oyster, cultivated in Tongyeong, undergoes a distinct preparation process. After a brief blanching, the oysters age with gochujang (Korean chili paste) for three days, culminating in a finish with frozen extra virgin olive oil. The slightly spicy notes of gochujang harmonize with the clean taste of the oysters, complemented by the body texture imparted by the olive oil with a bitter aftertaste. This unique combination presents a distinctly Korean taste and style.

The subsequent offerings feature handcrafted tarts made with familiar grains—mung beans and whole wheat. These tarts are thoughtfully paired with dried-aged local fish, blackfin tuna, boiled radish, and bean sprouts. Drawing inspiration from Korean culinary tradition, the fusion of fish and radish is reimagined as a Western-style bite. Additionally, tarts with shrimp and soy sauce themes add a flavorful touch, stimulating the palate.

The culinary journey continues with a porridge that deviates from the conventional rice-based recipe. Devoid of rice, this porridge features potatoes and zucchini boiled in doenjang (soybean paste) and is topped with steamed eggs infused with dried seafood stock. Accompanied by two crunchy pickles, this dish provides a comforting and distinctly Korean experience.

A highlight of Yun Seoul's menu is 'myeon,' meaning noodles. Chef Kim reflects on his 14-year exploration into noodle-making, noting that while noodles enjoy widespread popularity in Asia, many are often crafted with additives for elasticity. Seeking a purer and more comfortable alternative, Chef Kim ventured to Taiwan, Japan, and China to study noodle-making techniques without additives. In the 1980s, the introduction of cheap, high-quality American flour led to a decline in the production of local flour in Korea. Despite the challenges of that time, Chef Kim aimed to showcase something fresh with a subtle, natural scent, breaking away from the limitations of old flour.

Crafting noodles at Yun Seoul is no ordinary task. With a basic dough requirement of about 2kg, Chef Kim recalls days spent testing and revising the noodle recipe, fully immersed in thoughts about noodles. The quest was to elevate noodles to the forefront, making them the main characters rather than merely supporting toppings. The result is Yun Seoul's distinctive noodle dish, where the broth is prepared using dried and aged ingredients, avoiding industrial products. Chef Kim reminisces about the joy when a customer smiled while savoring the standalone noodle dish.

The Yun Seoul noodle dish has evolved with a new version, featuring slightly thicker noodles this season, maintaining the same delectable taste. The noodles, subtly flavored with perilla oil, are the star of the show.

The menu continues with a fusion dish incorporating Western cooking ideas—a cow's spine served with sesame oil and lemon zest-infused custard cream, sous vide-cooked and topped with caviar. This dish is meant for sharing, echoing the communal nature of typical Korean dining. It showcases an array of ingredients, including scallops, octopus, yellow stingray, Korean beef feet jelly, conch, and horse mackerel, reflecting a Korean culinary approach within a fine dining setting.

Dumplings, a staple in Korean cuisine, take an avant-garde twist as they are deconstructed and presented with each element separately. The dish features radishes, abalone, boiled pork, meatballs, and eggs covered with dumpling skin and served with warm soup made from anchovies and mushrooms.

Dried-aged tilefish is next, cured in green tea water mixed with salt, adding elasticity to its texture. It is accompanied by the local ingredient "Heukgaeng Rice."

A dish familiar to Koreans and evoking festive memories is the steamed pork belly, boiled and sliced, served with homemade gochujang and various kimchi. Steamed cow tails accompany Korean beef steak, offering a delicacy akin to sirloin steak.

The meal concludes with the quintessential Korean combination of rice, soup, and side dishes. Seafood like shrimp, scallops, and abalone are mixed with beef to create a flavorful broth. Over 13 types of kimchi, grilled eel, braised beef, and salted sea squirt make up the diverse array of side dishes.

For dessert, three unique ice cream flavors—gochujang, dried veggie, and joined chestnut—add a sweet note. Paired with warm seasonal tea, these ice creams offer a delightful conclusion to the Yun Seoul dining experience.

Yun Seoul, with its fascinating culinary offerings, stands as a compelling choice for those seeking a unique and interesting Korean dining experience. Chef Kim's passion for diverse ingredients and his innovative approach to reinventing Korean flavors while preserving their essence make Yun Seoul a must-try destination for culinary enthusiasts.


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