Korean food aficionados will most likely have been to many Korean restaurants, but how often have you tried making your favourite dishes yourself? Or do you know how, or want to know how to make them? The MASSIVE got in touch with Korean chef, teacher, and all round food lover, the lovely Kiejo Sarsfield to find out more about her and the classes she provides.
Kiejo is an experienced cook, who is not only keen on bringing Korean food to the West, but wants to introduce Korean people to our own British food. Her recipe book Cooking for my Family, has now been printed in Korean, so soon the delights of the Sunday roast will find its way onto the tables of Koreans everywhere!
Kiejo provides classes in cooking Korean food regularly, and for anyone who’s been itching to try making one of their favourite Korean dishes themselves, but isn’t too confident about using unfamiliar techniques or ingredients, Kiejo will be the perfect instructor for you.
We asked Kiejo a few questions about her love of food and about teaching, so read on!
-Where did you first learn to cook? From family or are you professionally trained?
From my Mum. I had a big family and Mum was an excellent cook and my Dad was a big foodie. As my Father was a head of a clan, we used to have a lots of people gathering in my house. I remember my Mum and house keeper were forever cooking. My hometown, Masan, Southeast of Korea is foodie town, seafood and fish are well known. I loved daily visits to the local food market as a little girl with my Mum, still I love any food market, but sadly in UK market culture are not strong as France, Spain. I never trained but had Indian, Mexican, Italian cookery courses.
-What do you find so appealing about cooking?
Cooking is very therapeutic and I love the creative process of cooking and planning. I love to find certain ingredients in the shops or market unexpectedly and go home and cook and often experiment. Cooking is art and science together.
-You’ve been in the UK for over 21 years now, so you’ll be well used to all the food here. When you first moved over and experienced British cuisine, what were your first thoughts? Did you hate it, like it, think it’s plain etc?I left Seoul. 1980, to Hong Kong. Hong Kong was British colony then. First time real British food I had in Hong kong was Roast beef with horse radish sauce, I thought it was delicious specially and I fell in love with horse radish sauce. Vegetables needs some help I thought. I loved gravey. I think British cuisine use more spices than Korean, being not spicy (hot) is not plain. Horse radish, English mustard and malt vinegar, worcestershire sauce, HP sauce are deeply rooted in British food. How can it be plain with these sauces.
-You seem to have traveled around a lot and lived in quite a few countries. Apart from Korean, what country’s cuisine do you like the most and why?
At the moment, I love Spanish cuisine, very interesting. Moorish, rustic side of cuisine attracts me most. I love to travel inland of Spain, look and learn more about this earthy food.
-What made you start your Korean cookery lessons?
Well, by accident. Watching a Chinese TV chef making kimchi without any understanding and very wrongly, this makes me so upset and send a long email to the TV station about Kimchi making, no reply. I thought about doing korean cookery then but by sheer accident, an Asian Australian asked me have Korean cookery course and she brought her Melbourne Expatriates friends as well and they spread the words about me. Of course Korean link article was a help, not having website.
-What kinds of people do you find coming to your classes mostly? Korean people, or English people interested in learning Korean cooking?
They are mostly high flying professionals in London, 30 something generation. I think most of them have seen Korean food through Korean movies and drama specially Australian Asian are very keen. Even I had a few Korean Australians. A few English are coming but not so many, Japanese, Italian and Spanish, Indian are very interested in Korean food as well.
-You have weekly cookery classes at the moment, do you have any plans for the future in your lessons i.e. expanding the number of lessons or the cookery classes in Korean like you mentioned in your email?
I do not think I can expand to weekday because no demand but I do by request sometimes. These days I am not doing every weekend, perhaps twice a month. Luckily this is not a job, more like a hobby. I love to open the course in Korean to Korean language students, it will be a such fun for both.
-Have you ever thought about opening your own restaurant etc?
Opening Restaurant is not a my plan or wish but I may open Secret Korean Dinning club time to time.
–What do you think of the selection of Korean restaurants that we have in the UK? Having never been to Korea, can you tell us how authentic the food is? Do you have any specific restaurant recommendations?
I have not been too many Korean restaurants here, all meat dishes are authentic, some seafood are difficult because some are simply not available. I miss seasonal vegetables, mostly early spring vegetables. Restaurants in New Malden area are more generous with side dishes. A few my students are unhappy about this trend, to pay side dishes in London Korean Restaurants.
-Have you come across many misconceptions that British people have about Korean food?
They think Korean food is spicy like Thai. They are all pleasantly surprised by variety of dishes are available, spicy and mild.
-How do you think Korean food is doing in the UK at the moment? Is it becoming more popular, more trendy etc?
I think Korean food is getting lots of attention from young people which is a good sign, and some chefs are also interested in Korean food. Hopefully Korean food will be as popular as Japanese food here.
-For someone who’s never eaten Korean food before, which dishes would you say they should try first?
Seafood: Seafood pancake (Haemul pajeon)
Meat: Bulgogi or Kalbgui / grilled thin beef, grilled short rib of beef
Soup: Sulleongtang ( Beef bone soup)
Kimchi: Stuffed cucumber kimchi or mild kimchi. cucumber salad
-What are your essential Korean foods that people should have in their cupboards at all times?
Good soy sauce (light and dark), bean paste. Sun dried Korean Chilli and chilli paste (Gochujang). Sesame oil, toasted sesame seed, ginger and garlic.
-You’ve written a book in Korean about British food, are Korean people interested in British food? What are some stereotypical thoughts about British food that Koreans have? Have you had to alter any recipes slightly to cater more for the Korean taste buds?
They think British food is plain, they know Roast beef and Yorkshire puding, Fish and Chips. But as soon as I show them Roast Chicken with sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, they like to know more. My recipes are based on classics but I use more garlic and some dry chilli in certain dishes. I think understanding food culture is very important, to reading books even appreciating all kind of art. How would they understand boiled egg and soldier? If you do not have culinary knowledge, I can not bear to think how they would translate those, that’s why I explain in my book.
-What British dishes have you included in this cookery book and are they your British favourites? Are there any British dishes that you don’t particularly like or too scared to try? For example Blood pudding?
All of classics, all kind of breakfast, Sunday Roast (beef, chicken, pork, lamb), pies (steak& kidney), oxtail and kidney pudding, cornish pasty, Beef Stew, all British classics. Mind you, I am cooking English food most of time after all I married to an English guy. All dishes are ones I’ve cooked for my Family. Some are my own invention like Grilled razor clam with my own pesto. I wrote about my family’s Christmas dinner and customs in here. Black pudding is not scary to the Korean at all. We have very famous Korean Hangover soup made with cow or pig’s blood and also have kind of black pudding, stuffed with rice like Spanish one. I cook black pudding for weekend breakfast, if I can get hold very good one and with scallops as a starter. My deviled lamb’s Kidney is family’s favourite.
-Do you have any plans to write a book for English speaking people on Korean food and with Korean recipes?
Yes, I am writing but I do not have any offer from publishers, I may have to self-publish as well. It will be easy Korean Home food with my food story in it. Well, I am not famous enough to get an offer. I do have a few ideas of cook book for my children as well.
We hope Kiejo gets an offer from a publisher soon, as we’d love to be able to have her Korean recipes at on hand at home. There’s a real lack of Korean recipes books available in the main bookshop chains in the UK, so to any publishers reading (unlikely, but still!), Kiejo would be the perfect person to get in touch with!
If you’re interested in attending one of Kiejo’s classes that take place in London, please email her at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org asking about times, dates etc. There’s so doubt you’ll have a great time!
You too will be able to make dishes like this with Kiejo’s help!
A big ‘Thank You’ to Kiejo for answering our questions and providing pictures. We hope to see your books in the shops soon!