Monday, March 09, 2009

The New Hot Cuisine: Korean

The noted Chicago eatery Blackbird has kimchi on the menu, and California Pizza Kitchen is developing Korean barbecue beef pizza. In Los Angeles, crowds are lining up for street food from a pair of Korean taco trucks called Kogi. The slightly sour-tasting Korean frozen yogurt served at the Pinkberry and Red Mango chains has inspired many imitators.

Redolent with garlic, sesame oil and red chili peppers, Korean food is suddenly everywhere.

It's even on the packaged-food industry's radar. "Last year, mostly what we saw in our database was Korean food at authentic ethnic places," says Cindy Ayers, vice president of Campbell's Kitchen, which tracks trends for new-product development at Campbell Soup Co. This year, she says, she's seen Korean flavors appearing on both high-end menus and in casual, nonethnic restaurants in cities like Minneapolis and Des Moines, Iowa -- a sign Korean is starting to catch on.

Last fall, a South Korean government minister announced an effort to make Korean one of the world's most-famous cuisines -- and increase export opportunities for the country. The move includes encouraging the renovation of Korean restaurants overseas by making low-interest loans available to restaurant owners and paying consultants' fees. Says Sang Yoon, a French-trained chef who owns the Father's Office gastropubs in the Los Angeles area: "I think everyone's sort of gone through Japanese and Chinese and Vietnamese," he says. "I think we're next."

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