“……What can I do? It is my job.”
Jo Minjun answered in a disappointed voice. Ella turned her head and glared sharply at Kaya. Anderson picked up some japchae with his chopsticks before starting to speak.
“You really feel like you are being served a feast when there are so many dishes like this. But …… I feel like it is too extravagant at the same time. There is too much that I feel like I can’t even try everything before I get full.”
“There is something I heard in the past. My country used to have a lot of economic problems until only a few decades ago. There weren’t many people who could eat until they were completely full. That was why there was a lot of longing and desire for food. Of course, I haven’t personally experienced that time …… but anyways, for the young people who lived through that time, having such a feast that seems like it would be impossible to finish brought an unbelievable sense of happiness for them.”
“I know what that feels like.”
Kaya started to speak with a bitter smile. Jo Minjun looked toward Kaya. Kaya looked around the table with a nostalgic gaze.
“Even if the world has gotten better, the poor people are still poor. And the biggest issue for the poor is always food. Eating a little more of something even if it tastes terrible. Eating like that was our way of relieving stress. That is why …… I like this spread. My dream was to be able to eat a lot of delicious food.”
Chloe patted Kaya’s shoulder with pity. Kaya continued in a mischievous tone.
“But now, I am able to eat at a place like this. I guess even I have succeeded in a way.”
“No need to guess. You have succeeded in a very cool way.”
Jo Minjun smiled as he responded. Kaya lightly smiled before caressing Jo Minjun’s calf with her toes, as if she was saying thanks. Jo Minjun suddenly became nervous and looked around at the others. It was obvious to say that nobody else had realized what happened. Jo Minjun let out a cough before starting to speak.
“What are your thoughts about the food you ate? Lisa, what do you like the most?”
“For me ……I like this one the most.”
Lisa lifted up her chopsticks and pointed at a dish. The dish she was pointing to was not what Jo Minjun expected. Jo Minjun asked with surprise.
“Yes. I can feel that they put in a lot of time and effort for this dish. I don’t know what kind of herb they boiled with it, but it is quite memorable because it smells like a tree …… I feel like it brings out the unique nature of Korean food.”
“What do you think is the unique nature of Korean food?”
“For Korean food, wouldn’t it have to be slow food?”
“…Mm. That is similar to my opinion as well. I think that the most charismatic part of Korean food is in the broth. As for this samgyetang, for being a broth dish, they probably didn’t boil it for too long. Chicken becomes dry if you boil it too much. In fact, they might have boiled everything in advance before putting the chicken in at the end.”
Broths had a tendency to become more flavorful the longer it was boiled, so Lisa wasn’t wrong. Compared to the vegetables or pickled dishes that usually come to mind for Korean food, there were a lot more different types of broths. Vegetables could be seen as a type of salad, and Western cuisines used pickled dishes quite a bit as well.
But broths was different. If you wanted to find some type of broth in Western cuisine, there were thinkings like seafood soup or stews, but even the seafood soup felt like it was only used to elevate the flavor of the upcoming main entree. You couldn’t expect the clean finished product you get in a broth with a soup. It made sense. Unless it was an extremely disorganized course meal, something else would definitely come out after the soup.
Anderson started to speak.
“To be honest, I was never wowed by a broth dish. Of course, they taste good. But I feel like something is missing as you swallow it. If it is thicker, you at least get a sense of it filling your mouth ……”
“I know what you mean. The issue is that you don’t really feel like you are eating something.”
“Similar. Of course, there are some solid components, but Asians seem to get a satisfaction out of the broth itself. I personally prefer the solids over the broth.”
“Everybody would agree the solids are tastier……no, the more I think about it, if I was told I could only eat one of the two, the broth might actually be better.”
It was quite interesting if you thought about it. Jo Minjun knew what he would personally prefer. He wanted something that brought out the flavor of each ingredient and wanted something that could harmonize the flavor of those ingredients as they hit his tongue. Jo Minjun based his opinion of a dish based on that harmonization.
In that sense, a broth was best at creating a harmony of flavor. In a way, it aligned most with his specialty, sauces. A broth is really just a sauce that you could drink.
‘……But why is it that I have never taken the time to dive into the tradition of broths?’
Broths aligned with his personal preference and cooking philosophy, but he had never officially cooked a broth before. But it really wasn’t that odd. In order to really bring out the taste of a broth, the majority required a significant amount of time. Since he came to the United States, he never had the time to stick next to a pot all day.
However, the important thing was that he had almost forgotten about the broth dishes. He did work with soups and stews every so often, but he was not very interested in them either. His current section may be molecular gastronomy, but he shouldn’t have completely forgotten about it. Forgetting about it was the same as not having it.
Broths were a symbol of Korean food, and Korean food was the existence that taught Jo Minjun about food. Although Jo Minjun himself might not be aware of it, the reason he ended up liking dishes in a liquid state such as sauces may be the influence of these broths. For him to live without even thinking about such influential component of his life, it was like flying in the sky with your wings folded up.
Jo Minjun scooped up some of the samgyetang’s broth and put it in his mouth. On top of the light flavor of the chicken was the fragrance of many different herbs. It really was a good combination. It was almost amazing that such flavor could be brought out with those bitter herbs.
He took a couple more sips. His heart was whispering in his ear. His own experiences and biases were whispering to him.
– Broths do not work in Western cuisine. They think of it as a way for the poor people to fill themselves up. It does not fit with your path.
‘The deciding factor for the quality of a dish is not the origin, but the chef.’
– But how will you get past the prejudices of the people in this area? Sure. Asian people may like it. But do you plan on getting congratulated by the Asians while being shunned by the rest?
‘……If the origin of my sense of taste is in broths, I need to at least know how to enjoy it.’
– People tend to put their hearts into even drawing a single line. Can’t you tell by those psychological tests? You draw a tree and a house, and they can break down the type of person you are from those few lines you drew on a piece of paper. You think cooking will be any different? If you like broths, that will show up in your dishes. And that feeling ……you think it is enough to charm others?
Jo Minjun’s spoon stopped moving. He glared at the samgyetang with a stiff expression. Ella looked toward Minjun with a worried gaze.
“Uncle Minjun. What’s wrong? Does your stomach hurt?”
“No, Ella. I just have a lot to think about it.”
“What now? What is the problem?”
Kaya asked in a blunt tone. Although the tone may have been blunt, her eyes showed she was worried. Even her feet underneath the table was cautiously caressing Jo Minjun’s heel.
“I keep thinking that it is difficult to be a chef in a foreign country.”
“My sense of taste is different compared to Americans. But I can’t just force my sense of taste to meet the American need. If I do, I would just become a fraud.”
Chloe listened to Jo Minjun’s words before quietly nodding her head. She had the same type of concern before. No, she still had that concern. After growing up with her mom’s Chinese cuisine, her sense of taste was not Americanized either. Chloe slowly started to speak.
“You can’t help it. You need to localize it to a degree. If you slowly start to match it as time goes by……”
“Why would you change it? What is wrong with either of your sense of taste?”
Kaya cut Chloe off and answered in a slightly angry voice. She seemed to be really angry, as she was huffing and puffing as she pretty much growled.
“No. Fine. It is slightly different from the local sense of taste 100 out of 100 times. But what is wrong with that? You just have to make a dish that makes people think that your preference is cool and stylish.”
“……I know what you are trying to say. But is that really possible without any localizing at all? Look at the foie gras. Westerners tend to slice it into large slices, while Easterners cut it into the size of about two fingers width. It is because customers think it is too greasy if it is any bigger. Szechuan food is the same way. In the Szechuan province, you use a lot of Mala and peppercorn. But the Americanized Szechuan food cannot do that. If they make it as spicy as they would do in Szechuan, it is impossible for others to eat. It is the same with coriander leaves or sesame leaves.”
“So are you trying to say the two of your senses of tastes are bad?”
“……It is not an easy path.”
“Have you ever had it easy? Why are you suddenly acting so weak?”
“Kaya. Not everyone can always be strong. There are things we are weak at, times we are weak.”
“No. You can’t be like that.”
Kaya started to glare at Jo Minjun. Jo Minjun could feel Kaya’s toes clenching on top of his foot. She must be putting strength in her entire body. He could even see that her whole body seemed to be shaking. He suddenly felt upset. It was not that he was angry. Kaya’s feelings were clearly delivered to him. Kaya quietly continued to speak.
“I said this to the chefs at the Grand Chef finale. I said that I respect you. That is why you… at least in front of me ……don’t show such a side. I am not saying don’t be weak. You can struggle. You can be in pain. But, don’t ever lose your confidence. Do not think that the things you have are not worth much.”
“You……really think there is value in my sense of taste?”
“You said it yourself. If you change who you are, you just end up a fraud. And I like the real Minjun. I respect the real Minjun. You don’t need something like a sense of taste that can cater to everyone. You are Jo Minjun. You are Kaya Lotus’s man. Go make others believe that what you think is delicious is really delicious.”
Jo Minjun had a complicated expression after hearing Kaya’s words. He suddenly remembered what Rachel said. When she told him to research Korean food, her last addition was ‘Do not try to represent everyone.’ Maybe what Rachel was talking about was based on the fact that she knew what Jo Minjun would focus on.
“We are chefs. If we want to cater to the tastes of our customers, we shouldn’t compromise. We need to dominate them. Yes, we can lower the amount of herbs if something is too fragrant or decrease the amount of foie gras if it is too greasy. But we cannot compromise like that. I don’t want to be a chef who runs away. I don’t want you cooking like that either. Minjun. Please.”
Kaya subconsciously stepped on Minjun’s foot before continuing.
“Win. Be a chef who can defeat any type of customer.”
Kaya’s voice cleared all of his worries.
It was not that she gave him an answer to his problem. Someone who does not know the answer could not give the answer. All Kaya did was share her thoughts.
And Jo Minjun wanted to give Kaya what she wanted. If she did not want him to hesitate, he didn’t want to hesitate. He didn’t want to worry. He could not become a scared rabbit. It was at this moment that he made up his mind.
[You have stepped outside the confines of objectivity and have accepted your own sense of taste. Your oppressed sense of taste has improved!]
[The conditions for reaching Tasting level 9 has been cleared!]
Messages rang in his mind. Jo Minjun started to think. Just what was it that increased his tasting level right now? Was it Kaya? Or was it this broth? After thinking about it for a moment, Jo Minjun soon started to smile. It was a useless concern. The answer was obvious. He started to speak.
“As usual, you are my answer.”
The spoon was lifted once more.
<Searching for the roots (3) > End
 japchae: https://www.maangchi.com/recipe/japchae
 samgyetang: https://www.maangchi.com/recipe/samgyetang
Translator : Miraclerifle
Proofreader : Dragneel, Illidanstormrage
Both Dragneel and Illidan have RL things so let me know if you spot errors!
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