I was busy with work the rest of the week, so I didn’t hang out for anymore shoots until Sunday, but I kept tabs on what went on. So far, it looked like people were having a good time. On Saturday, they went out to Chamsutgama for the charcoal sauna scene and went to Mapo-dong for the barbecue act. They had a problem with a broken camera, and the B-roll footage of Noryangjin Fish Market (the parts without Andrew or Chef Kim) had to be reshot early in the morning on Saturday. In fact, all of the B-roll on that camera from the first night to Noryangjin had to be scrapped. Raymond was totally on top of things and tracked down a replacement camera for the rest of the week.
Scott almost had a confrontation with a drunk guy who tried to grab his camera, and Andrew bumped his head while getting out of the van (I think that was the story). That’s why he has a red spot on his head in the South Korea and Japan episodes.
As the week progressed, Eun Jeong got more and more nervous and tried many times to back out. I think her friend Eun-hak’s presence helped her courage.
We met that morning at Seoul Station. I saw Richard outside, and he said they were filming promos inside. Eun Jeong and I waited at the Pizza Hut for Eun-hak. While we were waiting, Sue called. She had just confirmed their outing the next day with Kel. She still didn’t know what to do or say. I told her to look at my brief history of kimchi post and the one I did on fermented skate. I was confident she’d do fine.
We met Eun-hak and Daniel Gray (Seoul Eats), and we headed inside the main terminal, where they were shooting season promos. Heh, heh… again they put me in charge of watching the equipment. During a break, a group of college students from Taiwan asked what was going on and got Andrew’s autograph.
After everything was set and Andrew changed shorts, we piled into the mini-bus for the first restaurant. There was some complaining going on with Andrew and the crew about the day’s lunch choice, a Korean-style Italian restaurant in Seoul Station.
Italian restaurants don’t have the best reputations with foreigners in Korea.
Andrew spent some time getting to know Eun Jeong and Eun-hak. We got the Lamb Land in Mapo-dong, the same area where I scouted for restaurants a few weeks earlier. I didn’t know Lamb Land was there. It was just outside the area I was looking.
This sequence was the most debated of any other–what story to use, who to put into the shot and which foods to try. The foods switched a few times. One was an emergency switch. We were supposed to go to a grilled quail restaurant, but they were very hard to find. Every single one was closed on Sunday. A grilled eel restaurant was the back up.
Now, you’d think we’d be going to Lamb Land for lamb, right? I mean, that’s pretty exotic in Korea. Actually, lamb galbi has started to become a small trend in Seoul this past year. But the reason for this excursion was Jaratang 자라탕 (Turtle Soup). They’re specifically soft-shelled snapping turtles that live in muddy rivers. The soup is a delicacy in certain areas of the countryside–but not near where Eun Jeong grew up. She knew nothing of it until we started researching it.
Lamb Land is a fairly old restaurant by Seoul standards. It was the first lamb galbi restaurant, and there are layers of gamey-smelling grease in all the nooks and crannies. The Olympics were playing on TV, and we watched it with Andrew while everyone was setting up. Everyone was curious about the turtles bought for the shoot at over 100,000 won a piece. Two turtles were made into soup, and the other two were stunts for the cameras. It’s a long-stewing soup, so we didn’t have time for them to make it from scratch.
Everyone got their mics set up. Scott, Andrew and Kel talked about the opening shot. Kel had an idea for a “Charlie’s Angels” intro.
We went outside to start the intro.
Then they did the establishment shot of Andrew walking in from the outside then walking in from the inside, with the three bloggers already sitting at the table.
He did a spiel about South Korea being wired to the internet and that bloggers are the food writers of tomorrow. No telling what was going through Eun-hak’s mind.
(“Joe, I’m supposed to be a blogger. What should the name of my web site be?”)
It’s TV. Suspension of disbelief. Don’t fight it. Just go with it.
Eun Jeong tried her best to explain what she could about ZenKimchi. Dan, of course, was totally on the ball.
None of them had ever tried this before. Both the women were nervous beforehand about trying anything too strange. This would turn out to be the strangest one of the day.
But they did fine. The waitress in the background stood there watching everything. Kel asked Raymond to ask her to pretend she was doing something.
Andrew said that he really enjoyed turtle and learned to like it while in China. It has a muddy flavor. Eun Jeong didn’t particularly like it. But we had to go for the money shot.
Oh look, Andrew got a little head.
They ate the soup until it looked like there wasn’t much more to talk about. Then it wrapped. Kel got a twitch in his eye from no sleep, it seems.
Remember, they had to get up early that morning after doing that day trip and late night BBQ shoot to recover the pick up shows at Noryangjin Fish Market.
Here’s Eun Jeong’s leftover soup. (Typical food blog, showing everyone their leftovers like they care.)
I got to try it. It was very muddy, slimey and full of tiny bones.
Eun Jeong posed with the head.
The next stop was in the same general area. It was at one of the places I had taken pictures of during my location scouting. It’s Haemul Nara 해물 나라 (Seafood Country) on Mapo’s gentrified food street.
This was unique because it had one of the few female sushi chefs trained in working with blowfish.
Her father owned the restaurant, and he trained her. Poor girl never smiled the whole time. The restaurant had a second floor, and a few of us were upstairs with the owner working out details. Raymond, I think, was working out the finances of the shoot. The father dressed in his traditional sushi master garb and looked very proud.
I’ve heard that women can’t be good sushi masters because their hands are too warm. That’s news to me. Most of the women I’ve known have had freezing cold hands. But we all know that just reeks as an invented excuse to keep women out of the profession. Nonetheless, she had a bowl of ice water standing by, which she regularly dipped her hand in.
The shoot started, and everyone gawked at the gorgeous blowfish. There was a small break in taping. Eun Jeong continued to eat as Andrew and Dan took pics. The camera Dan’s holding is the one he later donated to me when my trusty Pentax died.
So they went back to taping.
The spicy fish soup came out. Then Eun Jeong did something unexpected. When something is good and spicy and makes you feel good all over you, make a gutteral sound–like hawing a loogie.
Andrew stopped what he was saying and asked Eun Jeong to repeat it. She explained why she did what she did, and Andrew had her train him on how to do it correctly.
I remember at this point a family member of the owners came by with a baby, and they were working on keeping the baby occupied and quiet until the scene finished.
The last stop was south of the river. We finally had some time to talk at length with Andrew. Of course, I had to ask for any details on what Anthony Bourdain was like. He gave good advice on food writing and working on your brand. I felt stupid most of the time because I just couldn’t relax. There was a lot of I knew I wanted to ask and say. You know, career advice–fanboy talk–I had just forgotten everything. But I did do my usual schtick of mumbling jokes (SeoulPodcast listeners know that side of me well).
Dan mentioned that “Diary of a Foodie” was coming to Korea soon. The next month, Daniel’s head almost exploded with the stress of setting up that one. With both of these shows, along with the New York Times bit the year before, he and I have had on-the-job training as Korean food media fixers.
The bus stopped, and we piled out. The eel place was down the hill.
It was a typical scene in Korea but is still fascinating–restaurants that double as aquariums. Real actual aquariums–the ones you pay admission to–are the strange places. We’re too used to seeing fish in aquariums and assuming that they’re for restaurants.
Richard got some footage of the eels in the tanks while Jane did the lights.
Andrew, he of the reputation for loud shorts, ribbed Kel for his footwear (“Come on, Kel. Socks with sandals?”). He actually was wearing the slippers for the restaurant.
Cables were laid out and places were set up. Kel sort of “invented” on the spot what he called the “Table Cam.”
Out of the three restaurants, this couple seemed the most excited to have the crew. And it’s the one restaurant I didn’t get information for. I hope someone has it around so I can post it later. They serve a mean eel.
He welcomes the group for the entrance shot.
I huddled in the back with Jane and Raymond, squeezed against the wall. Note Eun-hak’s microphone pack on her waist. Heh, heh…
Andrew regaled Eun Jeong with a story of his childhood and catching eels in the river. He has a special fondness for them.
After the intro was done, there was a break while the eels were prepared. Andrew took it as a chance to lie down on the floor and get out some of the soreness in his back. He closed his eyes a bit, and I walked by him to go outside for the eel prep. He opened his eyes.
“Hi Joe. Whatcha know?”
We talked a bit, and I found out that Andrew has likes and dislikes like the rest of us. I know, of course he does. But you get the impression on the show that he just likes everything. He distinctly can’t stand Durian.
“Why, with all the great tropical fruit you can get in Southeast Asia, would anyone eat durian?”
He also boldly stated, “If there was no alcohol in wine, would we really have wine snobs?”
I had never seen this method before, but I don’t get to go to eel restaurants that much. So they put the eels in a clothes hamper and electrocuted them with a rod. There was no zapping sound. Just the eels writhing wildly and slowing down.
By then the owners had introduced us to their bokbunja-ju 복분자주–Korean raspberry wine–which they kept in a water cooler. Andrew didn’t drink any. He quit drinking in his thirties, he said. But the rest of us took advantage of it. The owners went ahead with prepping the eels when some of us noticed this:
What’s going on here?
It’s pretty cool. The syringe pulls out the bile so they can use the bones to make a soup. The bones are pulverized with some seeds.
The soup was smooth and hearty. I would have loved it during the winter. The eels were grilled with different styles. I tried some of the leftovers at the end, and I could really taste the difference with fresh eel. It’s clean and oceany.
And that was pretty much the wrap. I asked Andrew to sign some stuff I had in my bag, including a can of Beondaeggi 번댁기 (Silkworm Larvae), some pine-flavored toothpaste, a tub of Ssamjang 쌈장 and a sushi knife I bought when we were at the fish market. That knife was targeted as a Christmas present for my brother, Chef Ben.
We got in the bus for one more stop–a dog soup restaurant. A last minute approval had Raymond scrambling to find a dog soup shop open on a Sunday night. We stopped by a restaurant that looked like a converted house. They went inside. After a while, they exited. It was too empty, and it just looked creepy to have Andrew sit there by himself eating dog soup. So in the end, the whole dog thing was a no-go.
I should address this now that I have your attention. Really, dog meat is hardly popular in South Korea, especially these days. It’s more commonly consumed in China and northern Vietnam. So all those dog meat jokes–aim them at China from now on.
Scott and Richard proceeded to check if the sample soju bottles we got from one of the restaurants was poisoned. That had to check the whole bottles. Raymond made sure all the release forms were signed.
The soju worked its effects.
Scott pontificated on his new love of soju.
The bus dropped us all off at the Ritz-Carlton. Andrew took some pics with us and bid us farewell. Kel and Scott talked about strategy for the next day’s shoot and business in general. There was talk of extending the night to a Korean-style fried chicken hof, but the lack of sleep from the early morning fish market shoot and the spector of the next day’s final act kinda made everyone think twice.
That was the last I saw of everyone in person. Monday night, Sue called me while driving back from her day with Andrew and the crew. She had a good time going to the farm, kimchi factory and eating the fermented skate. She said she thought she was goofy, and she had never had to interpret on the fly like she did that day, especially on camera.
Andrew, Scott and Richard went to Japan on Tuesday. Jane left. Kel was the last to go, and he called me while he wandered around Gangnam looking at camera stores. He noted the oddness of the Korean business model of opening the exact same types of stores next to each other. He arranged for Raymond to pay us all for our participation and headed to the airport.
Of course, I wasn’t too involved with post-production other than answering a few research questions, telling how to pronounce some foods and looking up some restaurants whose names were lost.
We had a great time working on the show, and it gave us more experience in the food media business. Dan went on to help “Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie.” Arirang TV in Korea did a feature on ZenKimchi a couple of weeks later (video here). We also got to meet Chef Kim through this adventure, a relationship that has already strengthened in the past year. We went to his restaurant for FoodBuzz’s first “24, 24, 24” event (video here).