I’m conflicted a bit. I’ve gotten some attention from the Korean government. I even heard that the Blue House was reprinting some of my writings. And the government seems to be doing some better things in promoting Korean food. Then it firmly screws up again.
But really, it’s just everything in general that’s bugging me.
Remember last year when the government decided to open a Korean restaurant in Manhattan? I think they’re still going through with it, but we made an uproar that if they’re going to use that money, why not support the Korean restaurants that are already there rather than suck up their business?
I saw at the bottom of this WSJ article that the government is, in fact, going to support some restaurants–Kyochon, Mr. Pizza and Kraze Burger.
Kyochon already has a good presence in the U.S. It doesn’t need any assistance. Mr. Pizza is already there, too, in California. It’s gotten some buzz. And Kraze Burger?? Imagine a Johnny Rockets with high prices, all pretension and no soul. Why would the government want to promote three repackaged versions of western food to the west?
I really don’t get why if the government is going to muddle in promoting Korean food it won’t actually promote Korean food. It won’t help the struggling mom-and-pops (omma-and-appas?) upgrade their equipment and get some advertising funds?
Another government-can-do-it-better solution they’re doing in New York is a food truck. And from what I gather, they’re doling out Korean food for free. Actually, I’ll go against my insider friends and say that’s not such a bad idea. It’s the crack dealer giving out the free sample. It could work out well that way. Then again, if they distribute crappy food then BOOM–CRASH!!
Going back to that WSJ article. The focus was on Korean hanbok designer Lee Hye-soon being denied entrance to the Shilla Hotel’s buffet because she was wearing one of her hanbok designs. This ignited some simmering resentment against overpriced Korean hotels and their restaurants and their (as earlier stated on ZenKimchi) hatred of Korean food.
Well, it’s not the hotels’ hatred of Korean food. It’s Korean nouveau riche hatred of paying five-star prices for their own cuisine. And that’s why non-Korean fine dining has been able to fleece the public for so many years. They serve cartoonishly overpriced food that should be moderately priced in pretentious settings with service that makes you feel like an asshole for stepping through the door. And how? They’re foreign. They’re exotic. Their from the “sophisticated” west, with their dry-aged steaks, sauced up French fare and fancy spaghetti.
ASIDE: The “dry-aged” steaks being sold in many snooty steakhouses is actually wet aged and let out of their cryovacked packaging to dry.
The WSJ’s Evan Ramstad is on the ball with this. I’ve witnessed his rants in print and in person, and he’s good at pointing out the elephants in the closet. This whole event went into parliament, where a lawmaker now wants the government to get involved in making sure hotels have Korean restaurants.
Ah, the surreal land of Korea…
These hilarious airs on foreign foods are why Kraze Burger has become a success in Korea and will certainly fail in America, even with government propping. Kraze started years ago before the current burger renaissance hit the peninsula. It was difficult to find a burger outside a fast food joint. Kraze was the first chain to specialize in burgers like you’d find at TGI Friday’s. And actually, on their own they’re not that bad. In fact, they were glorious when the burger landscape was bleak. But what I didn’t like was how expensive they made their food compared to how stingy they were with its distribution (fries extra) and how Koreanized they were with their execution (sweet pickles!). The restaurants were done up like diners but like diners in a museum. It was someone’s impression of what an American burger restaurant would be but not quite getting the point. Yet the high prices and the exotica attracted the knife-and-fork crowd, who would eat their burgers with said utensils. A successful Korean restaurant chain was born.
Now we have lots of thick burger restaurants and even a few more homegrown chains. Burger Hunter is one of the scrappier ones out there. Burger B is sublime. And Chili King is my regular hangout. Kraze doesn’t have the captive market it used to have. But I also see some of that trademark arrogance in Korea business, and they think that the Kraze concept will work in America. It may have worked in America in the 1970s, but the country has moved far, far beyond. If they’re going to pay that kind of price for a burger they want something dazzling from the likes of Richard Blais. Overpriced burgers with cringing lines like “It’s healthy! Garlic!” and a la carte school cafeteria fries will only attract the crowd that blindly goes for anything Asian because it’s exotic.
Oh… I get it now.