I watched the first episode of Shikgaek Tuesday night. I’ll keep watching it for the food, even though it suffers from the same awkwardness and, well, either the show misses some cogent points, or I’m missing them.

The Joshing Gnome wrote a post about it:

Shikgaek is dumb

Shikgaek (식객) is, for those of you who don’t know, was originally a very popular and pretty entertaining comic book about Korean food. It was sort of the Korean version of the Japanese wine comic Drops of God. Incidentally, the guy who wrote Shikgaek was originally going to write a comic about wine, but my old nemesis Rhie Won-bok beat him to the punch. Then he briefly considered doing a comic about soju but it turns our there’s already a sixty-part series about soju called “The Devil’s Piss”.

Anyway, the comic book, I feel I should underscore, is not bad. The television show, however, is likely to become very bad as it goes on.

In tonight’s episode there were already two scenes of white people marveling as the same phonetic English speaking chef explains about the food. “˜This idge called ddeok. It idge a rice cake. It idge a Ko-ree-an traditional pood.’

White guy: “˜What’s this on top’

“˜Dat idge a jujube’

White people (to each other): “˜Ooh, Aah.’

But here’s the scene that killed me. The old chef master gets some kind of special fish fresh from the seashore and brings it into his kitchen. There are about twenty young chefs doing nothing but watching as the old man proceeds to choose a knife out of a collection of large knives and . . .

He cuts the fish into four pieces. The young chefs are agog. He then lifts the lid off a pot of light brown broth and puts the fish in the pot. Then he sprinkles a little salt in. Then he sprinkles some sliced red and green pepper on top. Then he puts the lid on and leaves. All the young chefs are in awe at this.

Then charisma-free heartthrob Kim Rae-won takes out a ladle and takes a sip of the broth. The look on his face is one of transcendent awe. It’s like he’s looking into the light show from the end of 2001. Or he hates it. It was not clear to me at the time. I thought he was going to say “˜The old man is losing his touch, watch me fix this train wreck.’ and proceed to become the “˜Best Chef’ of the show’s English title. Instead he passes the ladle to English explanation guy and before he could phonetically say “˜In duh Choseon dynasuh-ty . . .’ he too was marveling at the genius that was essentially the same stuff people eat all the time except a guy at a really expensive restaurant had made it. I imagined how hard it must be to convey the awesome power of food that is a) not as tasty as regular everyday food and b) gallingly the same as regular everyday food.

ZenKimchi Joe, I know you said you’re going to watch this show, but do yourself a favor and just read the comic.

Update: I watched the rest of the episode and I changed my mind. I will watch this show, if only because it reminds me so very much of the episode of Futurama where Bender tried to become the Iron Chef. Except Kim Rae-won is more mechanical than Bender.

Here was my response:

I watched that episode and was baffled by those two scenes myself. I cringed at the English scene. Chefs don’t come to a table to give people dictionary definitions of what they’re eating. They’re expected to tell a story or the process behind the food to enhance the diners’ enjoyment. I was expecting him to go on saying, “This is plate. This is cup. This is rice. Korea eat rice.”

The fish scene–thanks for helping me figure out I wasn’t crazy for missing the significance. These past two weeks, I myself have been working on my fish cleaning and filleting techniques to make some simple Western fish dishes. But Mr. Old Dude went in there, scaled the fish and just hacked it into four parts the same way Asians do chicken. There’s no thought given to the anatomy of the animal. Just hack it to pieces. Dunked it in the pot with some salt.

Now, what was this magical flavor?

In fact, the fish hadn’t been in the pot long enough to do ANYTHING before Pretty Boy Chef tasted it and gave the spoon to Jude Law Chef. And even if it tastes amazing, it would be because of the quality of the fish, not the knife skills of Jason Voorhees.

Okay, help me figure out this part because my Korean is not good enough to follow easily, and The Woman doesn’t explain things to me when she’s watching TV.

Old Dude Chef and Pretty Boy Chef are hunting for this special line-caught fish. They finally find it. Pretty Boy Chef then goes and gets tossaway fish from some ajummas.

A few scenes later, he’s staying up all night perfecting a fish soup. Was he using those same throwaway fish? And by manipulating some spices (I remember him listing the ingredients), he made this jaw-dropping soup?

What’s the message here?

Good ingredients don’t matter because you can always cover it up with spices?

Nonetheless, the production values looked slightly better than a lot of the dramas. And I’m really watching it for the food, not the plot. If I learn something about the history of some dishes or why certain foods are special it’ll be worth sitting through the stiff awkward scenes with foreigners. And wasn’t that the most lifeless lawn party?

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