Where’s the beef?
All in Episodes 7 and 8, apparently. These two installments were a little lighter on the food symbolism and more into character relationships. Which is totally fine by me — I think part of why I like Gourmet as much as I do is Kim Rae-won‘s portrayal of Sung-chan. It’s a good show regardless, but he draws me into his character in a really appealing way (I don’t know how to express it, but he just seems so honest about his acting).
That doesn’t mean these eps are light on the food, though, because we have plenty of food beauty shots and yet more competitive cooking driving our characters onward. And, um, lots of shots of Kim Rae-won eating raw beef. Eek.
SONG OF THE DAY
Soulzean – “해 후” [ Download ]
The brotherly reunion is anything but warm; Sung-chan is noncommittal, presuming Bong-joo has been named heir (“Wasn’t my leaving what you wanted?”), while Bong-joo’s disappointment and anger at seeing Sung-chan’s current lifestyle causes him to lash out (“What were we to you? Was that the only way you could think to react?” Sung-chan: “I did the best I could”). When Sung-chan asks him not to mention this to his father, Bong-joo retorts that it’s best their father not see Sung-chan in such a mess anyway. He also promises his father to find Sung-chan, without revealing that he already has.
As for Oonamjeong, Bong-joo proceeds with plans to expand the franchise abroad, under the aegis of parent corporation Daehan Group. To this end, they feel it is imperative to claim victory in the upcoming nationwide beef cooking competition, where their biggest rivals will also be participating. Yoo-hee’s father (who is siding more and more with Bong-joo in business matters) orders them to invest in a farm to procure top-grade beef, and to find the best butcher. All this runs counter to Chef Oh’s wishes, but his protests are in vain.
Sung-chan continues peddling vegetables from his truck, keeping an eye on the irritable grill-house owner who reported him to the police the last time. He sees customers leaving angrily, and curiosity leads him to the restaurant, where the mean owner is meekly trying to appease a couple of demanding gangsters. Their outburst causes all the diners to leave hurriedly, and the gangsters overturn tables. Sung-chan hies himself back to his truck, trying to mind his own business, but instead uses his microphone/PA system to play a recording of a police siren, then wanders into the store, “wondering” why the police are here. The gangsters leave. Tentative bond (mostly friendly bickering) forms.
Sung-chan drops by with a thank-you gift for Jin-soo at work. She’s in a fix with her boss (who’s pressuring her for a big interview, say with a legendary, now-retired Butcher Kang — everyone’s in a rush to find him because of the upcoming beef battle) and shoves Sung-chan out of view. She finds his car about to be towed, and jumps in the driver’s seat to spare him the hassle, but he thinks she’s stealing his car and yells at her. That hurts her feelings, so to make up for his behavior, he offers to help her with her interview subject, since he knows people in the butchering industry.
One former colleague gives them the butcher’s old knife, which had been left behind, and alludes to bad familial issues as the reason for his reclusiveness. Sung-chan and Jin-soo spend all day talking to butchers and following possible leads, most of whom believe the man to be dead (one creepy grandma senses a ghostly presence with the knife).
Joo-hee sinks into a “I guess he didn’t really care about me” kind of depression. When she asks again why Sung-chan ran away, Bong-joo tells her the truth this time, admitting he’d revealed the circumstances of Sung-chan’s lineage. Frustrated with her lingering feelings for Sung-chan, Bong-joo essentially tells her to get over it because Sung-chan isn’t coming back: “If you want to see how he’s living, see for yourself.” He tells here where to find him.
That night, Jin-soo has a nightmare about the knife and calls Sung-chan over to hand it off, which turns into a midnight snack as they eat ramen in the back of his truck. Parked across the street, Joo-hee watches sadly.
Oonamjeong’s approach to the upcoming beef competition is to hold an internal contest, the winner of which will be sent as their chef to the big event. To everyone’s surprise, when votes are counted up, the fussy new chef is passed over by one vote — in favor of Seok-dong, the unlikely winner. Seok-dong gives all the credit to Sung-chan (he’d used a technique learned while working for him), and even the fastidious loser is forced to concede that Seok-dong’s dish was better.
Jin-soo hears that Bong-soo is tracking down the famed butcher, and adds that she’s also looking for him. Bong-joo assures her he’ll inform her when he locates him.
So here’s the deal with the barbecue restaurant owner: His business isn’t doing well, and he’s feeling the heat from President Seo, for whom the thugs work. Seo wants him to do something that he doesn’t want to do; we find out later that the restaurant owner is actually Butcher Kang, and Seo (the president of a corporation sponsoring an Oonamjeong rival) wants Mr. Kang to represent him at the beef battle. Seo also often comes in and only demands one choice cut (the center heel of round) of the cow, leaving whole sides of beef to pile up in the freezer.
Sung-chan intervenes again when Seo’s treatment of Mr. Kang goes too far; he challenges Seo to a bet (he sizes Seo up and guesses correctly that Seo can’t even tell cuts of meat apart, yet he insists on putting Mr. Kang through all this financial strain by insisting on his favorite). They’ll have a taste test to see if he can identify the heel of round. If Sung-chan loses, he’ll take over responsibility for serving the man. If Sung-chan wins, the president will stop coming to the restaurant.
Both men are blindfolded and fed three different (raw!) cuts. Seo decides that none of them are the right cut, while Sung-chan correctly identifies the dish. Seo accepts his defeat, but ups the ante with a counteroffer: to do a blind taste test and identify EVERY cut placed before him. If Sung-chan wins, Seo will pay for all the beef in the restaurant.
Sung-chan accepts and has a day to recall the lessons he’d undergone with his father, who forced him to learn the different characteristics of all the various beef cuts. In the challenge — which attracts curious onlookers cheering Sung-chan on — Sung-chan gets them all right, except the last one. However, the butcher demonstrates that Sung-chan was actually right, because the beef had been cut and packaged wrongly. Seo accepts this judgment, and agrees to buy all the meat in the restaurant, inviting the entire neighborhood to partake of free barbecue. (He also orders his man to find out more about Sung-chan.)
It’s into this situation that Jin-soo and Bong-joo arrive, intending to talk to the elusive butcher. Bong-joo watches the taste test, but turns and leaves before Sung-chan sees him, while Jin-soo stays behind and gets stuck into helping serve.
Now that he’s been tracked down, people flock to recruit the butcher to their team. Oonamjeong’s alert levels raise from yellow to orange, because their parent company’s president (the VIP CEO from previous episodes) suggests that his investment in the restaurant will be contingent upon their performance in the competition. This means that not only is their reputation on the line, but their entire future.
Thus Bong-joo attempts to sway the butcher but fails, which leads Min-woo to try attempt number 2. But Min-woo is a pompous ass, so when his polite request is met with polite refusal, his smile twists into an ugly smirk and he lays down a calmly worded threat. He brings up the man’s daughter and tells him he can pull some strings and have her fired, or not. Would the man care to reconsider the offer? He gives him till the weekend to think about it.
The butcher makes his daily visit to the bank where his daughter works and delivers her lunch, embarrassing her in front of her co-workers. She storms in to his restaurant to tell him to stay out of her life once and for all.
You know, it seems like “good” (-natured, -hearted) heroes aren’t in vogue these days — the tortured hero or the reformed badass are more common, it seems — but Sung-chan is such a good guy, and I find him really damn appealing. He’s not a perfect Prince Charming, but he is accessible and engaging.
“Good” characters run the risk of being boring — but maybe it’s because usually that trait is relegated to females, and those fall into one of several (all equally irritating) categories: (1) The paragon of virtue (see: early Hallyu Cinderellas), (2) the long-suffering wife (see: every infidelity drama ever), or (3) The boring second lead who doesn’t deserve the hero anyway.
But Kim Rae-won brings Sung-chan depth, and maybe that’s why he remains compelling despite being such a good guy. (This is also what My Sweet Seoul has been unable to do for me lately, as I ranted there. Eun-soo — or is it Choi Kang-hee? Perhaps both — doesn’t provoke warmth or depth, but Sung-chan/Kim Rae-won has that in spades.)
For instance, after Sung-chan’s run-in with his brother in Episode 7, he pulls his car over at the beach, overwhelmed with emotions, and shouts angrily that it’ll all be okay. While crying. The camera whirls around him as if to mimic the feeling of being at the center of an (emotional) maelstrom. He’s trying to hold it together and convince himself it’s all okay, but he knows it’s not, and it tugs at the heartstrings.
When he first encounters the gangsters at the restaurant, he walks away, trying to stay out of it. He’s not friends with the owner — he’s barely even acquainted with him — but something about his character won’t allow him to turn a blind eye. And I just love that he can’t stay out of a situation when he can help, as he again shows by initiating the first bet with Seo. And then, even after he’s won, he has the chance to walk away — he’s already done more than can be expected for a near-stranger. But when Seo offers to pay for all the meat that’s idling, to be wasted, Sung-chan sees how much that will help Mr. Kang and accepts the challenge despite its difficulty. He may be a reluctant hero, but I love that sticks his neck out to help. This is something neither his brother nor the other Oonamjeong chefs would be willing to do, since they always tread on the safe side, watching their backs first and foremost.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Bong-joo’s growing ambition to gain world renown is driving a wedge between himself and his father, with two clear points of view emerging. The way I see it, this approach probably the most divisive and harmful way for Oonamjeong to proceed, but Bong-joo’s thoughts are either too grand in scope or not enough — while he wants to advance Oonamjeong’s name and position in the culinary world, he shouldn’t do so at the expense of what brought it to its current position, yet he seems to be willing to give up just a little TOO much.
This is, again, where I think Sung-chan will prove himself worthy, because he’s got a balance of the old and new, the traditional and the innovative, in a way that both of these increasingly polarizing sides are forgetting. Chef Oh sees this, which is why he’s so desperate to find Sung-chan; he reacts to expansion plans with growing dismay and tells Bong-joo (albeit untactfully), “This is why I can’t leave Oonamjeong to you.” (Bong-joo, for his part, doesn’t love that he’s opposing his father but he’s perfectly willing to go over his head and overrule him by getting the shareholders on his side.)
We have a new chef at Oonamjeong, and it’s this guy (named Dal-pyeong), who is alternately hilarious and overexaggerated with his comedic intentions. While the main actors are pretty natural, this guy acts like he’s aware of his role as comic relief, and while sometimes it works, much of the time it feels forced.
But the reason I bring him up is because I’m wondering if is being set up to “represent” a style of cooking (à la Sung-chan and Bong-joo). He walks around with thermometers and measuring gadgets, telling the chefs to adjust their foods with incremental changes (all with a prissy, fey pout). Cooking, to him, is ALL technique.
The situation between him and Seok-dong mirrors the conflict between Sung-chan and Bong-joo in a more exaggerated way. It’s that same struggle between intuitive, heartfelt cooking and super-technical, regulated cooking. Dal-pyeong is a caricature of precise technical cooking, measuring everything to a tenth of a degree and decimal points. Meanwhile, Seok-dong is schooled in the Sung-chan style, as his winning technique is Sung-chan’s own.
The search for the missing butcher hasn’t yet revealed Mr. Kang’s reasons for retiring, but one thing is clear, and that he’s an extreme version of Sung-chan. Both men have extraordinary talent and the possibility for true world renown (Mr. Kang once had it and eschewed it, while Sung-chan reputation is still just in its incipient stages), but gave it up. Moreover, their reasons for turning their backs on their talent is painfully tied in with family issues, and have resulted in a large rift.
So the butcher stays in his modest little shop, gathering sides of beef to accumulate in the freezer. Because there’s no way he can go through that much meat in a timely fashion, the quality of his food suffers, which means more dissatisfied customers and dwindling business. That leads to more money problems, and he can’t recoup his losses from buying the beef in the first place. This is the situation President Seo has placed him in because of one little cut of beef whose taste he can’t even identify, leaving the rest to molder and go to waste. A mirror of Mr. Kang’s life and skills going to waste, perhaps?
Sung-chan is nowhere near as unsociable and reclusive as the butcher, but he IS lonely, which we can see whenever his outer shell of cheer breaks. While Sung-chan’s not on the same scale as the butcher (yet), this is a slippery slope he’s on; Mr. Kang is a cautionary tale warning him to face his problems instead of running.