(Not as much food porn today.)
After 10 episodes, we’re nearly halfway through the drama, and I think I can safely say at this point that while I am liking Gourmet, I don’t love it. I probably won’t grow to love it, either, but the acting is strong and I like seeing what fictitious food preparations they jazz up for their “gourmet” offerings. (I’m no foodie, but I think a lot of the fancy dishes are explained with a lot of decorative language that makes them sound complicated and high-class, but are not necessarily so in reality.) But since I’m not hung up on “food realism,” I just go with it and suspend my disbelief. Hey, other dramas can have car chases and secret love babies, so I’m gonna let this one slide with its faux haute cuisine.
Still, while Gourmet isn’t a total home run for me, I like it enough to keep going. It’s entertaining, and Kim Rae-won is SO emotive. Watching him act makes me want to run out and watch everything he’s ever done. Except Love Story In Harvard. I still refuse to watch that.
SONG OF THE DAY
Jo Sung-mo – “왜그래” (What’s wrong?) [ Download ]
EPISODE 9 RECAP
I’ll be straight-up: I thought most of Episode 9 sucked. I think the story balance was all wrong and too much emphasis given to a character played by an unskilled actor (the daughter). I suppose these story points were necessary to set up the upcoming conflict, so I see why it did what it did. But I didn’t like Episode 9 at all until the daughter issue resolved about two-thirds of the way through. Thankfully things picked up after that.
President Seo of the Daejin Distribution company has his eyes sets on recruiting Sung-chan after he finds out he’s a skilled chef trained at Oonamjeong. His idiot lackeys are a little too eager to obey his orders to retrieve Sung-chan and resort to kidnapping, which doesn’t put him in a receptive mood. He has no desire to compete in the upcoming beef battle, which is a big deal because the winner gets an exclusive deal with the sponsor, in addition to prestige and all that jazz. Although Sung-chan refuses, Seo registers his name anyway, figuring he’ll find a way to convince him.
The daughter story: Basically, she’s a brat. She’d always felt ashamed of her father’s profession, but the rift officially occurred several years ago when she’d been jilted by her fiancée (who looked down on Mr. Kang’s lowly occupation), for which she blames her father. (To be fair, he agrees it was his fault. It’s also why he quit his job and refused to go back.) She repeatedly tells him to stay out of her life despite his obvious concern for her.
Sung-chan tries to persuade her to reconcile with her father, but she’s stubborn and resentful. She’s also pregnant and suffering extreme morning sickness. Her co-worker, a mild-mannered fellow banker, expresses his concern for her health because she can barely eat anything, and mentions her search for a particular meat dish she’d eaten in her youth. That triggers a recollection in her father’s memory, and he picks up his butchering knife to prepare this dish. Ironically, it’s the cheapest cut of beef, as if to say it’s the thought that counts, not the price.
She rejects the dish, but Sung-chan tells her in a burst of frustration that her father gave up his profession for her, and is now being forced to re-enter it because of her (referring to Min-woo’s threat to ruin her career if Mr. Kang refuses to work for them).
That brings her around. She introduces her co-worker boyfriend to her father, who asks permission to marry her. She won’t be ashamed anymore — she’s proud of her father and wants him to return to being the best at what he does. She also tells him that she quit her job — which now renders Oonamjeong’s threats groundless.
Thus when Mr. Kang is escorted to Oonamjeong to deliver his decision, he’s free to tell them to shove it, and rebukes Bong-joo for attempting to blackmail and bribe him (which startles Bong-joo, who’d told Min-woo to play fair).
Not knowing who the blackmailer is, Sung-chan is happy to hear the news. Ironically, Mr. Kang is interested in competing now that he’s free from the obligation, if only to beat Oonamjeong. He suggests joining the competition with Sung-chan, but Sung-chan turns him down regretfully.
Chef Oh once again asks Sung-chan to return to the restaurant, but doesn’t push, explaining, “Your opponent isn’t Oonamjeong, it’s yourself.”
Bong-joo orders Min-woo to apologize to the butcher for his deplorable conduct, which Min-woo does. However, he adds the caveat that he’d like Mr. Kang to promise not to join the competition on anyone else’s team, either, angering Mr. Kang with his presumptuousness. Adding insult to injury, he offers an envelope of cash as though to buy his cooperation.
Hearing this, and discovering that Oonamjeong was the hateful blackmailer, Sung-chan says he’ll return the cash and storms out to confront Bong-joo. Having read Sung-chan’s name on the roster of competitors, Bong-joo accuses him of being a traitor. Sung-chan, in return, confronts his brother about his dirty tactics and flings the money back at him. He bites out, “I’m not going to run anymore. Let’s fight this out. I’ll show you what it’s like to be beaten fair and square.”
EPISODE 10 RECAP
So now the lines are drawn: It’s brother against brother, Oonamjeong chef versus ex-Oonamjeong chef. (Oh, and fourteen other teams who barely merit a mention.) The criteria for the competition are unveiled, which turn out to be threefold: (1) the quality of the cow used, (2) the quality of the butchering, and (3) the quality in cooking a barbecue dish with the beef. Seo’s team has the edge in butchery, but Oonamjeong arguably has the upper hand in the other two categories.
Joo-hee tells Sung-chan that he’s doing the wrong thing in challenging Oonamjeong, as though it’s a spiteful revenge tactic. In fact, the word “traitor” gets thrown around a lot among the chefs. If he’s going to return to cooking, she says, he should return to Oonamjeong instead. Sung-chan answers that he doesn’t expect her to understand, but he’s not going to return.
Despite whatever sympathetic and/or romantic feelings she has toward him, Joo-hee can’t understand Sung-chan in this. She therefore tells Bong-joo that he must win the competition, to his somewhat surprised gratification (since it’s the first time she’s shown partiality for him over his brother).
The search for the perfect cow becomes the mission for the day. Although Oonamjeong has bought a share in their own farm for just this reason, they remain on the prowl for the top specimens — and Min-woo again uses underhanded tactics to steal the cow Sung-chan had selected. It also appears that Chef Choi Jong-gu (whom Min-woo had fired and must now rehire for his butchery skills) and Mr. Kang have some ugly history between them as well, turning this into a dual battle.
With just two days to the competition, there isn’t much time to find a replacement cow, and when they do, they encounter a complication. The cow is high-quality, but the son of the farmer is attached to her, calling her a friend and a sibling and refusing to let his father sell her. (It really is a very pretty cow.) Sung-chan attempts to persuade the boy, unsuccessfully.
However, the boy suffers from a serious health condition, which requires surgery. His father explains that he wouldn’t sell the cow were it not for the surgery, which they cannot afford otherwise. And finally, the boy relents, but asks them to promise they’ll take good care of the cow and “raise” it well. Sung-chan feels guilty and cannot lie, so Jin-soo speaks up and awkwardly says they will.
The next morning, they experience difficulty leading the cow out of its stall until the boy comes along and says his goodbye. The boy’s not really that gullible — he understands what’s going to happen to the cow — but I think this is all his way of processing his sorrow.
Traffic delays make them late getting to the competition venue, and while all the other teams arrive and unload their livestock, Mr. Kang keeps driving at a slow speed despite their lateness. (I’ll discuss more below.) When they finally arrive, Bong-joo is there to look condescendingly on his brother and tell him, “You’ll never match up to me, not ever.”
I’ve mentioned before (when discussing Hana Yori Dango) that manga/manhwa adaptations are particularly tricky, because not only are you burdened with the task of making a successful live-action drama series, you also must contend with upholding the integrity of the original. Well, I suppose the latter isn’t strictly necessary, but good adaptations do honor their material; many a bad adaptation has irked fans.
The adaptation explanation doesn’t excuse something that doesn’t work in a drama, but I personally give a little extra leeway when considering an adaptation. Like I said in that abovelinked post, Hana Yori Dango on its own was too cartoonish and exaggerated for my taste, but I forgive that excess because I know how the manga goes. Same goes for Gourmet. For instance, the physical appearances of eccentric fortune-telling Ja-woon and squinty-eyed Chef Oh with his obviously fake hair. Likewise with the food porn — this food isn’t meant to taste good, it’s meant to look good. That’s why I don’t hold their lavish dish descriptions up to strict scrutiny, since that’s just embellishment and not an integral story issue.
Bong-joo’s starting to slide a little into assholey territory — Sung-chan has it right when he confronts Bong-joo for blackmail and bribery. It’s true that Bong-joo didn’t explicitly know what Min-woo was up to, but Sung-chan astutely points out that he always lets things happen (knowing on some level what’s going on) and blames it on Min-woo afterward, which allows him to keep his hands and conscience clean. But I appreciate shot juxtapositions like this one above, where Chef Oh lovingly prepares a meal for his prodigal son. Bong-joo watches the scene from the outside, then goes to the employee lounge to eat a solitary meal. I’d like if the series can keep moments like this going, because it does a lot to letting us get at Bong-joo’s underlying issues and motivations.
Romance-wise, we’re kind of inching along at a snail’s pace, but for once I don’t mind TOO much. On the plus side, because romances are actually secondary to Gourmet, it feels like the development is allowed a little more breathing room than normal. Some kdramas throw their characters into outrageous scenarios to get the romance going (hello, love contracts and fake-dating plotlines galore!), which I confess to being a sucker for, but which often feel unnatural. Here, a little tease goes a long way, for instance when Sung-chan tosses out (on a couple occasions) the suggestion that Jin-soo quit her magazine job and join him in his truck-grocery business. It’s cute, and Kim Rae-won sells it well.
Speaking of whom, Kim Rae-won has really got down what I think of as manly sensitivity. Kdrama heroes are practically required to give at least one good sob scene per drama, and while many actors get the sobbing part down, some of them can’t quite pull off masculine while doing so. But Sung-chan is a big ol’ (manly) teddy bear.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I may be reaching here (which I’ve been known to do), but the cow hunt seems another example used to contrast Sung-chan’s style with Bong-joo’s. I’ve mentioned their conflicting styles when it comes to cooking, but that extends to their personalities as a whole, too. For instance, it struck me that Oonamjeong was doing so much of its cow-hunting research via third party — slideshows, conferences, fancy technology. The machine below (right) apparently allows a scanner to be placed on a cow’s side and projects images of what the marbling would look like. Kind of cool, and I’m sure that having state-of-the-art machinery is a big benefit.
But it’s still another example of the growing impersonal quality of Oonamjeong’s approaches. Sung-chan doesn’t have money or technology at his disposal, so it’s not exactly a matter of choice — but the salient point, I think, is that he doesn’t NEED them. The cow he lost out to Min-woo is supposed to be the superior animal, an obvious cut (har, pun) above the others. But it’s also very possible that the one Sung-chan ends up with will end up beating even the specially raised farm cow. This one was hand-raised by the boy, given plenty of space and top-quality food, not because it would produce better meat but because it is loved.
Okay, did you groan at that? I admit, it’s a little new-agey fuzzy-wuzzy-sounding, but hear me out. Mr. Kang makes it a point to explain during their shopping excursions that superior product isn’t solely dependent upon top-grade feed and playing classical music to soothe the animal. Cows are sensitive creatures, and susceptible to outside stressors.
To punctuate that point, when the cows are being transported to the competition area, Oonamjeong’s premium cow is manhandled rather roughly. It stubbornly refuses to move, so the handlers yank on the rope and force it along. The driver of the truck speeds along obliviously while the poor animal slips and slides on the metal truckbed, struggling and falling to its knees. Once at the venue, once again it’s jerked along and prodded into its holding pen.
I don’t know if this is true, but some types of vegetarians swear off eating meat because apparently cows know when they’re being led to slaughter, and produce a kind of chemical as a result of their fear. Therefore to them, eating meat is eating fear. If we suscribe to this theory, at least for this storyline, that Oonamjeong cow is going to produce some wonky-tasting beef, no matter how good its marbling or its feed.
In contrast, Mr. Kang plods along at a very slow pace, not hurrying or feeling anxious despite running late. And the drama makes it a point to show shots of the cow looking placid in the back of the truck even while in transit. You know what they say: Happy cows make great
And, finally, the sacrifice of the cow itself. I felt pretty bad for that little boy, and wondered how Sung-chan would get over his guilt pangs to actually utilize the cow to its best use. I’m sure a lot of us would get over it, but part of why he’s the hero is because he’s not that type of guy. So how to resolve the dilemma? Well, I suppose there’s something poetic about the exchange in the end — the cow’s gotta die in any case, but it’s going out on a noble note. Its sacrifice would enable its boy protector to have a life-saving surgery, and thus not be in vain. (Again, a little touchy-feely for my taste, but I’m going with it.) Aside from mere companionship, it’s probably the most any cow could do for a boy it (supposedly) loved. Well, I suppose aside from supplying him with beef to eat.