Gourmet: Episode 18
The food looks particularly good this time, doesn’t it?
Also, the scenery is gorgeous in this episode. One of Gourmet‘s strong points is that it depicts a Korea outside of Seoul, which I greatly appreciate, and wish that other dramas did more. Sung-chan’s roving tendencies allow us to get a glimpse of the countryside, small villages, and, as with this episode, the seashore (we’re mostly on Wando Island for this story, a small island off the southwestern tip of the Korean peninsula, just north of Jeju Island).
SONG OF THE DAY
Sunday Brunch – “200 kmh.” I heard a lot about singer Sunday Brunch, real name Kim Hee-young, before she premiered; she was a student at top school Yonsei University’s department of poli sci and diplomacy before turning chanteuse. Now she’s a new face on the kpop scene, straddling the line between the kpop mainstream and somewhat more alt-poppy influences. [ Download ]
EPISODE 18 RECAP
At home on Wando Island, Seok-dong finds a box mailed from his mother and takes off to the return address marked on the package. Sung-chan follows and finds a crushed Seok-dong sitting in the street, alone. He’d lingered outside the door and seen a woman with her children leaving the house, but hadn’t had the courage to speak up.
Sung-chan sits with Seok-dong, and both move out of sight when the happy family comes back home. The woman catches a glimpse of the guys as she goes inside, and her woman’s intuition kicks in. She comes up as Sung-chan comforts his crying friend, and asks hesitantly, “Are you… Seok-dong?”
Seok-dong looks up in renewed hope, asking, “Mom?” But alas, it’s not her; it’s her friend, who’d mailed the package on her behalf. Seok-dong presses her for information about his mother and her current address, so she tells him she’ll have it for him the next day. That perks him up and revives his good spirits.
Joo-hee comes to pay Seok-dong a visit, not expecting Sung-chan to be there. As she’s taking a few days off work, they decide to spend some time touring the island — both greet the opportunity with initial hesitance, like kids in the throes of first crushes. And perhaps they are, since they’ve never been able to address their feelings for each other; it’s like a return to adolescence.
Seok-dong thinks this “date” is bad form, reminding him that he has Jin-soo. Sung-chan replies that he and Jin-soo weren’t anything to each other, brushing Seok-dong’s point aside, although not as easily as he’d probably like. (Taking matters into his own hands, Seok-dong calls Jin-soo and fabricates a story that Sung-chan is sick and wants her to come visit.) Sung-chan and Joo-hee do all sorts of date-like things, like eating together, touring the markets together, and eventually ending up at an old lighthouse.
Joo-hee brings up the first time they met, when he had cooked her seaweed soup on her birthday in middle school (she had no mother). She reminisces, “I was really happy then… My whole world was dark then, but it was like a light. Like a lighthouse.”
He asks about Oonamjeong and Bong-joo, who’s busy trying to conceptualize for the World Gourmet Society challenge. Hearing about the “happiness of waiting” theme, Sung-chan commiserates with the difficult topic, saying that it’s a pointless theme that the people in charge thought up just to be difficult.
Just as she’s about to bring up Jin-soo, they’re interrupted by someone yelling at them to vacate the lighthouse.
Back in Seoul, Jin-soo has a new job after she walked out of the magazine for the unauthorized Oonamjeong story. When her editor presents Bong-joo with the follow-up story retracting their errors, his ever-so-bold reporter’s instinct has him prodding Bong-joo for info on the upcoming challenge despite the fact that Bong-joo’s practically radiating chilly disdain. He suggests with a touch of snideness that Jin-soo cover the story again, but the editor admits, embarrassedly, that Jin-soo quit over the article.
Therefore Bong-joo drops by Jin-soo’s new workplace (she’s a dishwasher in a restaurant) and both come to a truce, recognizing that they both bear responsibility.
Jin-soo deliberates over Seok-dong’s phone call, and decides to drop by to see Sung-chan. But when she gets there, full of nervous anticipation, her spirits deflate upon seeing Joo-hee. I kind of love their conversation, because it’s true to life about the way women treat each other when a man is in question — they may respect and like each other, but their feelings for the guy keep them from friendliness.
Joo-hee drops a feeler for the situation, saying that Sung-chan hadn’t mentioned Jin-soo’s arrival; Jin-soo reads between the lines and concludes her arrival was a mistake. Joo-hee comments that Sung-chan needs time to get over his hurt, which Jin-soo, feeling sensitive, responds to by figuring, “So you’re saying it’s pointless for me to be here.” Joo-hee didn’t intend to be mean, but Jin-soo goes on, pointedly mentioning that it’s strange for Joo-hee to be on vacation now when Oonamjeong and Bong-joo are so busy (“Not that it’s my business”). Feeling hurt, Jin-soo leaves, asking Joo-hee to let Sung-chan know she’d dropped by.
Neither women is mean to the other, and neither really means to be bitchy or assert her claim on Sung-chan. But Nam Sang-mi does a great job conveying insecurity and jealousy, using passive-aggressiveness as a cover for her raw feelings. And while neither woman is wrong about her conclusions, they both take the presence of the other to mean more than Sung-chan would interpret. (Because men are dense that way?)
To her credit, Joo-hee tells Sung-chan about Jin-soo’s arrival and prods him to see her before her ferry leaves. Sung-chan resists, but Joo-hee drops a few more suggestions in her calm, unaggressive way, and Sung-chan eventually drives to the pier.
He’s too late, arriving as the boat pulls away from the dock, but even then his conflicted emotions are clear because he doesn’t rush or call out to Jin-soo. He spots her on the deck of the boat, and she catches sight of him; they merely look at each other as the distance grows.
Seok-dong’s cheerful hopes take another dive when his mother’s friend confesses that she doesn’t actually know his mother’s whereabouts. Seok-dong bitterly cries himself sick, thinking his mother doesn’t want anything to do with him. Sung-chan asks the woman why she’d lied in the first place, and she tells him the truth: that she couldn’t bring herself to tell Seok-dong that his mother is dead. Before she died, she’d asked the friend to make sure her son never found out about her death.
Sung-chan breaks the news to his friend (or rather, Seok-dong guesses the truth from Sung-chan’s demeanor). But surprisingly, later that night Seok-dong is back in a better mood and wants to eat abalone for dinner despite disliking abalone for years. He explains that the last time he had was the night before his mother left. Because abalone was expensive, they’d never eaten it no matter how much wanted to, but that day she’d fed him a huge amount. But now, he says, he’ll be able to eat it with enjoyment.
The next morning, Joo-hee faces Sung-chan with a new resolve, having come to a decision. She surprises him by asking him to sit down for a talk, and tells him that he’d misunderstood about Jin-soo betraying him for her article. Everyone had misunderstood and assumed the worst of her. She explains, “Because of that misunderstanding, you probably felt very disappointed and angry at Jin-soo. When you start to care for someone, isn’t that what happens? You feel more disappointment, and more anger.”
Clearly Joo-hee has decided to back off, and turns down Sung-chan’s offer of a ride to take a taxi instead. As she leaves, she tells him she’s going to be engaged to Bong-joo, leaving him to mull over her words about misunderstanding Jin-soo.
When Joo-hee returns to Oonamjeong, Bong-joo apologizes for their argument and for being overly sensitive. When asks where she went, she hesitates to answer, and he reads that pause correctly and tells her she doesn’t have to tell him until she wants to.
At his abalone farm, Seok-dong marvels at how the shellfish grow, slowly but surely. Sung-chan comments that five years is an awfully long time to raise them, but Seok-dong answers cheerfully, “It’s about waiting… I wait for these guys, and these guys wait for me. We wait for each other, and come to happiness.”
That reminds Sung-chan of the food challenge theme, and he laughs at how perfectly that fits. As chance would have it, Oonamjeong is struggling to come up with appropriately creative and suitable dishes for the challenge, and thus the kitchen greets their mystery shipment of abalone with excitement.
They’ve been sent anonymously, but the shellfish are of premium quality, super-fresh and still alive. Min-woo recognizes that these have been raised for five years, and Bong-joo decides this is what they need for the challenge. They make a spread of dishes incorporating the abalone, which wins raves from their panel.
For whatever circumstances, Joo-hee and Sung-chan haven’t ever been able to address their feelings for each other, and so they’ve been frozen in stasis, kept at this childlike stage of affection. As they say, timing is everything, and since the timing never worked out for them, they both developed relationships with other people. But now with Joo-hee having fought with Bong-joo and questioning her future with him, and Sung-chan on the outs with Jin-soo, they’re both free and available.
When they have a brief moment of contact (she stumbles into his arms, and into cliché), they feel attraction but pull away in embarrassment. Then when Jin-soo arrives, it reminds Joo-hee of the state of things, and she steps back before things develop further.
It could be that she’s afraid of upsetting the balance, as a romance between them would create problems between a lot of people in their sphere, and something tells me Joo-hee’s not up for that kind of maverick action. Or it could be that she recognizes that Jin-soo has a greater hold on Sung-chan’s affections than she does, and that he’s acting more “on the rebound,” so to speak, than of his own volition.
In any case, although Joo-hee doesn’t tend to take much initiative in her own relationship, I’m glad that she can take decisive action to help along another couple. She seems kind of like a martyr, though, sacrificing her own happiness for his, and I don’t think she’s THAT noble. More like a risk-averse person who’s assessed the situation and decided to withdraw rather than fight it out.
As a result of Joo-hee prodding Sung-chan to reconsider his opinion of Jin-soo, what’s nice is that Sung-chan finally takes a step toward facing his issues rather than brushing them aside or running away, as he’s done in the past. Because his defense mechanisms have been so long ingrained — he shuts down rather than confronting the source of his hurt — he doesn’t exactly embrace the opportunity full-on. (He could have rushed to the pier, in which case he might have had a chance to talk to her. Or, once there, he could have shouted out her name and said something.) But we see him at least heading in that direction by showing up in the first place.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Like I’ve mentioned before, Gourmet is just chock-full of parental issues. It’s too bad for Seok-dong that his mother passed before he could have the one thing he wanted — a motherly send-off when he went off to the army — but at least the experience has erased his years-old grudge against abalone. LOL. That sounds absurd, I know.
Rather, I suppose it would be more accurate to say that he’s erased the grudge that he’s sublimated onto a tangible object — abalone — that originated with the anger and hurt he’d felt at his maternal abandonment. I’m no psych major, but isn’t that a coping mechanism of some sort, substituting one resentment for another?
Ironic, then, that he would come home to farm the food he refused to eat, but so it goes. Now that he knows the truth, Seok-dong takes the symbolic first step toward reconciling his feelings, and eats the abalone in an act of forgiveness. Ah, abalone forgiveness. That oughtta be a band name.
As for the food challenge. Bong-joo spends the episode dissatisfied with his chefs’ pedestrian dishes, most of which take the “waiting” theme entirely too literally. They prepare foods that take a lot of time to cook, but aren’t terribly creative. The abalone dishes are based on a similar concept, but takes the literal “long wait” idea one step further, and that makes the difference. Instead of merely taking a long time to cook, this is an ingredient that requires long-term devotion and care by the farmer. One spends years raising the crop, which is dedication on an entirely different level.
One of the main dishes, then, combines both the literal theme of slow-cooking with the more symbolic one, to produce junbok sullungtang. The two components are the five-year-old abalone and the slow-cooked beef bone broth, which is boiled for twelve hours to extract that milky white consistency. I suppose that means “the happiness of waiting” = 5 years + 12 hours?