Gourmet really took an upswing with these two episodes, I thought.
Sometimes I feel like I can see all the strings dictating the course of play — those dramatic puppet strings that are best made invisible — such as what is being set up for what future eventuality, which relationships are being guided in which directions, etc. But for some reason, even though I can see what is coming, the series still manages to pull the strings deftly enough that I am still invested in the outcome.
Also, Nam Sang-mi is getting much better, which is good — she has more to work with in these episodes, and it’s a welcome development. And the romance takes a decided step forward, which always makes me happy. Woo~
SONG OF THE DAY
As One – “Kiss Me” [ Download ]
Hm, recaps are getting longer. Time to split them up into separate posts? I do like keeping them together, though, because the food themes and discussions tend to be related in the Monday & Tuesday episodes…
Sung-chan and Jin-soo nurse their injuries (hers a bee sting, his from being hit over the head by her). According to Ms. Jo, the old lady floats in and out of senility, and is estranged from her daughter-in-law following the death of her son (the daughter-in-law’s husband). Ms. Jo also scolds Sung-chan for being stubborn and tells him to return to Oonamjeong.
Despite her dementia, Grandma is single-minded in her focus when she has a task at hand, which is making kimchi. Sung-chan and Jin-soo assist (are roped into it, more like) as she prepares several different varieties; she may be crazy but granny sure knows how to make good kimchi. Jin-soo marvels at the taste and asks if she can take some back with her, but granny’s adamant refusal indicates she’s got plans for this kimchi (Sung-chan’s sense of humor is tickled to see Jin-soo so unceremoniously rebuffed).
Jin-soo’s editor catches wind of some Oonamjeong fishiness (hearing rumors that Bong-joo isn’t the true heir to the legacy) and starts snooping in Jin-soo’s files. He finds the “Oonamjeong Mystery” in the “secret file” folder. (Jin-soo may be a decent food reporter, but espionage is certainly not her forte — who names a secret file “secret file”?)
As for Oonamjeong: Bong-joo wants to start pairing Korean food with fancy wines, and is traveling to an event at Napa Valley next month in his efforts to continue presenting Korean cuisine to an international audience. Joo-hee is onboard with Bong-joo’s ambitions, but is more hesitant — it almost feels like she’s being dragged along in his wake. She takes a moment to think of Sung-chan and wonders if he would have stayed if she’d treated him better.
It’s not that Bong-joo doesn’t care for Joo-hee, though — he serves her a fancy multi-course surprise dinner and caps the evening by telling her that she’s the most important person to him, and suggests they move along their engagement plans. (I know a lot of Korean males act this way, but I am constantly annoyed to see men who simply assume, as Bong-joo does, that the woman would love to marry him when he hasn’t bothered to ASK. Instead, he just tells her, “Let’s get married.”)
Bong-joo wants to be the romantic alpha male, but he’s not reading her signs that well, because I don’t think Joo-hee’s totally into this relationship (it “makes sense,” but her emotions aren’t fully engaged). Which is probably why I find the scene(s) with Sung-chan and Jin-soo much more romantic, despite their humble surroundings and lack of candlelight, wine, or flowers.
Their conversation isn’t even romantic, but it’s in the little looks and shy gestures when you watch the two interact. Jin-soo tells Sung-chan she was upset when he lost the competition, and grows indignant on his behalf at how unfair it was that he lost. Sung-chan says in his philosophical way, “I wanted to show hyung he was wrong too, but what could I do? I lost. I lost based on skill.”
Jin-soo thinks Sung-chan is punishing himself, wandering literally and figuratively. Sung-chan replies, “I’m thinking about what I should do and how I should act, and trying to find the answer.”
Jin-soo realizes she’s lost track of her camera, and that it must be out in the tea fields. Jin-soo spots the camera in the field, but first decides to have a little fun and crouches down, hiding from Sung-chan. When he realizes he’s lost sight of her, he starts to panic, shouting her name and searching for her — and when he does find her, he gets uncharacteristically upset. Jin-soo apologizes and tries to smooth over his ruffled feathers.
Both prepare to return to Seoul the next day (Sung-chan is giving Jin-soo a ride), but grandma hijacks their plan by insisting he take her somewhere first. She’s lucid now, calm and serious, and they arrive at the dock where grandma sees a woman working on a boat, but turns away without speaking to her. Sung-chan deduces this is the estranged daughter-in-law, who still feels hurt and angry at the grandma for treating her badly. Grandma leaves without talking to her, saying it’s enough to have seen her.
Little does anyone know that grandma’s planned her next (and last) moments very carefully — she’d prepared kimchi for all the people she’d cared about, then died. At first everyone assumes she passed naturally in the night, but when the daughter-in-law comes (grieving and regretful), they realize that grandma must have done this all intentionally — she’d wanted to set her daughter-in-law free of the burden.
Sung-chan, Jin-soo and Ms. Jo seem to feel that daughter-in-law was too harsh to the grandma, but they encourage her to eat the kimchi she left, made with tea leaves that the woman hasn’t eaten in years. The woman cries as she eats, regretting how she’d resented her mother-in-law all this time.
Sung-chan: “With cooking and food… All you have to do is eat with enjoyment. Cook with joy, and eat well. You remember how happy she looked while making her kimchi, don’t you? I think I’d forgotten about that spirit of sharing.”
Jin-soo: “What do you mean?”
Sung-chan: “Whether it was the contest or competition, I only thought of fighting and winning. I wanted to beat hyung, and show off. I suppose winning is important in life. But I think I’d forgotten what was truly valuable. Too much enthusiasm turned into greed, and when that became too much greed, I stopped…”
Jin-soo: “She left you with what’s most important, as one chef to another.”
Sung-chan: “She was the best kind of chef.”
Jin-soo and Sung-chan stop by the seashore for some shellfish harvesting. As they change out of their wet clothes in separate parts of the truck, Sung-chan teases Jin-soo by pretending to peek in on her. She protests in embarrassment, but Sung-chan has a hoot, and tells her laughingly, “You know I like you, don’t you?”
They’re unaware of trouble brewing back in Seoul, as Jin-soo’s editor writes the story using her research (under her byline), and the magazine hits the newsstands. Oonamjeong is not pleased.
Le shit hits the fan: Bong-joo must deal with the sudden media frenzy wrought by Jin-soo’s article. Jin-soo herself doesn’t know the article has been published — she and Sung-chan remain happily out of contact — but Bong-joo assumes that she and Sung-chan have been working together to purposely bring down Oonamjeong in retaliation for losing. (Egocentric much, Bong-joo? Not everything happens ’cause people are jealous of you.)
To this end, they decide to make Min-woo’s sous chef the fall guy, explaining to Chef Oh and Joo-hee’s father that the article was mistaken and that Sung-chan had misinterpreted the cheating incident. Bong-joo crafts the story that Min-woo’s sous chef stepped in of his own will, and somehow Sung-chan thought Bong-joo was the one who trying to sabotage him.
Joo-hee overhears Min-woo and his sous chef muttering, and she’s suspicious of certain logic holes in the explanation, though she doesn’t have the full story. Bong-joo meets with Jin-soo’s editor and threatens to fight back, but the editor actually has a decent pair on him and holds his ground, sticking behind his story.
Both Sung-chan and Jin-soo remain ignorant of the hubbub. Their return to Seoul is delayed when Jin-soo receives a call from her mother, who suddenly feels ill in the middle of the call, and Jin-soo decides to return home. Initially, Sung-chan is to take her to the airport, but it is uber cute to see him latch onto any excuse she gives him to extend their time together, and he agrees to drive her down the entire distance.
Once they arrive at Jin-soo’s family’s peach orchard, Sung-chan helps out with the peach picking while Jin-soo’s mother prepares a special meal, which turns out to be Jin-soo’s birthday meal. (She’d faked the illness to bring her daughter home.) Unfortunately, she doesn’t see herself accidentally tipping the salt container into the soup pot, and makes it way too salty. Jin-soo assures her mother it tastes great, and Sung-chan covers his surprise and goes along with the ruse. Mom is delighted.
Jin-soo and Sung-chan both feel ill after forcing themselves to eat the meal, after which Jin-soo thanks him for playing along. It turns out her mother lost her sense of taste after a bout with tongue cancer, and doesn’t know Jin-soo knows about it. Jin-soo answers Sung-chan’s unasked question: “You wonder how I can eat it? My mother’s cooking really is delicious, the best in the world.”
Jin-soo explains that her mother cooks by memory and recipes because she can’t taste her food — she cuts out magazine recipes and columns to follow. Sung-chan realizes that’s why Jin-soo became a food columnist, and she agrees: “That’s what I can do to help my mother.”
Sung-chan gives her a flower bracelet as a birthday gift (not having known it was her birthday until today).
Mom, however, finds out from a neighbor that her food was bad and realizes Jin-soo and Sung-chan were faking their enjoyment. Feeling humiliated and upset at herself, she asks why Jin-soo forced herself to eat, and wonders, “What do I do now? I can’t even cook for my Jin-soo anymore.” Jin-soo assures her that her mother’s cooking is delicious, but her mother despairs that she can’t even remember how food tastes anymore. She’s forgetting, more and more.
Sung-chan makes breakfast the next morning, and when Jin-soo reminds him that her mother can’t taste anything, he reminds her of the point she made yesterday, that “You don’t eat only by taste, but by heart too.”
Mom is touched at the gesture and starts eating, and compliments Sung-chan on the food. At first it seems like mere politeness, but as she continues to marvel at the dishes and starts describing all the flavors, Jin-soo looks at her mother in growing surprise.
Mom: “I can sense the taste. I can remember. It’s all coming back to me. The more I chew, each kernel of rice, the feel of the anchovies, it makes me remember that taste. Maybe it’s because you put so much thought into cooking for me when I can’t even taste anything, but I can remember it all.”
Mom thanks Jin-soo and Sung-chan, and continues to taste each dish delightedly.
Sung-chan takes Jin-soo to the bus depot to catch a bus up to Seoul, and they linger over their goodbyes. Clearly they don’t want to part ways, although Sung-chan doesn’t have particular plans to return to Seoul. But they grab the suggestion to meet up for lunch; Sung-chan says he’ll visit on the weekend, and they arrange a date.
But Sung-chan’s return comes earlier than expected. He receives a call from his father telling him (without elaboration) to come back to Seoul. When he arrives at Oonamjeong, totally unaware of the current fracas, Bong-joo angrily accuses him of conspiring with Jin-soo to drag Oonamjeong down. The media glare is growing so intense that theories are being bandied about that the restaurant ousted Sung-chan, the rightful heir, so they could take control over Oonamjeong. Furthermore, CEO Jang (chief investor of the restaurant) is displeased and cancels the Napa Valley trip.
Chef Oh has always had one singular intention, despite all the contests and qualifiers — to give Oonamjeong to Sung-chan’s stewardship. He announces that this will be their course of action, to be announced soon, which alarms Bong-joo.
Sung-chan sees Jin-soo’s name on the article and speeds over to confront her. Jin-soo arrives at work and finds out all that’s transpired in her absence, and her reaction to the article is just as irate.. She rushes out of the office (to see Sung-chan? Her boss? Bong-joo?) just as Sung-chan arrives.
The reason Episodes 15 and 16 really appealed to my love of romance isn’t just because we got to see more of it (although that’s always nice) but because the balance finally tilted. That’s probably my favorite part in the development of a kdrama romance, and for 15 episodes, we’ve seen the balance always tilting on the side of Jin-soo liking Sung-chan more (and Sung-chan being friendly but at arm’s length). But here, we finally see Sung-chan initiating interaction and taking steps forward, and it’s SO CUTE.
For instance: In Episode 15, both sides are close to balanced, but Jin-soo’s still the one who’s engaging Sung-chan more. For instance, take their trip out to the tea fields, where she first kids around and he gets upset (even though his unexpected blow-up is a result of fear for her safety — I think the extent of his reaction surprises both of them, actually). Her joke is like a bit of flirty byplay that has the unintended result of getting Sung-chan to realize he cares about her more than he thought.
He then plans to depart while she’s still conducting her interviews, and she rushes back, afraid he’ll leave without her. Toward the end of the episode, when they stop for some fishing, Sung-chan asks her if she has to head back to Seoul soon. She does, but she pushes that aside and assures him that she can spend some more time here. In this scenario, she’s the one making the excuse to be with him.
But starting in Episode 16, it starts moving the other way. Sung-chan initially plans to drop Jin-soo off at the airport to visit her mother, but he makes the spontaneous decision to drive her down himself. Then when they arrive at the peach farm, Jin-soo thanks him for his trouble and hurriedly rushes off to find her sick mother, expecting him to leave. Sung-chan lingers, and grabs any excuse to follow her in.
Then he’s found by her mother and mistaken for the hired help. Jin-soo’s mom sets him out to work and even when he realizes the mistake, instead of speaking up and clarifying his identity, he goes along and starts working. Jin-soo finds him and tells him he doesn’t have to help, but he allows himself to be roped into continuing.
And finally, at the bus station, Jin-soo asks when he’s planning to drop by Seoul again, and he doesn’t have a ready answer, not really planning on it. She offers that she was going to buy him lunch the next time he was in Seoul as a thank-you for his help, and he jumps on that as an excuse to make a date, saying he’ll be there the next weekend.
Plus, I like that they’re friends as well as romantic interests. I’m always struck with the easy way they converse, in contrast to Bong-joo and Joo-hee’s stiff courtship. Despite their modern sophistication, I keep getting the feeling that Bong-joo and Joo-hee are the classic miserable Korean coupling. They marry because it seems like a good match on paper — both are successful and good-looking and their dads are buddies — but he doesn’t listen to her, which isn’t helped by the fact that she doesn’t talk to him.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I wonder if the writer has unresolved parent issues. We’ve seen multiple storylines converge around the concept of family rifts, many of which arise from some misdeed of the parent and the resulting resentment harbored by the child. There was Episode 6’s crab-loving prisoner, for instance, as well as Butcher Kang and his daughter in Episodes 7 and 8. And although the situation’s a bit different, Episode 5’s adoptee food critic also falls into this category.
Once again, the kimchi grandma’s painful estrangement is bridged through food (albeit posthumously). And once again, it’s not the food itself but the act of preparing that food with a certain spirit that conveys this message. The daughter-in-law probably had plenty of cause for turning her difficult mother-in-law out and parting ways, but their rift caused pain for both people that neither was able to communicate to each other. The mother-in-law probably felt guilty, and the daughter-in-law couldn’t bring herself to visit.
It’s interesting to note that the grandma is still locked in senility when doing most of her kimchi preparations, but even so, she remains focused on her one goal. That goal isn’t merely the kimchi, but her intention to follow this last gift by removing herself (and therefore the burden) from her daughter-in-law’s life to set her free to be happier. The daughter-in-law realizes this belatedly, but eats the kimchi in respect, and all her years of resentment fall away in one fell swoop. Like with the crab man, eating is simultaneously an act of forgiving and asking forgiveness.
Jin-soo’s mother is one example of what I mean by visible puppet strings. A cook, a taste columnist, and a taste-less tongue-cancer survivor? Does this Coincidence Meter go up to 11?
But the acting is strong with both mother and daughter, and the themes raised in Episode 15 are illustrated nicely here in Episode 16. Sung-chan is reminded through kimchi grandma’s actions that cooking is, ironically, about more than just food. When he meets the woman who can’t taste anything, it’s the perfect application for that lesson. Although food is obviously a part of this scenario, it isn’t the end goal (contrasted with the competitions, where the food’s taste is the ultimate, and only, goal).
Rather, food is like a tool for learning this lesson, and he’s able to restore a bit of what the woman has lost, which she had despaired of never feeling again. Again, it’s not just taste that she’s lost, but the ability to cook for her daughter, to share her feelings through the comfort of food that is such a basic and easy task for other people. If she can remember tastes in her mind and not just through measurements, she can continue to cook, and that’s what Sung-chan has done for her.