Gourmet: Episode 20
It seems as though every episode puts Oonamjeong on the brink of certain disaster, doesn’t it?
It’s one of the inevitable byproducts of adapting a manhwa — what seems plausible in the pages of a comic book doesn’t always correlate perfectly to real life. For instance, how is it a restaurant (even a high-class one) lands in the front pages of newspapers every time it encounters trouble? But I’m willing to stretch credulity when the other aspects of the drama make up for that one. If something’s a big deal to our characters because the manhwa setup has deemed it so, I’ll go along for the ride.
SONG OF THE DAY
Younha – “Strawberry Days” from her recent (and #1 chart-topping) second album. [ Download ]
EPISODE 20 RECAP
After Bong-joo punches Sung-chan, he accuses him of making a play for Joo-hee. Bong-joo warns Sung-chan furiously to never show his face to him again.
Jin-soo walks off and Sung-chan catches up to her at the bus stop, where he awkwardly tries to think of how to explain. But she speaks up first:
Jin-soo: “Yes, I liked you. At some point, I started to. I wondered if you might like me too, then thought, ‘Ah, he does.’ But it was only for a moment that I mistook things. I’m sure there’s some explanation, but I’m not good with these complicated things, like telling myself that there might be an explanation, that there might be a reason for this, or that. I really can’t do that. It’s not how I am.”
She leaves, and he lets her.
Meanwhile, Chef Oh talks with his old friend and frets about Sung-chan, who shows no signs of ending his wandering lifestyle. She tells him to let the kid live his life, asking jokingly why he’s in a rush for Sung-chan to return: “Have you been given a death date or something?” She expects no response, although Chef Oh’s pause tells us the truth. As they part ways, she hugs Chef Oh goodbye, with the tacit understanding that they probably won’t see each other again.
Bong-joo returns to Oonamjeong to find the kitchen stressed out over the change in their kimchi’s taste. He samples the food and comes to the swift conclusion that the chopsticks used messed with the fermentation process.
Already in a foul mood, Bong-joo takes out his misplaced anger on Min-woo, kicking him and grabbing him threateningly. He sneers at Min-woo for being so dumb as to not know what the problem was, and yells at everyone to throw away everything and start over.
(Man, I don’t even like Min-woo and I think he got the shaft here. Bong-joo is an ass. You don’t mess with a petty, vindictive person like Min-woo, as Bong-joo will undoubtedly find out, because Min-woo vows that even if he’s forced out, he won’t go quietly.)
Sung-chan guesses that he was brought along to figure out the trout recipe (as a challenge to his chef’s skills, not merely for the recipe), and Chef Oh reminds him that a true chef is always cooking, as if to tell him that he can’t run from his calling. Chef Oh reminisces, “When you [and Bong-joo] were both at Oonamjeong, that was a good time.”
Chef Oh also muses about bonding with people through food — that’s how he knew he’d met the right woman for him. Sung-chan agrees that that’s how he felt when eating with Jin-soo, so Chef Oh tells him, “Don’t let her get away. Just act like you do when you’re cooking. That sincerity speaks for you, doesn’t it?”
Sung-chan and Jin-soo both brood, separately, over their stymied relationship.
Chef Oh takes Sung-chan to a store of urns used for fermenting foods like soybeans, soy sauce, and kimchi. The first urn contains soy sauce made by the previous Oonamjeong chef, who died thirty years ago. At the end are two empty jars, which belong to Sung-chan’s grandfather and father — empty because they weren’t able to claim the legacy that was rightfully theirs. Chef Oh calls into the urns cheerfully, “Your Sung-chan is here!” and for the first time, Sung-chan gets a tangible sense of what his legacy means.
Chef Oh takes him deep into the mountainside to where Sung-chan had worked alongside his biological father as a boy, scouring the mountainside for plants and herbs.
Sung-chan looks around, remembering long-forgotten memories, particularly of a man from Seoul who used to pay large sums for their plants. Chef Oh confirms that he was the man. Once he had found out that Sung-chan’s father was the Oonamjeong heir, he had tried to find him, but arrived too late. Sung-chan’s father had fallen down the mountainside and landed on some rocks to his death, found by a teenage Sung-chan.
Still in his pissy mood, Bong-joo takes off for a business trip, giving Joo-hee no information about how long he’ll be gone. He merely tells her not to wait for him.
At Oonamjeong, the employees are hard at work making new kimchi, under the watch of Min-woo. They’ve had to throw everything out, but this new batch is still tasting strange, and nobody knows why. Min-woo puts on an outward air of concern but sows seeds of discontent as he plays on Director Yoon’s (Joo-hee’s dad) irritation with Bong-joo. Min-woo says Bong-joo will lead them down the wrong path, and asks leadingly, “Are you just going to sit back and watch?” He suggests that Yoon take this up with the board of trustees.
Chef Oh arrives on the scene and assesses the problem with growing alarm. He rushes to taste the various jang (the soy-based products stored in the outdoor urns) with horror. Every batch is bad — the soy sauce, the soybean paste (dwenjang), the red-pepper gochujang paste. Such is his fury with the situation, and with himself, that he nearly collapses in his fit of anger.
At first, Sung-chan hangs back and prepares to leave quietly, but Joo-hee asks him incredulously if he can leave at a time like this, with Oonamjeong in trouble, Bong-joo gone, and his father ill.
Sung-chan might want to disclaim responsibility, but he’s still the fiercely curious problem-solver we’ve come to know, so he resolves to get to the bottom of the issue. When his father bemoans the problem, saying, “It’s my fault,” Sung-chan promises to do his best to fix it.
He starts by inspecting, testing, reading, and trying to identify the problem. Madam Jo is called back (so is Ja-woon, but the old man is out of touch for the moment), and rushes in with tearful sorrow for leaving her “babies” behind. With Sung-chan’s help, she starts brewing new batches of all their jang sauces.
Two issues come to the fore: First of all, there’s a storeroom that is inexplicably locked. Sung-chan can’t get inside to take a look at the products and wonders why. Second, when Madam Jo tosses soybeans to the birds, she and Sung-chan notice that the birds don’t touch them. Thus something is wrong with the beans themselves, which are used as a basis for all the jang. And as the jang serves as the foundation for all (or almost all) Korean food, this is a huge problem.
Sung-chan charges in the kitchen to confront Min-woo for purposely preventing him from his task, and demands the storeroom key. He guesses Min-woo’s purpose — to step back and watch Oonamjeong fall — while Min-woo takes offense to Sung-chan ordering him around as though he’s his boss. After all, Sung-chan is the one who washed his hands of the restaurant, so he has no authority here.
They nearly come to blows, but are held apart by the other chefs. Sung-chan rifles through the accounts, expecting to see shipments from new suppliers, but is stumped to see that everything is the same as it ever was.
Across town, Jin-soo is still unemployed. Her editor is eager to bring her back, as Jin-soo is one of his better, more dedicated reporters, but he refuses to beg and thus resorts to sending her little bribes. As though a carton of happy-faced milk would soften the indignity felt by an employee whose trust you abused.
Jin-soo finds these little “gifts” on her doorstep with irritation and refuses to come back, even though she misses her writing job. She recalls Sung-chan’s insistence that she return to her job, and thinks over their “bet” (which he won) uneasily.
Until their new batches of jang are ready, Oonamjeong must make do with substituting its ingredients. While we can presume many of their patrons don’t notice, one is greatly pained at the new taste. The Japanese man with a refined palate tells Chef Oh that the food has lost its special quality that made Oonamjeong superior. Chef Oh is aggrieved, particularly when the Japanese man gets on his knees to beg him to recover their old taste.
So it’s with a heavy heart that Chef Oh tells Sung-chan they’ll need to close Oonamjeong. Until the new jang is ready, they cannot continue to serve this substitute food.
Unexpectedly, Jong-gu helps Sung-chan by handing him the key to the locked storeroom. Jong-gu has watched this disaster unfold with a sad sort of disappointment, and although there have instances where he’s acted like an arrogant bastard, he does appear to have a great respect for Oonamjeong.
At first look, most of the foodstuffs inside the storeroom appear in good order, but Sung-chan finds that a batch of soybeans has gone rotten. He grabs them and races to find the supplier of the beans (which are supposedly the highest-quality beans available) to get more information.
Chef Oh shares his decision to temporarily close Oonamjeong with Bong-joo, who is violently opposed. With the new franchise and resort opening, closure would kill the momentum. In his opinion, they can merely use other ingredients instead, and he asks, “How can you say that because of a mere change in the jang taste?”
Chef Oh can’t believe Bong-joo would see this as such a small, insignificant problem, and here they part ideological ways (for good?). Bong-joo reminds everyone that he’s in charge now, and Oonamjeong will follow his will, not his father’s. Director Yoon, on the other hand, reminds him that he is still beholden to the board. They can take this issue up with the investors.
And just then, Sung-chan crashes through the doorway, crying out in excitement that he’s found the source of the problem — only to meet with a death glare from his brother.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Instead of trying to translate, I’ve used the Korean word jang to refer to the variety of fermented soy products in question here. In Korean cooking, these ingredients — soy sauce, dwenjang, gochujang — are abundantly used, and are the basis for an overwhelming majority of foods. Thus a problem with Oonamjeong’s age-old, consistently superior jang products is a huge deal, sort of like what would happen in an Italian kitchen if all its olive oil suddenly turned rancid. You just can’t keep going when a basic ingredient is compromised.
So Bong-joo’s willingness to gloss over the problem shocks Chef Oh, who is deeply concerned about the integrity of his restaurant. (In the large scheme of things, this is a pretty small problem, but let’s play along with the Gourmet world and accept that to them, this is a catastrophe.) Broken urn = broken tradition = BAD.
I’m not convinced that Sung-chan feels exactly the same way as his father does, but more to the point is his reaction — he swings into action. He can’t let this go because it’s in his nature to want to find the problem and fix it. And Madam Jo, for all her offended pride, is perhaps the only person at Oonamjeong other than Chef Oh to feel this so keenly. Other people operate from selfish motives like pride, reputation, or concerns over business revenue, while Madam Jo and Chef Oh answer to a higher culinary god.
So Sung-chan bringing back Madam Jo (and attempts to call Ja-woon) is a return to the old guard. When these passionate people left Oonamjeong, the restaurant lost what made it special and everyone got lazy. Or rather, the thing that forced these people away is also what chased away Oonamjeong’s special quality. Oh, I’m sure the actual chefs were busy cooking, but their attitudes became complacent. Notice how dismissive Bong-joo was early in the episode when he decreed the chopsticks to be the problem, sneered at everyone for worrying, and stormed out. Not only was he wrong, he was LAZY and wrong.
With Jin-soo’s current job status, she and Sung-chan are now on the same page. Not just because they both lack a structured day job, but because they are both resisting their true calling because of pride, fear, and probably a bunch of other emotions mixed in.
This theme is well-established for Sung-chan: He is a chef, thus will always be cooking. Now we see Jin-soo facing the same scenario: She refuses to return to her magazine (and for good reason), but she’s still a food writer at heart. Sung-chan noted this in the last episode, because she observes with a reporter’s eye, always ready to spin something into a food column. (It’s worth noting that her columns tend to take a human-interest angle, centering around a person or an emotion instead of mere food description.)
Anyway, that may explain why Sung-chan was so eager to get Jin-soo back at her job. He recognizes that Jin-soo ignoring her problem isn’t going to make it go away — now it’s up to him to realize the same goes for himself.
I’ve also been thinking in recently of how Sung-chan continues to learn from his father, in contrast to Bong-joo. Granted, Sung-chan has more to learn, being younger and less experienced. Bong-joo thinks he deserves to be Oonamjeong’s successor because he’s learned enough and is ready to lead. If Sung-chan is still learning, how can he take over control?
But considering this further, I believe the opposite is actually true. Sung-chan is better suited not despite his lack of experience but precisely because he’s still learning. I’d felt sorry for Bong-joo early on because it seemed like Chef Oh takes far more interest in teaching Sung-chan than his own son. But that isn’t quite true — I think Bong-joo resists learning. He thinks authority comes from knowing everything. Sung-chan recognizes that there’s still so much he doesn’t know, so every time his father imparts knowledge, he soaks it up.
Pardon my geeky reference, but it reminds me of an episode of Top Chef — anyone see it? — wherein celeb chefs were assigned to work under the finalist contestants. One would think that famous chefs would balk at taking orders from the unknowns, but one of the star chefs (Eric Ripert) learned a cool technique from a contestant, and said, “As a chef, the day you don’t learn anymore, it means you’re such an egomaniac, you’re blind.”