Gourmet: Episode 21
Oh, Bong-joo. You’ve made quite a swift decline over onto the dark side, haven’t you? And to think, at the beginning of the series I thought there was hope for you and your thick-headed, belligerent ways.
Also, the romance takes two steps forward (and one step back). But hey, that’s better than one step forward and two backward, right? It’s all about net gain, people.
SONG OF THE DAY
Sol Flower – “세상, 그 중심의 나” (Me at the center of the world) [ Download ]
EPISODE 21 RECAP
Unfortunately, Sung-chan’s belief that the beans are the source of trouble turns out to be wrong; the problem is actually rooted in a deeper issue. They’d thought that their older jang batches were ruined (the ones that were then used in food), but it turns out even the newer ones, which are still fermenting, are corrupted too. In despair, Chef Oh feels they must close immediately. Sung-chan says he’ll do everything he can to find out the problem.
Bong-joo seems to be past the point of no return regarding his Oonamjeong power trip, so he barrels on forward. When Sung-chan tries to consult with him about the food problem, Bong-joo merely tells him to get lost.
Bong-joo calls a board meeting, at which he announces his intention to start buying their jang from a different supplier, rather than making their own. This meets with nearly unanimous disapproval — even Min-woo and Jong-gu think this is going too far — but Bong-joo doesn’t heed his father’s heated words that their jang is the very foundation of Oonamjeong.
Sung-chan’s other goal is to make things right with Jin-soo, and he tracks her down to try to earn himself back into her good graces. While he lacks finesse, at least by now he has the sense to blurt out his feelings frankly rather than trying, in misguidedly roundabout ways, to appease her.
Sung-chan: “I like you too. I miss you, I wonder about you, and think of you. I think back to when we’d eat together, and how we fought — isn’t that what it means? But you… I’m sorry. I understand how you feel, but honestly I don’t know what to do. What can I do that’ll stop you from being angry?”
His words start to have an effect, but Jin-soo doesn’t have a chance to respond because they’re interrupted by her editor. The editor’s mention of Bong-joo’s new plans works Sung-chan up into an immediate fury, ready to storm in on his brother. Jin-soo foresees disaster in that confrontation, so she points out that he would have a more persuasive argument against Bong-joo if he first figured out the problem.
That takes them to a salt farm, following Sung-chan’s decision to go over every ingredient, down to the most basic. (Jin-soo stumbles along the way, so Sung-chan grabs her hand to help her up, then keeps holding it. This gesture marks a tacit reconciliation, and the mood between them lightens considerably.)
For instance, while shoveling salt, Sung-chan takes a moment to wipe the grains from Jin-soo’s face, then tells her to keep her eyes closed and surprises her with a kiss. Totally taken aback, she hits him in response — in mock outrage, not real — and chases him around.
However, Sung-chan tastes some of the salt being prepared for shipment to Oonamjeong and notices something strange. It turns out that the salt they’d been using had at some point (several years ago) switched to a different kind of salt, but without anyone at Oonamjeong aware of the difference. (They thought they were getting a type of desalted salt, which produces a milder, sweeter taste than the regular kind.)
Driving back to Seoul, Jin-soo asks, “What is Oonamjeong to you?” and wonders, “You’re the rightful owner but you gave it up. When they made mistakes, you covered it up. You don’t want anything from them but you worry about them.”
Sung-chan answers: “It raised me, taught me, and made me a chef. My brother’s there, and so is my father, and I met you there. That’s what Oonamjeong is to me.”
When they arrive back in Seoul that night, Sung-chan comes up with a spur-of-the-moment proposal, suggesting they throw a little party to celebrate Jin-soo’s return to her job.
Back in Seoul, Joo-hee’s father is smarting from Bong-joo’s recent power plays, but is holding back his anger because of Joo-hee’s engagement. Seeing that Joo-hee hasn’t informed her father yet of their breakup, Bong-joo informs him in very clear, almost crude terms that the wedding is off. He stalks out rudely, leaving the older man sputtering in rage.
Joo-hee asks Bong-joo if this is really how he wants to end things, and he answers, coldly: “I loved you for a long time, but I regret it. If I could erase the time I spent on your behalf, looking at you, I would.”
Joo-hee doesn’t try to plead with him, which is a relief since Bong-joo really doesn’t deserve any kind of lingering affection from her. She accepts his decision, but tells him not to take out his anger toward her on other people, such as their fathers. Oonamjeong is the place she’s placed all her hopes, dreams, aspirations: “And I won’t just sit back and see you destroying it.”
Unfortunately, that display of spine is undermined by the fact that she collapses soon afterward (from the stress, presumably — because the pretty girls, you know they cannot be feeling emotions without collapsing!). I suppose the silver lining is that at least she didn’t do it in Bong-joo’s presence — but that silver lining is thin, since it’s Sung-chan who sees her and rushes her to the hospital. How very damsel-in-distress-y of her.
Therefore he’s busy at the hospital while Jin-soo cheerfully shops and prepares for their celebratory party.
While Joo-hee is sleeping, Sung-chan answers her phone and hears that the engagement hall was canceled. When Joo-hee wakes, he doesn’t immediately bring up the subject, and asks instead if there’s any particular food she’d like to eat. She asks for the seaweed soup he’d made her back in middle school, which he then makes for her.
Back in her apartment, Jin-soo waits with growing disappointment as the night goes on. She sits outside waiting for him, and to his credit, Sung-chan does arrive eventually.
He apologizes with genuine distress, and because Jin-soo can see he means it, she answers, “It’s okay, you’re here now.” A bit unexpectedly, Sung-chan hugs Jin-soo and breathes a sigh, as though in relief.
When Chef Oh sees crates of the new food supplies bought from an outside vendor, he again pleads with Bong-joo to reconsider his decision to break with tradition in using the equivalent of store-bought ingredients (it’s Semi-Homemade Korean cuisine!): “Doing this means you’re abandoning your father.” Far from being swayed, Bong-joo answers in a hard tone: “Then it can’t be helped.” He announces that from now on, he’ll run Oonamjeong according to his decisions, and warns his father not to interfere. It’s his way or the highway.
Pushed too far, Chef Oh strikes Bong-joo in anger, but then walks away in bitterness, saying, “Do that.”
Jin-soo is sent on assignment to find out more about the plans of a Japanese restaurateur, Matsumoto, who just happens to be the Oonamjeong patron with the refined palate in a previous episode. Matsumoto owns numerous, world-famous restaurants all over the world, and one New York restaurant in particular (serving Japanese food) has risen to success with the addition of Korean foods to its menu. Thus it chafes Korean pride (sigh) that Americans are enjoying Korean food and thinking it’s Japanese. (Aie, Korean nationalism, don’t you ever rest? I actually understand the complaint; I wish it were handled with more finesse so that I didn’t have to wince at the storyline. Plus it’s a little narrow-minded to suppose Americans aren’t aware of Korean food — at least in the metropolitan areas, lots of non-Asian gourmands are fully aware of what is Korean and what is Japanese.)
This assignment has Jin-soo tracking Matsumoto to a (hotel?) restaurant — but she happens to spy Min-woo, Dir. Yoon, and another Oonamjeong representative, Director Yong, there. This piques her curiosity.
It’s come to this: Bong-joo is making everyone nervous and unhappy, so Min-woo has proposed that he will take care of things. He knows of a way to get Oonamjeong out from under Bong-joo’s leadership. Hence this meeting with the Japanese mogul.
However, Matsumoto wants to change those in management (i.e., buy out the restaurant entirely). Min-woo is uneasy to hear this, probably not thinking it would go this far. Well, Min-woo — you play with the big fishies, you might get a shark.
Furthermore, when asked what Matsumoto’s takeover would mean for the new Oonamjeong franchises being planned for New York and elsewhere, Matsumoto answers that those enterprises will not pan out. While the older two trustees are willing to proceed and throw their support to the Japanese mogul, Min-woo hesitates, uncertain that this is the right way to get the restaurant away from Bong-joo. (Hast thou a heart after all?)
The obstacle Matsumoto alludes to soon presents itself to Bong-joo in the form of inspectors who arrive at Oonamjeong to look into their finance and tax records. They go through the offices, confiscating all their files, discs, laptops, and office miscellany.
This is too much for Chef Oh’s weakened heart, and he collapses. (Come on, we get two collapses in one episode? Surely there could have been a better dispersal of convenient illnesses used as plot points.)
Despite his ailing health, Chef Oh is much more worried about the state of Oonamjeong than his health, perhaps because he’s long since come to terms with his eventual death. But he laments over leaving Oonamjeong in this condition.
He also entreats Joo-hee not to let Sung-chan know of his collapse, although she’s already called him. When Sung-chan arrives, Chef Oh tells him with as much cheer as he can muster that he’s fine, but one look at Joo-hee’s stricken face shows that this isn’t true. Furthermore, Joo-hee informs Sung-chan of the audit and the seizure of all their records.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
To be fair, I don’t hate Sung-chan for being late to his date with Jin-soo, although he coulda at least called her. But when one friend is in the hospital, the other one at the party is naturally going to be relegated to a lower priority, as well she should. Still, it’s rather sad to see Sung-chan preparing a meal for Joo-hee while Jin-soo’s preparing one for him. As we know by now, in Gourmet the thought behind the cooking is more important than the cooking itself, and the way he forgets Jin-soo to cook for Joo-hee reinforces the direction in which his attention is leaning. (For the moment. At least he did show up.)
As for Joo-hee’s request for the seaweed soup, while it seemed at first that she was trying to recapture the past (it was the first thing he ever cooked for her), I see it more as a parting gesture in this instance. As she eats, she assures him that her breakup with Bong-joo wasn’t his fault: “Don’t feel sorry, don’t feel bad. I’m fine… I’ll be sure not to cause trouble for you anymore.” Joo-hee may have faults that get in the way of a successful love life, but it’s never that she clings when she sees she’s unwanted. In fact, her problem is just the opposite, since she’s so damn passive — martyr complexes are only cool to the martyr-wannabes! To everyone else, it’s a damn pain.
As for Bong-joo’s pigheaded plans to take over the (culinary) world — his idea to find a large supplier for their ingredients isn’t, in and of itself, all that bad. When your restaurant’s ingredients go bad, you make do with substitutes, and manage as best you can. With Oonamjeong planning to go global, it’s also a huge burden to continue to manufacture their own sauces on-site, which is a labor-intensive job, and by no means inexpensive. So is it such a bad idea to compromise a teeny bit in the taste department, in exchange for overwhelming gains in profit and convenience? Well, what if the compromise and the gains are about even? And then, what if the compromise is huge and the gains relatively small?
The problem, I suppose, is that it’s never going to be a clear-cut answer which scenario we’re dealing with — more often than not, we’re in a slippery slope situation, and it’s hard to pin down exactly how much compromise is going to give us how much gain.
I think it’s akin to the issue of outsourcing. In theory, there are arguments in favor of the practice — job opportunities for people in otherwise bad economies abroad, use of resources, costs, etc. But the reality is that (aside from the issue of fair trade) the quality of the product is gonna falter, and while the companies might see greater profits on their end, the customer always suffers.