Instead of another foodpr0n montage, I thought it would be fitting to do something a little different for this last episode.
Gourmet really has been, all along, more about execution than inventiveness (ordinary events, but depicted well), and this is once again exemplified in Episode 24. To wit: I could sum up the episode in about two sentences — and nothing in those two sentences would surprise anybody, since we could have predicted this all far in advance — but that didn’t stop the episode from being satisfying.
SONG OF THE DAY
Gourmet OST – “새로운 세상” (New world) by Kim Rae-won. [ Download ]
EPISODE 24 RECAP (FINAL)
Sung-chan looks like he’s on the verge of a panic attack when Bong-joo enters and takes charge, taking the team aside for a last-minute strategizing session. Sung-chan’s team has been preparing a lobster and squid dish for days (weeks?), but Bong-joo looks at the ingredients and doesn’t think this will win them the competition. Instead, he says they need to do a different entree.
This meets with incredulous looks all around, because the team has spent a lot of time perfecting this dish, and swapping out a recipe mid-competition is risky at best. But Bong-joo is sure he’s right, and pulls out a recipe of a dish he’d spent a lot of time preparing for the Napa Valley event.
Bong-joo reminds Sung-chan of the beef battle, saying that Sung-chan’s bulgogi dish had been excellent, but he still lost to Bong-joo, who had more experience thinking of Korean food on a global scale. Sung-chan looks a little relieved to give up leadership to his brother, who acts swiftly and surely.
Bong-joo praises Sung-chan’s earlier concept of making common ingredients taste expensive, and utilizes the same idea for its lobster ddukbokki (will discuss the food below).
While Team Oonamjeong does their two entrees and dessert (pictured above), Team Matsumoto continues to wow this easily impressed audience by mixing traditional Korean food elements with Japanese (their dishes pictured below), such as mixing Korean soy sauce with Japanese liquor.
Such incredibly! ingenious! fusion techniques are the stuff of great consternation to the purists at Oonamjeong; they recognize the “innovativeness” and know they’re up against tough competition. Toward the very end of the cooking portion, Bong-joo tastes their sauce and is dissatisfied, telling Sung-chan to wait as he runs out. With time ticking, he barely makes it back in time to use the jar left by Chef Oh — the sauce representing Oonamjeong itself.
And then it’s time for tasting (as though we didn’t know what the outcome would be).
The scores for creativity, market value, and taste for the entrée round — Matsumoto: 10-10-9.5. Oonamjeong: 10-10-10. This means that combined with their appetizer scores, Oonamjeong is now just trailing by half a point.
In the dessert round, the tide shifts in the other direction, with Oonamjeong winning three perfect tens. Matsumoto, however, earns a 10-10-9.5. The Korean dessert tea and the kiwi-flavored pounded-rice cake (dduk) embodies the essence of Korean cooking in a new way, but on the other hand, Matsumoto’s flower cookie and sherbet is deemed lovely, but cold (both literally and in spirit) for a Korean palate.
But the problem is, now they’re tied.
To break the tie, it is announced that the international ambassadors in attendance, who have been sitting behind the judges and tasting all the dishes (but eating without the pressure of judging), will now be put to a vote. Perhaps they found something the judges missed or have a different overall impression of the food.
The scores come in — Matsumoto: 9.7. Oonamjeong: 9.9
Like we didn’t know this would be the outcome! Ha. The only thing in question was the numbers that would be given, not the end result. Still, it’s enough to bring a smile to your face to watch the Oonamjeong team rejoice, ecstatic. Even though WE knew they’d win, I suppose they didn’t know that, so we oughtta allow them their celebration.
And then, sometime not too much later, it’s business as usual at Oonamjeong. With reputation and peace restored, Joo-hee presides over a busy dining room while Bong-joo (and Sung-chan) are both back to lead.
Even Director Yoon apologizes to Bong-joo, who owns up for his own responsibility in Oonamjeong’s recent troubles. It’s nice to see that rather than holding a grudge, Bong-joo welcomes Yoon back into the fold and asks for his continued help in the future. However, Yoon takes this as his cue to retire, and removes himself from the everyday workings of the restaurant. He feels most sorry for causing problems in Joo-hee’s relationship with Bong-joo, but she doesn’t hold him responsible.
Similarly, Sung-chan doesn’t harbor hard feelings against Matsumoto, which I’m relieved to see because Matsumoto wasn’t really ever a proper villain in my eyes. He’s a shrewd businessman, but he wasn’t out to screw over the restaurant in a vindictive spirit.
So now, Sung-chan remakes the shrimp stew for Matsumoto, who actually eats the dish this time. This is the taste he’d been wanting to recover, the dish he had eaten with Chef Oh back in the day. Chef Oh used to take Matsumoto on trips with him and made the stew whenever Matsumoto was feeling down, knowing it was his favorite. Matsumoto admits, “I was blind to cooking — I couldn’t learn his spirit, of caring for someone sincerely.”
Matsumoto tells them that if they ever need his help, he will be happy to provide it: “I think I’ve finally repaid the debt to Chef Oh for rejecting him.”
Gourmet has never focused on its romantic storylines, which is a change of pace since it allows Sung-chan and Jin-soo to just be a normal couple, like normal people. It’s not all about drama and passion and dire tragedy, which isn’t to say it’s not love, either. Just a more realistic iteration.
So Jin-soo cooks dinner for Sung-chan (noting the difficulty in cooking for a top chef), and after dinner, Sung-chan compliments her domestic skills: “You’re all set to get married.” She retorts, “Like anyone gets married all by themselves.” Sung-chan returns: “What about me, then?” She looks up in surprise, and he laughs that he was just joking, so she grumbles that he jokes too much. So he says, seriously, “What do you think of Lee Sung-chan as husband material?”
Startled, Jin-soo looks at him and asks with some nervous anticipation, “Are you proposing?” and his face crinkles into laughter again, “I was joking again.”
Sung-chan shares his main concern with Jin-soo, which is being unsure of his place at Oonamjeong. He recalls Matsumoto’s words to him: “The battle’s not over yet. Have you considered that I may return sometime? One victory doesn’t make for eternal victory. When I return, let’s battle it out again. What I mean is, don’t let your guard down.”
And then, the team works together preparing new batches of jang, as if to mark their new start.
At their father’s gravesite, both sons ask pay their respects and tell their father of their plans. Bong-joo wants to resume his plan to expand Oonamjeong to a world audience, but done right this time. This means he’ll leave the day-to-day operation of Oonamjeong as he conducts business, entrusting the restaurant’s daily management to his team: Sung-chan, Min-woo, Joo-hee.
Meanwhile, Sung-chan assures his father that Oonamjeong is safe. He adds that he’ll bring Chef Oh’s “daughter-in-law” along with him next time.
At the airport, Bong-joo says his goodbyes to Sung-chan and Joo-hee, then takes a moment alone to ask his former fiancée, “When I come back, if there’s nobody in your life, could you consider taking me back?” Joo-hee, who has been missing their relationship, looks up at him happily and tells him she’ll always be there for him.
Meanwhile, Sung-chan comes to the decision that it’s not yet time for him to settle down and run Oonamjeong; he still has a lot to learn. When he asks Ja-woon to foresee what he should do with his life, he gets back a cryptic response: “The answer is on the road.”
That jibes with Sung-chan’s belief that he’s got more to see and take in, and he tells Joo-hee he’ll be leaving Oonamjeong, too — not permanently, but for now. While traveling and operating out of his truck, he came to realize there are a lot of places he still doesn’t know.
When she sees that he’s serious, Joo-hee asks him to take care of finding ingredients for Oonamjeong — that way, at least he’ll have a reason to keep in touch.
And so, he sets out again. The first place on the itinerary: a food festival, with Jin-soo tagging along. On the way, they get hungry and stop off at a remote restaurant, despite hesitating when they don’t see anyone there.
The proprietor is a little brusque, but the instant Sung-chan tastes the dish — chicken kalbi — he’s amazed at the intriguing taste. It’s unusual, and immediately his stubborn curiosity rears its head. He absolutely must figure out what went into it.
He snoops around the building, finding his way to the seemingly empty kitchen, rooting around for clues of the mystery ingredient. The owner sees Sung-chan and Jin-soo poking around and shoos them away, but that isn’t enough to deter Sung-chan.
Determinedly, he heads outside and even digs through the trash to find clues. By now we know Sung-chan’s not going to give up until he has his answer, but this just may be cut short, because the indignant owner comes out wielding a broom to chase them from his property…
(…and, The End.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The same themes are in play as the previous episode, which emphasizes Matsumoto’s team’s creativity in fusing their Japanese ingredients and techniques with Korean cuisine. For instance, they prepare a squid soondae (a type of stuffed sausage) using Japanese umeboshi (pickled ume/plum), which has been steamed in the Japanese style. They also prepare pork belly meat with Korean doenjang paste, but mixed with Japanese liquor.
Like I said in the previous episode, this kind of argument is overly simplistic for my taste, but I suppose they needed to jazz up the tension during the food battle since we all knew how it would end. Hints are given that Matsumoto, while formidable, is making a few judgment errors, such as with his kimchi bossam (wrap) dish. He explains that the kimchi’s spiciness has been tempered to match international palates, but Ja-woon mutters that that ruins the essence of kimchi.
I suppose Team Oonamjeong, then, has the role that is easier on one level — pure Korean food is their forte anyway — but also more difficult. After all, when you’re cooking using traditional techniques and ingredients, it’s more difficult to come up with innovative spins.
For instance, ddukbokki is an everyday dish — and a cheap one at that. Bong-joo takes a new twist on this ubiquitous food (as exotic as chicken nuggets, which is to say not at all) and jazzes it up with lobster, combining something high-class with something low, and coming up with an altogether new creation. Later, they work with rice — can’t get much more basic than that — but combine three different kinds and arrange them in the pattern of the yin/yang of the Korean flag. They also prepare a kind of stuffed pumpkin beef dish along with their own version of (non-watered-down) kimchi bossam.
When Oonamjeong is awarded the higher mark for the entrée course, Judge Ted Oh explains that the difference was in the jang sauce. The Matsumoto team made theirs Korean-style, but the water used — and the conditions of its brewing — couldn’t compare to the rich, tradition-steeped sauce used by the other team. Or, if we’re being symbolic here, Matsumoto can’t compare to the combined efforts of Chef Oh, Bong-joo, and Sung-chan working together (for once).
You know, at some point it occurred to me that we don’t often see a drama where the end mirrors the beginning — peace restored, balance reset. Oonamjeong was harmonious and successful in the beginning, and now returns to its “rightful” state. So all this fuss was over — what, exactly? The difference is in the leadership, with Chef Oh now gone and both brothers sharing the responsibility of management, albeit in different ways (and without strife). I know this might be stretching the whole metaphor thing a bit, but it reminds me of regime changes we hear of so much in history books — you may have a long, prosperous time while one ruler is on the throne, but the minute succession becomes an issue, all hell breaks loose and it’s every man out to further his own interests. And then when order is re-established (and the disgruntled settle down and stop plotting their coups), stability returns. Or something.
(Then again, absolute monarchies are generally a thing of the past, which perhaps isn’t the best model for Oonamjeong to be following. Luckily, since both brothers are sharing the responsibility, maybe there’s hope for a better future. Also, I presume that with Bong-joo and Sung-chan both leaving, Min-woo has taken command of the everyday administration. How ironic that he should get exactly what he wanted after he’d given up his attempts to steal it through unscrupulous means, isn’t it?)
Gourmet has been a pleasant series for me to watch, with some notable highs but mostly comprising a stable run. It’s had nothing too terribly dramatic or thrilling, but has been consistently well-performed and well-executed. I think there’s an element of unrealism — surrealism? nonrealism? — that enabled me to enjoy this drama despite some stretches of credulity, such as the way they attributed so much drama to a restaurant. Yes, a very high-profile, high-class restaurant, but still, a restaurant. Or how a food competition was given life-or-death battle treatment.
But in the long run, I put those issues aside, perhaps because I knew the series had been adapted from a manhwa, where such exaggerations are embedded into the storytelling style. I’m not sure how accurate or true-to-life the food discussions were, but I appreciated that this series really was about food — well, food as metaphor for the human condition. (Beethoven Virus could do more what Gourmet did by actually incorporating the music to its storyline, because that’s the whole reason I found Gourmet so compelling. After all, without the layers of meaning added by the food/life parallels, the story is somewhat mundane. Or rather, I should say understated.)
But Gourmet‘s biggest asset is, of course, Kim Rae-won. If not for him, I probably wouldn’t have been interested enough to continue the series, because his ability to make Sung-chan so real and compelling is not one you see in everyday lead actors.
In fact, it has occurred to me regularly that Gourmet might have seemed insufferably cheesy if not for the subtle but strong acting of Kim Rae-won. His acting is strong in that he conveys every bit of Sung-chan’s weaknesses and fears palpably, but subtle in that he never makes the acting feel labored. It’s like he IS the character, perfectly transparent, perfectly natural.
For instance, take the beginning of this episode, when Sung-chan gives up hope. We KNOW Bong-joo’s going to come through, we KNOW Sung-chan is at the end of his tether, and I don’t think I am the only one to say that everything happened just the way I expected it to. And still, you feel Sung-chan’s fear — we know he’ll win, but we also believe that he doesn’t know that and is genuinely terrified — and we’re excited for Sung-chan when he does win.
I don’t know what it is that made Kim Rae-won in Gourmet particularly good, because I’ve seen him act before and liked him, but tended to forget him after I was done watching. Now I want to go back and tackle his earlier stuff, maybe even do a “classic recap” series. Who’d be up for that? (Note: It will NOT be Love Story in Harvard or What Star Are You From. What do y’all think of Attic Cat?)
Thanks for reading along, and till next time!
- Gourmet: Episode 23
- Gourmet: Episode 22
- Gourmet: Episode 21
- Gourmet: Episode 20
- Gourmet: Episode 19
- Gourmet: Episode 18
- Gourmet: Episode 17
- Gourmet: Episodes 15 & 16
- Gourmet: Episodes 13 & 14
- Gourmet: Episodes 11 & 12
- Gourmet: Episodes 9 &10
- Gourmet: Episodes 7 & 8
- Gourmet: Episodes 5 & 6
- Gourmet: Episodes 1-4