Ratings update, regarding the new dramas’ second episodes: The numbers shifted slightly, but as you can see, the race remains tight. Pasta now stands at 15.1%. God of Study moved upward with 15.9%, and Jejoongwon fell slightly to 14.6%. An hour before, Wish Upon a Star rose slightly to 11.3%.
Usually in a three-way race, one of the three will drop far behind, clearing the way for a two-way battle. However, this is an unusual circumstance where there’s no clear winner or loser, quality-wise. All these dramas have their appeal, which means Mondays and Tuesdays should be interesting for a while…
SONG OF THE DAY
Nadia – “Rewind” [ Download ]
I’ve already given my first impressions on Pasta in a previous post, so I’ll keep this to the point.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
There’s a food-filled intro that lingers a bit too long (food porn is fun, but only when it serves a point), which introduces us to our main character, SEO YOO-KYUNG (Gong Hyo-jin). She’s the lowest-ranking member of the kitchen staff at top Italian restaurant La Sfera. Yoo-kyung fulfills the role of general assistant, dishwasher, and errand girl, but today is her last day as such because she has been promoted. After three years, the Italian head chef, Totti, has made her assistant to the pasta chef.
Yoo-kyung has a stern father and younger brother (her mother is deceased), and lives in a nice apartment shared with three of her restaurant sunbaes.
Yoo-kyung makes a morning trip to the marketplace to buy some supplies for the restaurant and to renew an order with the egg guy (who’s a little shifty with the eggs, swapping out the larger ones with smaller ones). Picking up a free goldfish from the cashier, she heads outside to the crosswalk, where a man hurrying past bumps into her and sends her crashing to the ground. The plastic bag containing the goldfish bursts open, and Yoo-kyung tries to figure out what to do with the flopping fish before the light changes to red.
One of the people crossing the street is CHOI HYUN-WOOK (Lee Seon-kyun), and he stops to help. He instructs her to gather her hands together, the pours water from his water bottle into them, placing the fish there.
Safe at the other side of the intersection, they start to exchange goodbyes. She thanks him for his help as though to end the encounter, but he points out the problem of her two plastic bags. With her hands literally full, she can’t carry her bags, which means they are left with only one option: he must accompany her to her destination.
The moment’s a little awkward, but also a little flirty. Yoo-kyung’s first suspicion of the smooth-talking stranger is, “He’s a player,” but he’s very polite and keeps the conversation focused on the problem at hand. She revises her opinion, wondering, “Then is he a gentleman?”
They walk together, with Hyun-wook periodically refreshing the water in her hands. Along the way, he entertains her with fun facts about goldfish, who only have a memory span of two seconds.
Arriving at the back entrance of the restaurant, they again linger before parting ways — they’re attracted, but it’s that weird stage when they haven’t decided to do anything about it. He turns to go, but then she realizes she can’t open the door and asks him to unlock it for her. Her keys aren’t in her backpack, so she asks for him to fish in her jacket pockets. A bit awkwardly, he feels around, and she directs him to her inner pockets.
He jokes, “Are you deliberately saying you don’t remember where you put them to make me grope around?” Finally he produces the key — but rather than immediately opening the door, he takes his time thinking something over.
What’s so enjoyable about their chemistry is that they’re interested in each other (and he more than she), so the pause, along with his thoughtful smirk, is pretty sexy. He asks, “Are you free tonight?” At her startled reaction, he laughs, “Why are you hesitating? You’re supposed to reject the first time.”
When Yoo-kyung offers that she’s free after eleven, he replies without missing a beat, “A man and woman meeting for a first date at that time can have only one thing to do. Sleeping together. That can’t be what you mean, but if so I’m grateful for the thought.” Hyun-wook is so glib that Yoo-kyung is a little uncertain of how to respond, though she’s also amused.
Yoo-kyung: “It’s because that’s when I get off work.”
Hyun-wook: “You must find me acceptable, since you don’t reject me when I ask you out and agree to meet at midnight.”
Yoo-kyung: “I was just thinking of buying you a beer to thank you.”
Hyun-wook: “You could have put down the fish for a second and found the keys yourself, without having me feel around for them.”
Hyun-wook: “Fine, let’s meet at 11 pm in the same place, that street. Not tonight, not tomorrow, but the day after. I’m pretending that I’ve been rejected for tonight and tomorrow, to preserve your pride. Okay?”
With that, he turns to go, but asks for directions — does she know where La Sfera is? He’s due to start working there. That comment makes her realize that Hyun-wook must be the new guy — the assistant who’s starting tomorrow to take over her old job. Immediately, she drops the formal speech and shows him around the kitchen saying things like, “Hey kid.”
Her mistake is understandable, since nobody knows that their chef has just been fired — Manager Sol is dissatisfied with his food, which has become ordinary and unexciting. Hyun-wook is not the errand boy, but he lets her boss him around and takes it in with a smile.
He leaves her with a puzzling comment, that her fish are unfortunately bound to die soon — they don’t suit the kitchen, because they’re female.
That evening, Yoo-kyung has to deal with a return customer whom she finds exasperating; he asks for her personal recommendations and treats her with an overly familiar air that bothers her. This is KIM SAN (Clazziquai’s Alex), who is an ardent foodie and frequent La Sfera patron.
Feeling uncomfortable with his behavior, she takes him aside after dinner to ask him not to return. He doesn’t seem inclined to oblige her.
The next day, the staff is shocked to hear that their chef has been let go, and that they will be welcoming a new one. Hyun-wook saunters in, and Yoo-kyung realizes that Hyun-wook is the new chef, and that the new assistant is the young guy standing behind him.
Hyun-wook goes down the line to greet his staff, and makes quite an impression on the cooks. The women find him handsome and charming (as does one of the men). Dying of embarrassment, Yoo-kyung introduces herself as the pasta assistant.
As the staff readies for dinner service, Hyun-woo says genially that they may all proceed as normal. He stands back and watches calmly as they go about their work. He and Yoo-kyung don’t betray that they’ve already met; they act professionally, although there’s definitely a spark between them.
It’s only at the end of the night that we get a hint of what’s to come. Hyun-wook tells the manager calmly that the kitchen was a mess: “It’s not my kitchen yet. My kitchen hasn’t even begun.”
Another surprise greets Yoo-kyung in the morning on her way out of her apartment for work: Hyun-wook is in the elevator, too. He must also live in this building.
His posture remains cool and nonchalant while she says, still embarrassed, that she’s sorry for how she treated him before, assuming he was the new assistant. He seems disinterested, but his words contrast with his pose: “Don’t forget our date tonight. 11 pm.” He strolls away without a backward glance.
Day 2 is a completely different scenario from Day 1, and the staff is in for a very rude awakening. Now that Hyun-wook has seen how the kitchen works, he’s done watching and now ready to assert his high standards. And unfortunately for the staff, their work is oh-so-subpar. The salad is a mountain of fluff, the pasta drips with oil, and so on. Instead of stating his complaints calmly, Hyun-wook shocks everyone by throwing one offending dish to the floor. He runs his hand through a pasta dish, and shoves a plate into another cook’s chest. Stunned into silence, the cooks are jolted out of their friendly camaraderie and rush to do Hyun-wook’s bidding.
To make things worse, a super-picky patron sits in the dining room and sniffs at her lobster plate. It’s tough, and she sends it back to the kitchen. The second time, she sneers that the lobsters are obviously frozen when the menu says they’re fresh. She sends the plate back again.
Two other diners nearby watch this with interest — it’s San and his date, OH SE-YOUNG (Honey Lee), who is a food television personality (think Rachael Ray or Nigella Lawson). She recognizes the woman as a food critic.
When the lobster dish comes back a third time, the cook, Hee-joo, can’t take it anymore. Fuming, she grabs two fresh lobsters and slaps them on the table. How dare they accuse her of using inferior product and be so rude as to complain three times?
This, of course, gets her fired.
Meanwhile, a pair of cooks takes some time to make out in the backroom — and they’re caught in the act by Hyun-wook himself. Also fired.
The two beg him for mercy, but he coldly ignores their pleas. As he tries to pass Yoo-kyung, she’s nervous and unintentionally blocks his path, so he has to physically move her aside. The problem is, she’s carrying a large bowl of ice, and as stumbles, the ice flies — into the deep fryer.
Seeing impending disaster, the cooks all scatter. Hyun-wook grabs Yoo-kyung and shields her from the rain of hot oil.
The lineup after dinner service is subdued as Hyun-wook addresses his offenders in turn. Hee-joo still burns in indignation about the lobster diner, but he scolds her — she put the fresh lobster into a styrofoam box. That means that even though she put it in the refrigerator, it wouldn’t refrigerate, making the flesh tough. On top of that, she berated the customer.
Second is the cook Mi-hee, who was making out with her boyfriend. He charges her with running her hands — with which she must then cook — all over her boyfriend’s body, in his hair, on his chest, et cetera. Kissing belongs outside of the kitchen.
At this, a third woman, Chan-hee (Mi-hee’s sister) speaks up, unable to take his officious behavior. She rips her apron off angrily and refuses to work with such a horrible tyrant. Hyun-wook has no problem with that.
Last, he faces Yoo-kyung. In a kitchen full of knives, fire, and oil, the most dangerous is oil: “For doing something crazy with ice in the kitchen, of course you are also fired.”
Mi-hee makes one last bid for mercy for her boyfriend, saying that without her around, he won’t have any chances to repeat his offense. Hyun-wook listens to her tearful plea, then answers carelessly, “Okay.” He dismisses his staff: “You’ve been hard at work causing accidents today.” As he walks off, he mutters under his breath, “Now there are no women in my kitchen.”
That last comment lingers in Yoo-kyung’s mind, and she thinks back to Hyun-wook’s cryptic line about the fish not suiting the kitchen. She realizes, “He planned it all from the start.”
Therefore, that night when she heads out to the street to meet him for their “date,” she confronts him with her realization. He was going to fire the women no matter what, wasn’t he?
Hyun-wook doesn’t answer that, and just asks, “You haven’t dated a man before, have you?” Leaning closer, he proposes, “Let’s date.”
Out of the four new dramas, Pasta seems the most engaging to me at the moment, and the one I’m most eager to follow. The atmosphere is breezy, and the story is cute without being cloying. We haven’t seen much of the second leads, but the main couple is fantastically paired. (I also have a hunch that we may expect good things of Lee Hyung-chul, of On Air and City Hall, who’s the kitchen’s No. 2.)
Lee Seon-kyun is drawing a lot of praise in the media and by fans for his wonderfully entertaining character. I like that he has shades of some of our favorite kdrama archetypes, but he’s not a mere repeat of them, like another Kang-mae (Beethoven Virus) or Gu Jun-pyo (Boys Before Flowers). His misogyny is an interesting addition, because while I have certainly seen and experienced my share of misogyny in Korean (and Korean American) culture, you don’t often see it played up like this as a plot point. Furthermore, as I mentioned in the prior post, he is very entertaining to watch because he goes from hot to cold in an instant. It’s that volatility that keeps the kitchen in a state of fear, and makes him unpredictable. He can keep a polite smile on his face while uttering contrastingly harsh words (like when he announces the kitchen is a mess with a pleasant tone), which is the opposite of what Kang-mae or Hwang Tae-kyung (You’re Beautiful) would do — they were mean with a sneer. I think some of his shouting gets to be a bit much, so I do want to see him dial it down a notch in future episodes, but I’m pretty sure he will because plot development demands it.
Gong Hyo-jin has a natural, appealing vibe to her acting, and while Yoo-kyung can do some klutzy things, I appreciate that she’s not the caricature of the bumbling kdrama heroine, either. (That role falls to Choi Jung-won in Wish Upon a Star.) She’s a genuine, likable heroine whose cuteness comes from the fact that she doesn’t seem to know she’s cute. I suspect that’s why Hyun-wook likes her, and I really enjoy that he feels the attraction first.
Can’t wait to see what Episode 2 brings.