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An exchange of culinary history : Chef Jean Francois Piege brought his French cuisine to Jeju

May 10,2017
Chef Jean Francois Piege of Le Grand Restaurant in Paris visited Jeju Island to cook for local foodies as part of Haevichi Hotel and Resort’s celebration of its 10th anniversary. [HAEVICHI HOTEL AND RESORT]
A table set, top, for a special dinner cooked by Jean Francois Piege at the Haevichi Hotel and Resort in Jeju. Above are some of the dishes served including chef Piege’s signature celery dish, and his version of spaghetti carbonara. [HAEVICHI HOTEL AND RESORT]
It it no longer surprising to hear that Michelin-starred chefs from around the world are traveling to Korea to cook, to talk with local chefs or even to take a vacation, as more and more have been arriving in the past year or two to check out the Korean restaurants and chefs in the global spotlight. But when the news of these chefs’ visits reaches food lovers in Korea, they rush to book a seat. The opportunity to taste dishes from some of the world’s best chefs without having to pay for a plane ticket is worth the cost for them.

A visit from chef Jean Francois Piege of Le Grand Restaurant in Paris was particularly tempting to many. He is one of the cooking talents expected to be given three Michelin stars, the highest honor one can get from the Michelin Guide. Despite global attention on him and his food, the chef doesn’t cook overseas often.

This time, Piege thought there would be something to learn during his stay in Jeju Island last week. He came to serve lunch and dinner for about 180 people as part of Haevichi Hotel and Resort Jeju’s celebration of its 10th anniversary. The one lunch and two dinners he served were sold out quickly, despite the hefty 300,000 won ($264) price tag, which included food and wine.

“As a French person, I value the culture and heritage that has been handed down to me,” said Piege during the media interview last week in Jeju. “And I think Korea also is a country with rich history and culture, so I have become particularly interested and wanted to come here.”

But, getting to know Korean culinary history and flavors better doesn’t necessarily mean that he will use more Korean ingredients in the dishes he cooks at his restaurants in Paris.

Unlike some chefs who add exotic elements to entertain diners who want something different, Piege insists on serving ingredients grown on French soil, buts adds twists to modernize French cuisine in his own way.

“I eat Korean food and feel the ambience in the country, and that overall experience can inspire me to make a more modern version of classic French cuisine, and help me expand my view of the culinary world,” said Piege. “Just like each person has their own identity, French food has an identity and I want to contribute so that cuisine can keep its originality.”

So while he was here, the influence went both ways. The chef went out to a market to see how ingredients are brought to consumers and chefs. He also worked with local chefs in the kitchen to see how they handle ingredients to serve, and observe them for inspiration.

At the same time, he worked to bring French originality to locals here. For those wanting to taste his unique style, he brought some ingredients only found in France, such as a particular type of hay, to make some of his signature dishes, including one with celery made to look like a flower.

Following his common practice of using what’s local in the city he is cooking in, he also used Jeju clementines to make juice to serve with white asparagus.

He also made a dish inspired by spaghetti carbonara to make the overall dinner course much more approachable to those who were new to French food.

“Pepper isn’t French, but a particular use of pepper to grill steak can make the dish French,” said the chef. “My will to serve original French dishes doesn’t mean that I’m closed off, but rather open to diverse uses and adaptations of local ingredients.”

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]