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Michelin honors smaller joints :Local ingredients and presentation prove once again to be important in getting recognition

Nov 09,2017
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The chefs who were awarded stars in The Michelin Guide Seoul 2018 gather for a photo after the announcement ceremony at Signiel Seoul in Jamsil, southern Seoul. Two restaurants, La Yeon at Hotel Shilla in Jung District, central Seoul, and Gaon in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, were awarded the highest honor of three stars. [THE MICHELIN GUIDE]
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From top: Dishes from Table for Four in Seocho District, Exquisine, Dosa, and Joo Ok in Gangnam District, southern Seoul. The four restaurants were each awarded one star by The Michelin Guide Seoul 2018. [LEE SUN-MIN, DOSA, JOO OK]
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Michelin Guide continues to honor restaurants in Seoul that focus on using local ingredients to make Western-style course meals in its second edition, which was announced on Wednesday.

While restaurants affiliated with large hotels and dishware companies got the spotlight last year, the guide, which rates restaurants with its famed three-star system, shifted its focus onto smaller restaurants this year. Four restaurants in Seoul, including Exquisine (executive chef Jang Kyung-won), Table for Four (executive chef Kim Sung-woon), Dosa (executive chef Back Seung-wook), and Joo Ok (executive chef Shin Chang-ho), were each added to the list of one star.

Not much has changed since the first edition of the global restaurant guide by French tire company Michelin, as Gaon and La Yeon held on to their three-star status, and Gotgan and Kwon Sook Soo kept their two stars. Jungsik and Kojima both moved up from one to two stars. Pierre Gagnaire Seoul lost its star-status as it has been closed for renovations since July.

“My travels take me around the world and I’m very pleased to tell you the arrival of The Michelin Guide Seoul has cashed the unique global spotlight with its dining scene here,” said Michael Ellis, International Director in charge of The Michelin Guides published across the world.

“Whether it is traditional Korean classic or innovative [cuisine,] Japanese, Chinese or many of the other cuisines we find in Seoul, [Seoul] really has revealed [its charm] as a dining destination.”

The use of local ingredients seems to attract the eyes of the anonymous inspectors of the restaurant review guide, as all four of the newly awarded eateries are often praised by local diners for what they place on their plates. Chef Shin of Joo Ok serves homemade vinegars made with vegetables and pine leaves, as well as a cocktail made with cinnamon vinegar before any solid food is served. He believes that the acidity coming from the fermented ingredients makes heavier tastes lighter.

Chef Jang of Exquisine keeps track of each ingredient he uses at his restaurants, even simple ones.

“Potatoes may not be a super expensive ingredient, but I do keep track of which farmer makes which kind of potatoes in order to find my own way to show the best from what is normally considered simple,” said Jang to the Korea JoongAng Daily, who opened his restaurant only about a year ago.

“The Michelin Guide seems to have appreciated our effort to making updates often with our menu, because there must have been some ups and downs with our attempt to do different things as a relatively young restaurant,” Jang added.

Chef Kim of Table for Four has been a supporter of bringing fresh ingredients to the dining table, as his parents are farmers. He also has farmed in his own small lot for about seven years, and has many friends who send him seafood to cook. He always shares the ingredients he gets with not only the chefs but also with customers who show interest in what he uses. He is focused on the quality of ingredients that can diversify the overall taste.

“There are things I can grow well and things I don’t, but as far as I can, I try making attempts,” said Kim, adding that one of the ingredients he has been sharing most these days is butternut squash, which has been made into soup and puree.

Global restaurant giant Akira Back, also known by his Korean name Back Seung-wook, has earned his first Michelin star with his restaurant Dosa, which is the only small-sized restaurant he owns. His other eateries can serve up to 500 people a night. The American chef born in Korea tries to make modifications to what he knows as Korean food, such as making kimchi with endives rather than cabbage.

“I do not know how to make traditional [Korean] food, but as I was born and raised here and grew up eating Korean food, I want to show how I feel [about the cuisine],” said Back.

Prior to the announcement of the starred restaurants, The Michelin Guide also released the list of Bib Gourmand, which goes to “establishments offering a quality menu under a maximum of 35,000 won.” A total of 48 were announced and 17 new restaurants were added, including Okdongsik, which serves pork soup, Hadongkwan, which serves beef soup, and the Vietnamese restaurant franchise Emoi.

Meanwhile, Jungsik, which just earned an additional star for its Korean branch, defended its two-star status at its New York branch last month. The New York guide, published last month, includes Korean barbecue restaurant Cote, which was awarded one star.

Other Michelin-starred restaurants in the world operated by Korean chefs include Le Passe Temps in Lyon, France and Meta in Singapore.

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