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Modern Korean cuisine honored for creativity

Seoul eateries Mingles, Jungsik and TocToc are part of Asia’s Top 50 Restaurants
Mar 29,2018
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Chefs, diners and other food industry experts gather together to celebrate the release of 2018 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list on Tuesday at Wynn Palace in Macau. [ASIA’S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS]
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Chefs whose restaurants were listed on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list pose together at Wynn Palace in Macau on Tuesday. [ASIA’S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS, SPONSORED BY S.PELEGRINO & ACQUA PANNA]
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Top: Chef Gaggan Anand of Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand, makes a speech after being named No. 1 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the fourth time. Middle: Food prepared for the 50 Best Talk. Above: People gather to mingle with Asia’s top chefs before Tuesday’s award ceremony. [ASIA’S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS]
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Chef Kim Dae-chun of TocToc, Kim Jung-ho of Jungsik and Kang Min-goo of Mingles (center, in red scarves from left in the second row) with Korean food writers and chefs. [CHOI JUNG-YOON]
MACAU - Three restaurants in Seoul were honored at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants award ceremony in Macau Tuesday, while Bangkok restaurant Gaggan defended its No. 1 spot for the fourth time this year.

Restaurants TocToc, Jungsik and Mingles, all located in southern Seoul’s Gangnam District were all ranked on the list of the top 50 restaurants in Asia. Chef Kang Min-goo’s Mingles was listed at 11th place while Jungsik was ranked 26th and TocToc took 42nd.

Chef Kim Dae-chun’s TocToc made the top 50 restaurants in Asia list for the first time this year after being honored as “One to Watch” last year. Mingles, who has been on the list for the past three years jumped four spots from 15th place, while Jungsik dropped down one spot from 25th place.

Jungsik, founded by chef Yim Jung-sik, was the first Korean restaurant recognized by the list in 2015. Executive chef Kim Jung-ho now takes the lead alongside Yim in running the restaurant. Restaurant Ryunique by Chef Ryu Tae-hwan and La Yeon at The Shilla Seoul previously made the list.

“As restaurants in Korea start to take recreating and reanalyzing Korean food more seriously and get suitable infrastructure to do the job as well, just like restaurants overseas have done to delve deep into cooking and presenting their food, we have been seeing a growing number of diners [interested in modern-style Korean food],” said chef Kang of Mingles, after the award ceremony at Wynn Palace in Macau Tuesday, the sixth edition of the same event.

“We are trying to show our character more to differentiate ourselves from other restaurants that serve Korean food, and we also give recommendations to diners who look for different Korean food dining experiences in order to make the scene grow.”

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list is a spin-off of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants alongside Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, and is published by William Reed Business Media. Although the total number of voters may change year to year, around 1,000 international food industry experts vote to choose which restaurants present creative ideas while making their dishes tasty and memorable.

Different from The Michelin Guide, which only reviews restaurants in cities that have been chosen by the organization, these voters can write down and vote for any restaurant in any city or any country in the region. Each voter can choose up to six restaurants from their home country among their 10 choices.

“Since voters have to visit the restaurant they want to review or award at least once in the past 18 months, the list often reflects trends and updates in the local dining scene,” said Choi Jung-yoon, the list’s vice academy chair for Korea who helps Korean experts cast their votes.

Japan had 11 restaurants on the list, the most from any individual region, while Hong Kong and Thailand followed with nine restaurants each. Singapore had seven of its restaurants ranked including new entry Whitegrass.

Taipei, which has been gaining global attention as a rising gastronomic city, had three restaurants on the list, the same as Seoul.

“We need to bring more chefs out to the international spotlight,” said Choi Jung-yoon, adding that there are many enquiring about chefs in Korea but there is a limited pool. “It is necessary for those in the spotlight to help bring others to meet international culinary experts so that chefs in Korea can be better connected in the global community, because these types of gathering events for chefs are rare and offers a good chance for them to start talking about planning more international collaboration events.”

Gaggan Anand, the four-time winner of the top 50 list for restaurants in Asia, said that it’s important to add more up and coming chefs to the list so that more restaurants get the spotlight other than Gaggan.

In terms of bringing such spotlight to not-yet discovered restaurants, the top 50 list comes in handy, said Yoshihiro Narisawa of restaurant Narisawa in Tokyo, which ranked sixth.

“It’s [relatively] easier for restaurants in the cities to be recognized, but those in the country-side or in small towns struggle,” said Narisawa. “And this can be a chance for those restaurants to get more attention in the world.”

Alongside the ceremony, chefs got some time to share their takes on presenting food unique to Asia in talks. Because much of the cooking skills used in the fine-dining style kitchens are taught in Europe, many chefs look for ways to diversify ingredients indigenous to Asian countries, such as types of citruses, peppers or vegetables that are more suitable for local tastes, but new for outsiders’ flavor profiles.

Three chefs from Mume who bring together cooking experiences from Australia and Denmark to cook together in Taipei and bartender Vijay Mudaliar of bar Native in Singapore were invited to the event to share their take on “exploring identity,” the theme of this year’s 50 Best Talk event.

Mudaliar shared that he forages ingredients found locally in Singapore, including ants, and uses multiple methods to keep them longer for future use. He said that word has spread in Singapore, and many foragers bring in what they have found to him at the bar. He tended a bar in Seoul last year in order to spread the word about his style of cocktails outside of his country.

The award ceremony, which usually happens in the spring, is scheduled to be held once more in Macau next year, which itself aims to become an Asian gastronomic destination - Macau restaurant Jade Dragon ranked 35th on this year’s list. Previously, the event was held in Singapore and Bangkok.

In June, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list will be released at a ceremony in Spain. Mingles of Korea was ranked 89th last year, the first time a Korean restaurant made it to the top 100 list.

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