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Michelin guide kicks off its very own California food adventure: State’s talented Korean chefs may see their work recognized

Mar 08,2019
Top left: Chef Anh Sung-jae of Mosu in Korea explains his dish at a cooking station. Top right: The Michelin Guide with Visit California and Visit Sacramento presents food made with locally grown ingredients at restaurant Ella Dining Room and Bar in Sacramento during the cocktail dinner. Above: Chefs and directors for the Michelin Guide, Visit California and Visit Sacramento pose after the French guide announced the upcoming release of its first statewide California Guide. [LEE SUN-MIN, THE MICHELIN GUIDE]
The Michelin Guide’s announcement event was held on Tuesday in Sacramento. From the top: farm vegetables and caviar by chef Michael Tusk of Quince; mushroom taco by chef Val Cantu of Californios; striped bass by chef Alvin Leung of Bo Innovation; tteok galbi, beef short-rib patties, by chef Anh Sung-jae of Mosu. [LEE SUN-MIN]
SACRAMENTO - Figuring out the best restaurant to visit while in California will become a little easier now that the Michelin Guide has announced its plan to publish its first state-specific guidebook in the United States. To celebrate the launch in a state filled with restaurants serving many different cuisines, chef Anh Sung-jae of Mosu in Hannam-dong, central Seoul, was invited by the Michelin Guide to cook alongside three other culinary talents at the announcement ceremony held at Golden 1 Center in California’s capital city Sacramento on Tuesday.

The guide, set to come out in early June, will cover restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange County, Sacramento, San Diego and Santa Barbara. It is the first time the internationally-respected food reviewer will be releasing a food guide to restaurants in multiple cities across a single U.S. state. The exact date for the release of the California guidebook, which will have anonymous inspectors award restaurants based on their famous one-to-three star ratings system, will become public later.

The existing San Francisco edition which awarded eight restaurants three stars just last year will no longer be available. Three other city guides exist for the United States - New York, Washington and Chicago. The French guide by the tire company Michelin publishes 32 guides annually for cities worldwide including Seoul, Shanghai, Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and London.

In recent years, the Michelin Guide has started to value so-called Californian cuisine, a style that sources much of its ingredients from farms and ranches closeby, according to Gwendal Poullennec, international director for the Michelin Guides.

“With access to many of the world’s best farms, food products and vineyards, California cuisine is respected worldwide not only for the quality of its ingredients but also due to the creativity displayed by its chefs,” said Poullennec. “Our inspectors have been impressed with the talent and innovation within the gastronomic community across the state.”

The new expansion of the guide may open possibilities for restaurants that are located in areas outside of the cities the Michelin Guide currently covers. Poullennec said options are always open, as the Michelin will expand further, and added that he has seen some “very interesting” dining options outside of Seoul.

After the announcement, four chefs from around the globe gathered to make a course meal to celebrate the new launch. Alongside Korea’s Anh, who moved to Korea after he was awarded a star for his restaurant in San Francisco, Chef Michael Tusk of Michelin-three-starred Quince in San Francisco, Chef Alvin Leung of also three-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, and chef Val Cantu of two-starred Californios in San Francisco made dishes with ingredients available in California. Anh’s previous restaurant - now closed - in the Bay Area was also called Mosu.

Anh, to better show his background as a Korean-American raised in the United States, chose tteok galbi, grilled short-rib patties, to serve chefs and other culinary experts at the event. The patties were made with pork jowl and chicken cartilage for added texture, and local vegetables from the Central Valley such as leeks, onions, garlic and ginger were mixed with a bit of Korean doenjang, fermented soybean paste, in order to make jus. Turnips, used as a garnish, were seasoned with salt and then put in a juice from leftover ribs for added meat flavor. In a way, the chef explains, turnips are there to remind people of dongchimi, a soupy kimchi made with fermented Korean radish.

“To me, cooking what’s most Californian is about showing my ethnic background in dishes while using ingredients that can also be used for other Californian-style dishes maybe topped with herbs,” said Anh, who wanted to use this rare chance to shoulder with other internationally-known chefs to promote the food he cooks in Seoul.

“I wanted people to be better aware of the brand Mosu by trying this more comfortable food, [instead of] other dishes that are fancy in terms of techniques used.”

The international guide has been following updates on restaurants that serve food inspired by Korean cuisine or Korean talents cooking other styles. Most recently, Atomix in New York, run by Junghyun Park, was awarded with one star, followed by one star given to upscale Korean barbecue restaurant Cote by New York restauranteur Simon Kim in 2017. These modern versions of Korean cuisine have seen more recognition since two stars were given to the New York branch of Jungsik by chef Yim Jung-sik in 2011. He first opened Jungsik in Korea in 2009. Other Korean-American chefs, like Cory Lee of the three-starred Benu in San Francisco, have been spreading the word about food inspired by Korean cuisine. Elsewhere in the world, Korean chef Lee Young-hoon of Le Passe Temps in Lyon, France, who occasionally cooks French food with a hint of Korean flavors, earned his first star in 2016.

Now with the guide coming back to Los Angeles, a city known for its extensive Korean restaurants, people are curious if the Korean food spots will get recognized and whether the city of angels can become a hot spot for young Korean chefs trying to present a modern Korean cuisine. Ever since Jungsik earned its acclaims, young chefs in New York have challenged themselves to start a variety of unique Korean food spots such as Atoboy, Jeju Noodle Bar and Oiji.

Los Angeles welcomed its first Michelin guide in 2007, but it didn’t last long due to financial challenges after only two editions. Back then, late food critic Jonathan Gold lamented the fact that no stars were given to Korean or other eclectic spots around the city, according to the LA Times.

Sang Yoon, Korean-American chef of Lukshon in Culver City, was quoted in the paper saying that the city isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago, although he admitted that the city “historically has not been a city that fits in with the Michelin aesthetic.” The paper speculates that Lukshon is likely to be a Michelin contender.

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