Now that the music charts have been invaded by the likes of Psy and his mega-hit single Gangnam Style, there is a renewed interest in Korean pop culture. Producers around the world are betting on K-Pop (Korean pop music), breaking into the American music scene. Girl-band Girls Generation tried last year, running the talk show circuit, starting with David Letterman. Hyun-a, who makes a cameo in Psy’s Gangnam Style music video, is presently the fore-funner to try again. Her duet version of Gangnam Style and newly released single Ice Cream have proven popular on YouTube post viral-Psy phenomenon. Both videos have garnered tens of millions of hits.
So, what do K-Pop and Gangnam Style have to do with food? Next to nothing, actually. In fact, Psy’s Gangnam Style is satire, ostensibly poking fun at the very posh and westernized Gangnam district in Seoul.
But, there is nothing farcical about the impact of New York chef David Chang or his growing Momofuku empire on the North American food scene. His significantly Korean-inspired menus have loyal following. He recently opened no less than four restaurants at Toronto’s Shangri-La Hotel (188 University Avenue).
Please note, there is a fine line between authentic oriental cuisine-inspired food and fusion. There is no fusion at Chang’s Noodle Bar, famous for its pork buns and ramen; Nikai bar and lounge; Daisho, which serves large plates; or Shoto, which serves only tasting menus.
Ottawa has no Momofuku outpost. Though, several chefs that made a mark in this city have either joined Chang’s ranks or have enlisted. Among them are “AJ” Lapointe who was Chef Patricia Larkin’s Sous at Black Cat Bistro (428 Preston Street) and Quinn Davis who was Chef Michael Hay’s pastry chef at Courtyard Restaurant (21 George Street). Lately, Davis has been consulting in Hay’s new kitchen at Back Lane Cafe (1087 Wellington Street W.). He will be heading to Toronto soon.
Still, “finer” takes on Korean food were served at Oz Kafe (361 Elgin Street) last Monday. They were served during October’s “Industry Night” meal.
On the last Monday of every month, owner Ozlem Balpinar closes her restaurant to the general public and invites Ottawa chefs to cook for their own. When I learned Suyeon (Denise) Myeong (@SuyeonMyeong) was organizing a dinner with fellow Courtyard alumni Hay and Davis, I begged Balpinar to let me attend.
“I will be quiet,” I promised her. “Just sit me by the bar and you won’t even notice I’m there!”
Hay is very proud of his kitchens. When we speak with him, it’s never his accomplishments he wants to talk about. He mentions the savoury cook he turned into a pastry chef by having him apprentice with Davis. Justin Tse is now a valued member of Chef/owner Marysol Foucault’s team at Odile (47 rue Montclair). Hay talks about how incredible it is to have a talent in Ottawa who spent some of his formative years under Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s. Award winning Murray Wilson is now executive chef at the Courtyard. Hay mentions his amazing fish cook who makes authentic kimchi, which he incorporated into a dish on one of his former brunch menus.
That cook, Myeong, staged with Hay for over a year, starting in 2010. She now works as a cook under Wilson. In total, she has been at the Courtyard for two and a half years.
Here’s what she served at Oz Kafe:
[A standout steamed bun as it provided more substance (without being dense) than the fluffy offerings on dim sum carts at old guard Chinatown restaurants. Well done Mr. Tse!]
[Fermented vegetables are a staple in Korean cuisine. This dish showcased the flavours.]
[Served communally, this dish felt like portioned comfort.]
[Wonderfully yielding braised pork.]
[Davis's penchant for pairing flavours and textures in his desserts will be missed in Ottawa.]
As I mentioned to Chef/owner Patrick Garland of Absinthe Cafe (1208 Wellington Street W.), who I ran into after dinner, the “chicken salad” was my favourite. It is rather rare to have chicken served so “succulent” in a non-ethnic restaurant. In the Chinese food lexicon, there is a description for a texture that translates as “slippery.” It means silky or extremely succulent. The texture can be unnerving to western diners when it comes to meat as it can be misinterpreted as “undercooked.” Myeong’s chicken was extremely succulent.
When I thanked her for a tasty meal, she laughed, “I got to serve people Kimchi.”
The next day, she generously shared the vinaigrette recipe for the vegetables plated with the “chicken salad” dish. I had thought they were pickled.
What You’ll Need:
- 500 mL chicken stock (made with star anise, daikon, leeks, kombu, cloves, cassia peel, garlic, ginger)
- 500 mL fermented daikon broth
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 3 tbsp Rice vinegar
- 3 tbsp Plum honey
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 2 tbsp Chinese mustard powder
- 2 tbsp ground peanut or peanut butter
- Salt and pepper to season
- Combine everything together
- Adjust the acidity to taste. Vinegars vary in acidity.
The vegetables were dressed in the vinaigrette “to order.” They were just sliced thin with a mandolin or vegetable peeler. That is with the exception of the “daikon chunks,” which were salt purged and rinsed beforehand.
Thank-you to Balpinar and Myeong for my sampling of Korean flavours. It was great fun.
Thank-you to Lynne Frappier (@latwistedchef) for insisting I join her table for the last three courses. Click here for Lynne’s writeup of this multi-course. A baker, Lynne provides a much better determination of Davis’ dessert than I ever could!
Aside: As of my completing this post, Michael Hay is likely setting up and readying his team for this evening’s Gold Medal Plates competition, which raises funds for the Canadian Olympic Foundation. His team will serve hundred of people and prepare plates for a distinguished judging panel. On his team are Murray Wilson, Suyeon Myeong, and Hay’s Sous at Back Lane Cafe Jesse Denton. Good luck to you all this evening!
361 Elgin Street
Tags: Courtyard Restaurant, featured, Industry Night, Korean, Michael Hay, Murray Wilson, Oz Kafe, Suyeon Myeong