A Taste of Hansik returns to the Westin Resort Guam this week and the next, featuring an assortment of traditional Korean cuisine that embodies the rich history and culture of Guam's northern neighbor.
In its third year at the Westin, the Taste of Hansik introduces Executive Chef Jae-Chon (Patrick) Lee of the Haevichi Hotels & Resorts, based in South Korea, along with a team of five other chefs from Korea who have prepared a full Korean buffet at the Taste restaurant in Westin for diners to enjoy.
Lee, originally from Seoul, tops the team of chefs serving up a Taste of Hansik with an extraordinarily French style and background. Lee got his beginnings in the food industry back in 1991 when his older brother invited him to Paris, France, to try something new.
Three years later, in 1994, he graduated from Le Cordon Blue in Paris and afterward started an internship at a Michelin rated two-star hotel in Paris.
Lee also served as the chef of The Westin Chosun in Korea and most recently as the executive chef of the high class Haevichi Hotel & Resorts since 2010.
And after 26 years in the industry, Lee is still on fire for food.
“At first, people that end up in a kitchen don’t usually know whether this is for them or not until they actually start cooking and experiencing the kitchen life,” Lee said through a translator. "When I first started, I said ‘This is something I can do for the rest of my life,’ and it was history from there.”
Tradition marries modernity
Classically trained to cook in the French style, Lee marries traditional Korean cuisine with modern styles and French influences, according to Taste Executive Sous Chef Sean Jung, who’s been in the industry for about 20 years and helped translate for Lee, who spoke only Korean.
With a mission to globalize Korean cuisine, Lee and his fellow chefs have tried to mix different techniques from around Asia and Europe in order to create a new fusion of modern Korean food.
Translating for Lee, Jung explained that Taste of Hansik features traditional cuisine from Korea’s past, with tastes of what feudal royalty would have eaten during Korea’s dynastic era.
However, in an evolving world of cuisine, Lee said Korean chefs have also modernized traditional dishes, forming a unique Korean cuisine that marries the simplicity of Korea’s past and a revolutionary future.
Lee’s signature dish, the Ginseng Cold Bulgogi Salad, is one prime example of this marriage, he explained. While bulgogi, or barbecued beef, is one recognizable staple of Korean cuisine, incorporating it into a salad with mustard vinaigrette and ginseng might be considered groundbreaking to traditional Korean chefs.
Another whimsical Lee creation, which bends traditional Korean cuisine with a modern twist, is his braised pork belly, which has a miso base, and is a savory item familiar in Korean food, but intertwines different flavors.
Creating a Korean-style curry using gochujang, or a spicy red chili paste, as well as grilling fish with a light soy marinade are other transformative examples of a new tantalizing cuisine in Korea that Lee has helped introduce.
“In the past, Korean cuisine didn’t have certain ingredients that are incorporated into some of the Korean foods we have now,” Lee said through a translator. “Now that the world is becoming so global and ingredients just keep coming, everything's mixing together. We’re able to create new dishes using other ingredients.”
Korean cuisine evolution
According to Lee, officials from the Michelin Guide, a world-renowned food review organization, visited Korean restaurants and hotels in 2016 for the first time ever.
In response to the visit, many Korean chefs started modernizing and switching up local foods to appeal to a global market in hopes of higher Michelin ratings, Lee said. Since then, cuisine has just been revolutionizing in Korea.
“Korean food from the past is slowly having little twists and turns, modernizing to appeal to other taste buds outside of Korea,” Lee said through a translator. “It’s getting popular outside of Korea and slowly becoming one of those cuisines that are well known all over the world.”
For Chef Jung, Lee and his team of five other chefs provide a learning experience for him and his staff at the Westin, he said. Born in South Korea and raised on Guam since the age of 5, Jung has a newfound appreciation for his native cuisine.
“I’m Korean, but I’m still learning Korean cuisine,” Jung said. “I used to eat Korean cuisine all the time, but it’s not really something I’m trained in. For the past year or so, I developed a strong interest for Korean food, so when I have Korean chefs visiting, I try to learn as much Korean style of cooking as I can from them and hopefully I can incorporate it into my own style.”
For the Westin team, the six high-profile and experienced visiting chefs from Korea provide an avenue to improve their craft and cuisine.
“It always benefits me and our cooking team when we have visiting chefs from Korea and other places – sharing their recipes, their techniques – with our team,” Jung said. “I think it’s always a benefit for us, because we get to learn something new from other chefs.”
On the menu
As for the Taste of Hansik food, patrons can sample a large variety of Korean cuisine, from items formerly reserved for royalty, such as stir-fried rice cakes, to local favorites like beef bulgogi, kimchi and kalbi.
Appetizers feature a variety of salad fusions, incuding a mixed seafood salad with a pine-nut sauce, a smoked-oyster salad, or poached chicken and chives salad with black sesame dressing.
Kimchi lovers can sample three different kinds of kimchi, including the regular take, a radish kimchi, and a cucumber kimchi.
Taste’s grill station also serves a variety of Korean barbecue favorites hot off the grill: Kalbi, beef bulgogi, steamed or braised pork ribs, Andong-style braised spicy chicken, Chuncheon-style stir-fried spicy chicken, and steamed pork belly.
For dessert, there are Korean tangerines, Korean hotteok (sweet, mixed-seed pancakes), plum tea and rice wine.
And the menu features a lot more, so check out Taste of Hansik, and get a taste both of traditional Korean cooking and of what the cuisine of Hanguk is becoming.