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Korean-Belgian culinary pioneer hails cuisine of his motherland

Korean-Belgian culinary pioneer hails cuisine of his motherland

Posted November. 02, 2011 02:38,   


Three years ago, a famed chef returned to a place whose scenery looked familiar in his memories from long ago. He found it weird to see so many people who had a similar appearance.

Sang-hoon Degeimbre was visiting his motherland for the first time in 34 years. The Dong-A Ilbo spoke to him at the Plaza Hotel in central Seoul Tuesday.

Degeimbre, 42, was adopted by a Belgian family at age 5 together with his brother, who is two years younger. He was born in Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province, and still has no knowledge about his biological parents.

He does not remember why, but he has liked food since he was very young. He did not suffer from hunger but developed a fondness for eating and a keen interest in new flavors.

Degeimbre started working at age 18 and chose to work at restaurants as a server since he enjoyed eating. But he could not afford to serve food for life. He learned about wine.

"I changed my occupation to a sommelier because I expected to learn geography, chemistry and biology," he said. "After working as a sommelier for eight years, I opened my own restaurant in 1997 and started applying flavors and the scent of wines to my recipes.”

His Belgian parents and his brothers, who were fellow adoptees from Chile, Brazil and France, were his patrons.

Degeimbre opened the restaurant "L`Air du Temps," which received two stars from the Michelin Guide. He said he started cooking thinking he would cook rather than hiring a chef, and is now a world-class chef famous for "molecular gastronomy" not only in Belgium but around the world.

Molecular gastronomy refers to a cooking method in which a chef applies innovative technologies, including liquid nitrogen and ultrasonic waves, to generate new flavors based on the principles of physics and chemistry.

Then a totally unexpected opportunity knocked on his door. The Korean Embassy in Brussels contacted him in 2009 and wanted to introduce Korean food to him. He then made his first trip to Korea since his adoption.

He learned about "hanshik," or Korean cuisine, effectively for the first time. "After returning to Belgium from Korea, I changed the recipes of bossam (boiled pork with kimchi and vegetables), yukhoi (raw beef mixed with vegetables), and omija tea to make flavors conducive to European tastes,” he said. “Since last year, I`ve been serving as a goodwill ambassador for hanshik."

Degeimbre came to Korea again for "Seoul Gourmet 2011" that will take place at major Seoul hotel from Monday to Friday. The festival has also attracted world-class chefs including Joan Roca of Spain, who received the highest Michelin grade of three stars.

In its third year, the annual festival started in 2009 with the aim of globalizing hanshik. Degeimbre will introduce his tuna fish recipe using soybean paste dressing and Korean-style fish soup at Lotte Hotel in Seoul on Thursday and Friday.

"Had I met hanshik earlier, I would`ve had the chance to serve Korean food to my Belgian parents before they passed away,” he said. “I will cook Korean food for my daughters, aged 14 and 11, more often and speak about Korea."