As our lives get busier, our daily diets are unfortunately impacted in the sense that our dining tables are becoming less and less diverse. Looking back, in retrospect, it seems that we may have taken for granted the diversity of ingredients that we used to encounter on any given day, as well as the efforts of farmers to produce them and the environmental consequences that arise from this production.
In line with these issues, Our Planeat talks about where the food on our table comes from, and how small changes in our dietary habits can affect our lives and the health of the planeat. Through this 24th interview, brought to you by Seochon Yoo-hee, we think about the relationship between a sustainable table and our livelihood, as we continue our interview with Our Planeat writer, Min-Young Jang, hoping that small changes will be made.
Q. Hello Ms. Jang. We introduced <Our Planeat> through the 24th Seochon Yoohee magazine.
For those who are new to the interview, please briefly introduce yourself.
Hello! It seems that every time there is an event, I am the first to go right at the beginning [laughs]. Our Planeat is researching how the foods that we put on our table on a daily basis impact the health of the planet and suggesting sustainable alternatives that can also improve our overall happiness. It mainly suggests things like, ‘I hope we have these changes on our table’ or ‘I hope you put these things on your table too.’ I hope that through such efforts, things will change little by little.
Q. If you look at the posts on Our Planeat's homepage and Instagram, what you said really jumps out.
Is there is any particular reason why you are interested in the health of the earth.
We love nature. We’ve been on trips to the jungle to meet the orangutans. Sometimes, we go diving to feel the sea. We like traveling with a focus on nature so that we can get closer to it. It’s always on our mind. This is why we always wonder what role chefs and planners, like myself in the food industry, can play in preserving these beautiful things.
Q. According to the article introduced on the homepage, Our Planeat started with a question about ‘if the meals we face every day could save the earth’. Why is this topic particularly deserving of our attention?
There is a lot of talk these days about carbon emissions and global warming. Carbon emissions from producing food account for nearly one-third of total carbon emissions. That’s a very large part that doesn’t even take into account the emissions from cars, factories, etc... Food is what we eat, every day, for three meals a day. If so, I think that if we change our table habits even a little bit, we can have a considerable effect on this one-third figure. So, we are suggesting ways for people to tackle this issue one meal at a time.
We talk about various topics through our homepage, but there are some that we especially focus on. These are individual issues consisting: seasonal ingredients, species diversity, and local food culture. If we apply these themes to our table and pay attention to them, we can change more than it seems. Among them, taking the most basic example, we talk a lot about seasonal ingredients in our daily life these days. Encouraging people to enjoy seasonal ingredients is the easiest and most delicious way to reduce carbon emissions.
Q. Does using seasonal ingredients have more beneficial effect in a particular season?
Yes, because the amount of carbon produced increases tremendously when growing using heating. And when food ingredients are imported, food mileage is calculated by multiplying the amount of food transported (t) by the transport distance (km) from the place of production to the place of consumption. In some cases, what you eat has a higher carbon footprint. In that regard, if you find and enjoy seasonal ingredients that can only be tasted in certain seasons, you can reduce carbon emissions.
Also, seasonal ingredients have life cycles that grow and go according to nature's time, not people's time. For example, now it's very cold and spinach is delicious, and before that, cabbage is delicious, so it's kimchi-making season. Radish, green onion, spinach, etc. Each of these ingredients has its most delicious season. As the winter passes, spring comes, and a lot of spring vegetables and greens (*a term that refers to vegetables grown by people or naturally grown vegetables) will come up in abundance, and in summer, various greens, starting with young radishes, will grow. If you take things that are produced according to the natural life cycle, you can enjoy more varied tastes and reduce carbon emissions. I think we can give many examples of these things.
Q. I know you are also introducing species diversity and sustainability. What does this mean?
Species diversity can literally include variety diversity, regional diversity, and any diversity that contributes to the formation of an ecosystem. All living things that live on the earth compete with each other, help each other, and create a healthy ecosystem by exchanging relationships. Although it is not always immediately visible to our eyes, this connection supports and enriches our lives. However, as time goes on, it is regrettable that more and more people are planting only the species they want and cultivating them while culling out other species. An easy example of the many problems that arise from this uniformity of species is that if a single remaining variety suffers from an insurmountable disease, we may face a crisis in which we may not be able to eat this crop for the rest of our lives. Of course, the ecosystem loses its strength when it loses its diversity. In other terms, humans artificially remove various plants and plant only what they want, or standardize the species and lose the diversity of this ecosystem. Originally, there were various kinds of herbs, but they dismissed them as weeds and pulled them out, and planted only the wild herbs that are so common nowadays.
Q. So, what is the connection between biodiversity and sustainability?
There is a lot of misunderstanding about native species in relation to species diversity. Indigenous species are not intrinsically good simply because they are ours, but rather because they have been rooted in this land and have grown naturally while adapting to the environment for over 100 years. Let's take local rice as an example. There are so many different varieties of rice. A variety of rice plants grew naturally on this land and formed a healthy ecosystem, but they were improved to yield better rice that was resistant to pests and the varieties that did not meet human standards were weeded out. In the past, governments have encouraged such things. Of course, there were times when this method helped to satisfy empty stomachs. But now is an era where you don't have to look at things this way. As a result, there is a growing movement these days to rediscover species diversity.
Back to the story of breed uniformity - to put it in the extreme, there may be no way to save a species that has been bioengineered once it suffers from pests and diseases. The bottom line is that the food culture we enjoy may not be sustainable anymore. When we think of sustainability, we often think of ‘sustainability = eco-friendliness’. However, I believe that sustainability is a topic that includes more than just being ‘green’.
Q. As you said, are there many other keywords among the topics included in sustainability?
The sustainability we think of includes diversity, seasonal ingredients, local products, and many other things. Among them, the most important one is the keyword <relationship>. Relationships can also be referred to as the relationship between humans and the earth, the relationship between people and animals and plants, and the connection between consumers (like us) and producers (like farmers or fishermen). You can talk about the relationship between the past, the present and the future through the food culture that has been enjoyed since ancient times. As such, sustainability has a much greater meaning, and I think eco-friendliness is a meaning that is melted into it. There is a lot of conversation to be had about who produced the ingredients, where and how they were produced. When we talk about the concept of sustainability, these connections are very important.
As an example, there is a farmer who produces a special little stone pear in Geochang, Gyeongnam. The old wild stone pears are slightly improved and harvested in a natural way. Bringing attention to these pears is important in terms of species diversity, but also to support the farmers who produce these pears. The farmer does not use herbicides or growth promoters when producing this stone pear. It may not seem like a big deal but farming while keeping your convictions in this way is more difficult than you think. Compared to other fruits these days, which focus on sweetness and pretty shapes, these stone pears may not seem edible to many people. As the market is blocked by such prejudice, it is difficult to continue cultivating with only one farmer's belief. I’m sad when I see these kinds of issues and I try to bring attention to it with a heart of support. Of course, if people are not more open minded, it will be a difficult cause to succeed. It's a matter of taste too. I hope we can think about the relationship with producers and pay a little more attention to the ingredients that come up locally.
Q. I wonder if there was a reason or catalyst for you to become interested in species diversity and sustainability.
I don't think it started because just because I like nature. It’s a bit more personal than that. Since I was a child, I have been following my dad to the mountains and valleys, seeing and eating various herbs, and I think I naturally became interested in them.
Korea, which has four distinct seasons, has unique ingredients only available in certain seasons, and we, as a people, know how to enjoy delicious food by finding their special place according to the characteristics of the ingredients. Life has become more abundant now, but it seems that the tabletop has become monotonous to the extent that the richness is overshadowed. The same vegetables and ingredients are always on the table, and the unique ingredients that have been enjoyed since ancient times are gradually disappearing. I feel sorry to see that, so I think I that what I am most passionate about is diversity. As I was interested in the diversity of food ingredients, it became connected to the idea that maintaining these things is a way for the earth to be sustainable. Moreover, with Chef Kim Tae-yoon, who is deeply interested in the appeal of these various ingredients and digging into them, we are able to add flavor to this story instead of only words!
Q. Then, how do you mainly introduce people to the experience of sustainable gastronomy, various ingredients, and the health of the earth?
On the surface, it is advertised through offline events such as dining pop-ups, workshops, and cooking classes that take place here. In addition to this, we are trying to publicize the concept of sustainability that Our Planeat endorses by going to offline markets or collaborating with various people who share the same thoughts as us. And although it is not publicly seen, we are carrying out work such as planning and consulting for various teams. The reason why we do such work in parallel is because we think there are physical limitations in talking to one another in this space. We provide consulting services to various companies, such as developing sustainable ingredients and menus, and hope that it spreads naturally to those who love the company. Although our names remain anonymous, I think spreading our message this way is well worth it.
Q. As you have said, you are doing various activities, and it seems that there will be many activities planned in the future. What kind of message do you want to convey to people?
I hope you don't have the mindset of 'I'm just one of many.' I believe that the world can change only when ‘I’ move. I hope you discover taste through the lens of the seasons in your daily life, I hope you eat three out of three meals today, and I hope you find ethically-sourced meat and eat that the next time you decide to have meat. We hold events, workshops, and cooking classes because we want to tell the story of how it would be nice to change our daily lives little by little. During the event, we share the products from the seaside as well as the ingredients themselves. We also introduce which producers grew them and how they can be obtained.
Through these introductions and experiences, we are talking about a virtuous cycle in which we can support farmers, the ecosystem can become increasingly diverse, and we can enjoy various tastes and become healthy by eating various ingredients. Rather than doing a grandiose campaign, I just want to tell you that it's important to change your day little by little.
Q. If you change little by little in your daily life rather than in large strokes, you mean that this kind of virtuous cycle can be achieved, right?
Yes, that's why we talk about 'change on the table' a lot. I hope you all know and experience that among the food ingredients we know, there are various types of pears with slightly different flavors and slightly different shapes besides the varieties of pears that can be found at the mart. We do the things we suggest we do together so that experiences can lead to actions.
I love potatoes and oysters. So, in the summer, I always bring more than 10 varieties of potatoes to Seoul to eat with people, and I have been constantly talking about the charm of each potato variety and how to make food that best brings out its charm. It was a small move at first, but as I worked with other chefs and talked with other companies, little by little, consumers' interest in various potatoes continued, and it spread to potato farmers as well. As people searched for various varieties of potatoes, farmers who had been growing them rarely and in small quantities were able to gather the courage to increase their production. So now, in addition to Sumi potatoes, there are quite a few people who grow other breeds such as Dubaek, Baron, Chubaek, Geumseon, and Daeseon. It took several years for this change to happen, but I think it is a very big change. Now, many people and companies talk about different varieties, and talking about choosing and eating different varieties according to taste. It is also covered a little in the media. Together in so many places, the world is changing. When you choose to eat these various flavors and share your experience on social media, you are showing solidarity and being a part of the change. It is through our actions that positive changes are possible.
Q. I think that these small changes can be of great help to farmers. I remember thinking how great of an idea it was when I saw a program that introduced local specialties and introduced recipes through various media. It seems that there are many similarities with these programs you’re involved in.
Chef Taeyoon Kim and I first met while doing a pop-up like that. 7-8 years ago, I did a pop-up program called <Put it in One Bowl>. Once a month, local or seasonal ingredients are selected, and various chefs introduce the ingredients, and the cooks cook a delicious one-pot dish that makes the best use of the characteristics of the ingredients. Chefs, planners, and consumers used to sit around and talk about why these ingredients were prepared this way, what characteristics they have, and how to maximize the taste. Such meetings continued little by little, and I met Chef Kim Tae-yoon at a squid-themed pop-up, and while the chef opened a restaurant with the motto of sustainability, he created a restaurant based on sustainable gastronomy such as <Memories of the Season> and <The Sea We Loved>. A full-fledged collaboration continued.
Q. Our Planeat is operated as a ‘Sustainable Gourmet Research Institute’ rather than a general dining restaurant, so rather than going to a restaurant and experiencing dining, you have to participate in the program you are running. I would also like to ask why you did this.
What you can do at a restaurant sometimes seems to be limited. Because it has popularity, it has the advantage of being easy to expand, but because the pursuit of profit is the highest purpose, there are many things that I know are not healthy practice but that I must compromise. Finding seasonal ingredients at a restaurant and contacting farmers is not as easy as it sounds. It is not an easy task to operate a restaurant by changing the ingredients and changing the menu every month and according to the season. Since we focus on finding and promoting these ingredients, we thought about whether we could share and expand the taste with people in a way other than a restaurant.
At a restaurant, I always run out of time to fully focus on research because I greet and operate customers every day. I chose this way to fix this issue. I wanted to do research and fill the space with deeper stories. It may be less popular than a restaurant, but those who are interested in these stories will show interest, and stories that cannot be told in this space can be expanded through consulting or various planning. So I thought the title of a research institute would be better than a restaurant.
Q. It seems that the nature of each program you are running is different. Please tell us what kind of program you have.
First of all, it is divided into various dining pop-ups, workshops, and cooking classes. Dining Pop-up is a program with a little more popularity, but workshops seem to be mostly attended by those who are interested in sustainability, such as species diversity and environmental issues, while looking at ingredients in depth and experiencing taste. In addition to the concept of a small workshop to study ingredients, the cooking class is conducted as a time to learn to cook from Chef Kim Tae-yoon, sit around and talk while eating. Last month, Cooking Class: <Planeat Class_Making a Sustainable Table> held the 1st class, and more than half of the participants were currently working in restauration. I'm glad to see those who want to continue sustainable gastronomy in their daily lives, and I'm so glad to see those who are willing to pass this concept on to other people at work.
Occasionally, I see cases where people in the same industry are not accepted at cooking classes operated elsewhere, but we want to give them a warm welcome. If we share the information we find and research with the people who cook in the field, we can bring it to the restaurant and spread it more widely. We focus on those things and keep thinking about scalability.
Q. In addition to this, the introduction of various activities such as smiles, values, and influences of Our Planeat stands out. Are the chefs and writers participating in these activities together?
Yes, there is a project called <The Sea We Love> among the campaigns we are running this year. It's a program that focuses on what we should eat to keep the ocean a little more abundant. Of course, there are some people who say that not eating any seafood will make the ocean more abundant, but I want to suggest a way for the sea, the creatures that live in it, the producers who depend on the sea, and the consumers who enjoy it to live in a more harmonious manner.
Also, you may not think it is directly related to food, but I am participating in activities that are beneficial to nature, such as picking up trash in the sea or planting trees in Nanji Park. For utensils used in this space, we reuse bowls used by the elderly. When we need to print materials, the first choice is to find paper that can reduce the burden on the environment and print with soybean oil. When sending planeat box parcels, we use reusable boxes and cushioning materials. For containers containing products, we select reusable containers or try products that produce less harmful substances when decomposed. I'm thinking about how to make the least impact on nature in as many places as possible, but I don't think it's always easy to put into practice. I’m always open to suggestions!
A portion of the proceeds from our activities are used for activities focused on these environmental issues or food service to vulnerable people to help in some small ways to address the issues of poverty and inequality. Right now, it's really incomplete, but I have a desire to build it little by little and make it bigger. I think our identity is stemmed in these activities.
Q. Thanks for the invitation to Planeat Dining <Local Odyssey>, I was impressed while experiencing it myself that I was able to learn so many more detailed stories about local food reinterpreted with Korean ingredients and the hard work involved to produce various ingredients. I was able to have a deeper understanding and experience of gastronomy through realistic photos and stories. Please briefly introduce Local Odyssey.
Local Odyssey is a dining pop-up that we show off about once a month. It is a place to select a region, cover the local ingredients and food culture, and present the taste we found through a 6-course dining. Rediscover ingredients that you take for granted in everyday life or find new ingredients that are not consumed much and introduce them to you. If you look into what kind of culture and history this neighborhood has, and what kind of natural environment and ingredients there are, you can better understand the unique food culture of this area. If someone who has experienced <Local Odyssey> travels to the area being showcased, they will see things differently. It is a program that talks about how looking into the region and finding and enjoying local flavors helps the global environment, while tasting delicious local food reinterpreted in the way of chef Kim Tae-yoon.
Q. Do you have any criteria for selecting destinations while traveling or reporting? And I wonder what kind of experience you will have if you actually go on site to the local area.
When we choose a destination, we choose to focus a little more on nature. The same goes for my trip to Indonesia last summer. However, I think it is divided into domestic and foreign. In Korea, we have our own data accumulated over a long period of time, so most of the time, we know what food is available in a certain season and go on a trip in search of its taste. While traveling, I met and talked with various producers. When I go abroad, like going to Indonesia for example and meeting the endangered orangutan, I prioritize those thigns that would be difficult to see if it were not now. That’s how I decide where to go. As a joke, they say, ‘America and Europe are places that are easy to go to even when we are a little older’. It seems that there is something about trying to go to a place that is a little more difficult of access when you are a little healthier. It's sad, but the orangutan living on the island of Borneo and the glaciers in Antarctica are things that could disappear soon if we don't protect them. When we go to see things that we may not be there in the future, we think about what we can and must do to protect these beautiful things, and it naturally motivates us to do our work. Sometimes when people say, ‘What should we do for nature, for the environment?’, we tell them to go outside and spend more time facing nature. When you feel how beautiful nature is and how much comfort it gives us, you will naturally have the will to act for nature.
Q. In the middle of the Local Odyssey program, you introduced the contents of the interview with the food. Do you have a special method of on-site coverage of your own?
Fortunately, I majored in life sciences and Korean cuisine, and worked as a journalist in KBS documentary "The Korean's Dining Table." So, investigating Korean cuisine and local ingredients was my daily routine. Thanks to that, I have a lot of grandmothers recipes all over the country, and naturally, a lot of data about the taste of regional and seasonal food. I already know which food is available in which season in which place, who grows it, etc. I contact those people and get new introductions as well. I think it's great to meet old friends after a long time and share stories while gaining new experiences on the field
Sometimes I just go to a new place. If you come with a clear sense of purpose, there are many people who are happy to tell you this and that, give you a ride on the boat, and show you the farm. Sometimes I get to know a lot of things when I speak with grandmothers while staying at a guesthouse. These ladies will say that there is nothing special about their neighborhood. But when you open the refrigerator and they say it's no big deal, it's often a great discovery for us. For example, if you take food like seasoned gunbot, mothers eat it every day, so I don't really want to introduce such a trivial dish. But we want to know about those things. (laugh)
Q. Rather than the famous local food, I think the usual diet and food ingredients that we eat are more special to city dwellers.
Is there any other way to proceed by selecting an overseas region instead of domestic?
Chef Kim Tae-yoon plays a bigger role than I do when hosting an overseas episode of <Local Odyssey> or deciding where to cover overseas. I have traveled all over the world and I cook food from many different countries. In fact, in the case of overseas coverage, only a few big topics such as places I want to go and things I want to see are thrown in. Then Chef Taeyoon thoroughly investigates and follows that plan. We have a lot of interest in food and animals and plants, so we go to local markets and restaurants where locals go. Things like covering salt farms in Indonesia or visiting oyster farms in Thailand. I think it is essential to expand the breadth of food culture to cover how they are raised in other countries and in what environment.
Q. As you said, there must be farmhouses and salt farms in Korea that export food ingredients overseas. Are there any things that were helpful by visiting the local area?
I often find myself thinking, ‘The world is wide and we live so far across the sea, but on the other hand, we live very closely.’ It's so much fun to see the details changing depending on the environment and ingredients you have, even though the general method is the same. The most interesting thing is that they share a way of life that is different as if they resemble each other and resembles each other as if they are different. Not everyone can go to the local area, so I want to tell as many stories as possible, and I also want those who have heard these stories to experience them when the opportunity arises.
Q. Thanks to the detailed explanation of the story and the opportunity to enjoy the food together, I felt like I had really been to that area. Maybe that's why I felt the depth, and I think I had a desire to pay more attention to it. Are there any episodes that occurred while being on the field?
In fact, there are a lot of embarrassing but also fun anecdotes that come up while reporting on the field. Every year, we cover various sea vegetables that grow naturally in the sea. Among the coverage areas, there is a small island called Somado that you can access from Jindo. We obtained information that the sea herbs we were looking for were growing there. I got in contact with locals and went there, but the return boat never showed up. While we were doing this job, the chief of the fishing village came to pick us up in a private boat at dawn. He came running for us, who were total strangers. Then, he took us to the place to find various types of seaweed, and told us how the locals ate them. It is not directly related to our work, but it is possible because he sympathized with our story and shared affection for local things. I am really touched when I meet these people, and I think it's because I feel a sense of mission to get to know them better.
Q. I think I also feel extra connected when I receive help from people who are directly involved and do interviews.
It's really important to know who raised what we put on our table and how. We mark where these ingredients come from on our menu boards, and we even write down the names of the captain and farmer to let you know who brought them to the table. The reason we make sure to mark these things is because we want people to know who is harvesting these ingredients. Knowing the contents means that a link between the region, the producer, and us is created. Then you don't want to introduce any one of them carelessly, and you don't want to waste it.
Same with the chef. When they go to the farm, they say that the faces of the producers come to mind when handling the ingredients later. Then they say that they feel the duty to introduce something much more delicious. For instance, there was a farmer who always delivered delicious fruits, but this year, the taste of the fruit is a bit off, and the chef wants to make the extra effort to delve deeper and understand. He can understand the farmer’s feeling when he hears that the taste of this fruit is a bit off from the previous year, but we think about how we can adapt it in how we cook it. It’s wonderful seeing this understanding and tolerance develop, but since you most people are not able to catch up with farmers like we do, I think it's great that we want you to learn about these things through us and understand the producers feelings. I want you to know that it is not simply food that you pay for, but that it was raised with the love and hard work of a person in this special environment.
Q. When I saw this Indonesian episode, I was surprised that the menu format was composed of local foods, but the ingredients were made from Korean farmhouses or fishing villages. Is there a reason why you mainly use Korean ingredients instead of local ones?
The main idea of the episode was for people to feel as if they themselves were travelling by presenting food from various countries. Actually, the Indonesian episode was a special case. Because <Local Odyssey> has mainly focused on Korean regions such as Jirisan, Ulleungdo, Sokcho, Taean, and Geomundo. But this time, we wanted to introduce Indonesia, which we experienced for a month. There were so many delicious foods in Indonesia, and I proceeded with the hope that those who had not been able to travel could enjoy it through the program. In fact, it is the same in Korea. It is difficult to cover Mt. Jirisan and Ulleungdo as often as we do. But it is at the discretion of the chef, basically, and I choose a type of cuisine that highlights these ingredients the most while enjoying it as if people were going on a trip with us.
Taking the Sokcho episode as an example, there was a fish called Gamjatteok, which is enjoyed locally as steamed fish, but Chef Tae-yoon cooked this ingredient in an Italian way. It's about cooking in different ways and showing you the most delicious way to enjoy it. Through this experience, you naturally become interested in local ingredients and ask where you can buy them. Then we gladly introduce the producer. There are many people who enjoy local fish and various food ingredients like this, so we can contribute once more to the diversity of food ingredients and local producers.
Q. When making overseas food with Korean ingredients, such as the Local Odyssey Indonesia episode, it may be difficult to realize the same taste as the local one even if the same ingredients are used. How was it possible to preserve the taste of local food while retaining the taste and charm of our local ingredients?
I think it's about the understanding of food ingredients. Actually, this is at the discretion of the chef, but to take an easy example, the carrots eaten there will be different from the carrots eaten here. Then, I think about how to figure out what's different, and depending on what elements I can influence, I can bring out the color of Our Planeat and Chef Kim Tae-yoon while producing a taste close to the local area. Understanding is the most important thing because failure is bound to happen if you don’t have a high level of understanding of the ingredients.
Q. I’m curious about what inspires you when you develop a menu.
I think this is something the chef should talk about rather than me, but if I'm going to tell you a story, I first need to find out how this ingredient is eaten locally. The first thing to do is to try it raw in the production area, then find out how to enjoy it the most locally and try it again. By examining each element like this, we find the food that can make this ingredient stand out the most. For example, suppose there is a local dish A, and oil, red pepper powder, and vinegar are used. Then, I think, ‘What dishes use this recipe in India, Spain, and Thailand?’ and find a way.
Q. In addition to this process, the way each time the food is served is explained along with visual elements such as the original condition of the ingredients, photos and videos of the local area, and it is impressive.
When creating a menu, we are inspired to make people feel like they have been to the place even if they have not, and to showcase the ingredients in their closest natural form. So, we introduce what kind of dish it is and what ingredients we used, sometimes showing pictures of the ingredients or the raw materials. We also like to share stories about the producers, how they grow the ingredients, and how eating this food can contribute to the health of our planeat. For example, we talk about the benefits of eating seaweed harvested by a mother who works on the coast and how it supports the ocean and reduces carbon footprint while promoting the livelihood of the fishery community. By sharing these hidden stories in our ingredients, we can come together to learn and appreciate the diverse narratives that food holds.
Q. It seems that you are playing the role of a link to the <relationship> you mentioned while explaining about our planeat in the beginning. In addition, during the event, a table was formed to enjoy a meal and talk. Is there a way for you to communicate with your guests?
I think the people who come here have the same interests and values as us. That's why I'd like to have a one-table event like a popup or workshop if possible. It would be nice if those who come could get to know each other. First-time visitors and those who have come several times naturally mix together and build relationships by having meals together. I love people and the days when events like popups are held are both work days and the days I have the most fun. It's time to share tastes, stories, and raise glasses while looking at the same place and becoming friends.
Q. I think it was nice to be able to greet each other and that it was made possible by the lack of barriers between the chef, writer, and guests visiting for a gastronomic experience. Also, I think it was possible because it was Our Planeat that we were able to sit together at the same table and talk about gastronomy experiences and sustainability.
Yes, that's why I hope that those who come will open their hearts a little more. You may think that I came to eat this food, but I hope you think of it as a place to meet and communicate with people looking at the same place. I like to share my knowledge with the guests and the guests also share their experiences and thoughts. So, through the people who come, I get strength and get new ideas. Interaction with each other is important, and again, the key keyword here is <relationship>. The fact is that we're all part of a community, connecting with you, and these people going out and talking to other people.
Q. There are various programs of Our Planeat, but what is the process for introducing the stories and messages about food ingredients, animals, and the environment?
I'm trying hard to upload frequently in a short format on Instagram, and I'm trying to archive a little more professional content on my website. We also notify you through a newsletter once a month.
Q. Looking at the website, it was nice to see that not only various activities are being conducted, but also various topics such as animal welfare, zero waste, and the sea are covered. Also, there are recipes.
That's right. In fact, I want to cover more topics, but I can't subdivide them all, so I'm recording the contents bit by bit for each larger category.
Q. Do you feel as though the people who visit here tend to be more aware as a result of such topics or contents?
I think about a third of the people really know. Most of the people who come to Our Planeat say that there are many strange and delicious things (laughs). I think Instagram has an advantage because it spreads quickly. Sometimes, there are people who want to make reservations for a year in advance. Of course, we don't receive a year's worth in advance, but when we hear such a story, we feel proud because we feel like we are successfully delivering the message out into the world.
Q. I think those kinds of feedback are really encouraging.
Of course. It's because they cheer and support us. There are people who attend pop-up dining every month or order ‘Planeat Box’ every month. There are many people who support every project we do. It's really empowering. (Laughter) I am always grateful.
Q. Besides the sustainability of food ingredients, is there a topic that we should keep an eye on?
I think it would be nice if people were a little more considerate. It could be consideration for nature, or consideration for animals and plants. Of course, it is also considerate of people and producers. It seems that a caring mind gives rise to a desire to reduce waste, an opportunity to enjoy local things, and naturally thinking about animal welfare. I think caring minds are connected and eventually lead to action and have a great influence.
Q. As we talked, it seemed that we had come to the end of the interview. Now, I want to ask you a question related to Seochon. There are countless neighborhoods in the city of Seoul. Is there a special reason why you settled in Seochon?
Chef Kim Tae-yoon said he moved to Seochon when he was young and has lived here for about 38 years. He considers it his hometown. I grew up in Geochang, Gyeongnam, passed through Gangnam and Mapo, and settled in Seochon. The reason why I and the chef love Seochon the most is because I thought it was a place where you could enjoy life in a place close to nature in Seoul. If you go out from here and take a few steps, you can see Inwangsan Mountain and Suseongdong Valley. When I leave the lab after work on a spring night, I feel like I am inside a jar of acacia honey. I admire it and think about it every time. I always wondered if there could be a place like this in Seoul.
Second, I really love having neighbors I can say hello to while walking around the neighborhood. There are really good painters living upstairs, and our favorite editors live across the street. There are also close friends whom I can rely for help with peace of mind when something urgent happens. There are neighbors who came to our pop-up and became close friends with us. We like to share what’s left from our cooking research with them at the end of the day. I love that there are neighbors in Seochon with whom I can share things.
Q. I think you must visit a lot of places to acquire a lot of ingredients and materials. Among the places you have visited, is there any area that is particularly similar to the atmosphere of Seochon?
The chef said that old towns in Europe are similar to Seochon. There is a palace nearby, an old town you can walk around, narrow streets, neighborhoods and old buildings.
Q. You said that the building you are currently living in has 100 years of history between its walls. Is there a reason you chose this location?
The chef has loved this building for decades. Then, when we tried to get an office in Seochon, this is what we found. When I came in, I found that a natural rock was inside the room. When this building was built, it was said that it was built on top of this rock because it was difficult to cut it all down 100 years ago. This rock structure goes down to the first floor of the building. I really liked the fact that nature was just so close, so I had no choice but to say okay. He must have signed the contract the day after he saw the space.
An interesting fact that I discovered while redecorating the room afterwards is that the ceiling is the same as it was 100 years ago. I think sustainability is connecting lost links one by one, and in that respect, I thought it was a suitable space for us in many ways. Originally, producers and consumers, who were all connected, think that the connection was broken as urbanization progressed. We are trying to connect that link somehow, and introducing ingredients and food culture that are disappearing from local food is also an effort to connect with time. In that sense, this space is a place where the connection between nature and time is always in contact with us.
Q. When preparing dining with a one-table composition, I think some people feel a little uncomfortable while others feel rather inspired. What’s the most common reaction?
People who come here seem to be pretty open minded. Maybe it's because they are mostly people who have a lot of interest and curiosity about food ingredients and culture, and those people tend to act on their curiosity. I don't think there have been any people who feel uncomfortable.
Q.Seochon Yoohee is carrying out a village hotel project in Seochon with the main concept being of creating a <horizontal hotel>. We are introducing it through this interview, but are there any other collaborations we could try?
Those who experience Seochon Yoohee must be very interested in a healthy lifestyle. I want to create a great opportunity not only to stay, but also to really permeate the neighborhood and experience healthy food culture and ingredients, and furthermore, the environment and a sustainable lifestyle.
Q. Thank you for those kind words. I hope that the fun and meaningful exploration of Our Planeat will continue in the future.
We will do our best too. Thank you (laughs).
After the interview, I reflected on how many people's effort and sweat go into making the ingredients that arrive on our table, which I hadn't thought about before, and how small and trivial attention and changes could affect it. What thoughts did you have from this interview? We hope that our health and the health of the earth will be cared for through small changes in our daily lives.
The 24th interview of Seochon Yoohee ends here, and we will be back with better news.
Edited by | SEOCHONYOOHEE Photo by | SEOCHONYOOHEE
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