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Just opened in Hong Kong is the greatly anticipated first venture for Chef Mingoo Kang outside Korea, where he helms his two-Michelin-starred Mingles in Seoul, widely considered one of the country’s best restaurants. His Hong Kong offering is Hansik Goo, and it’s modern Korean, serving up family-style fare in a casual yet elegant environment.
We chatted with Chef Kang to find out why he’s chosen the 852 and what we can expect to be tasting at Hansik Goo.
How did you meet ZS Hospitality and decide on Hong Kong for your restaurant?
Elizabeth from ZS Hospitality dined at Mingles, and she enjoyed her experience and later reached out to us about partnering up. After the first meeting, I felt comfortable to work with ZS Hospitality to open my first overseas restaurant in Hong Kong because I like their decisiveness and ability to make things happen in a professional and efficient manner.
Although Hong Kong has a lot of Korean restaurants, they are more the Korean fried chicken or Korean BBQ type of restaurant, but nothing that truly showcases all the different aspects of Korean cuisine. At Hansik Goo, I hope to show people the essence of Korean cuisine. My dishes are inspired by authentic Korean food, based on a diverse array of traditional recipes, ranging from royal cuisine, to temple cuisine, to everyday food, to home
cooking, that have been given a unique, contemporary twist.
Why did you decide to open a more casual restaurant with Hansik Goo?
I wanted to introduce a more traditional and familiar type of Korean food in Hong Kong. Mingles serves innovative Korean food but still uses a traditional Korean base. We respect the origin, taste and process of making traditional Korean cuisine and add seasonal ingredients and various cooking techniques to create Mingle’s own dishes. So, for Hansik Goo, we lean towards more of the traditional techniques in creating our dishes for this restaurant.
Why was it important for you to travel to Hong Kong now despite having to quarantine for two weeks?
Since last October, ZS and I started the planning of Hansik Goo, and it was my plan to travel between Seoul and Hong Kong over the six months before the opening, which was originally scheduled for May of this year. However, due to the unforeseeable delay with COVID-19, I was not able to be here physically. So I felt it was really important and necessary that I had to come despite being quarantined for two weeks.
Which country would you most like to visit to cook in?
Definitely Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s food culture is among the best in the world. The spectrum ranges from all types of Chinese food from different regions, high-class/quality French, Italian and European restaurants to a wide variety of Japanese and Southeast Asian and Asian restaurants. Desserts, coffee scenes and great bars are a great inspiration for every visit.
How important to you is Michelin recognition, The World’s 50 Best and other awards?
Being recognised by these awards is an honour and a result of all the effort and hard work of being in the industry. However, the biggest goal is to bring pleasure and a memorable experience to my guests. However, through the evaluation of these restaurants, we can be introduced to more customers, and it is an opportunity to deliver the food and service to many customers across the country.
There are times I am wondering if I am doing well in my daily work while I am running a restaurant myself. The ratings of Michelin and The World’s 50 Best Restaurants are both objective proofs and motivations for our daily efforts.
What are your essential cooking ingredients? Do you also have a certain ingredient that always excites you when you use it?
Jang (sauce or paste) is the most important ingredient in Korean food, and it is the most important and essential ingredient that determines the taste of the cuisine. Jangs need the time, space and long-term knowledge, so we supply selected good jangs directly from Korea.
Korean ingredients such as ganjang (soy sauce), doenjang (soybean paste), gochujang (red chilli paste), sesame oil, vinegar, plum jangajji (pickle), aged kimchi and three to five types of kimchi by season, salted seafood, fish sauce and seaweed are all key to the taste of Korean food, so we make all of these in-house in Korea to make sure they are of the highest standard, and then we fly them to Hong Kong alongside premium Korean ingredients and Korean wines and spirits.
The most interesting and delicious ingredients are the seasonal ones. In spring, I love to use different Korean herbs and vegetables, in autumn, Korean grains and root vegetables, while in winter, we have an abundance of amazing seafood such as crab, octopus, mackerel and abalone. My favourite ingredients right now are Korean fruits such as berries, melons, grapes, peaches and plum fruits, which are all world class. The price is reasonable compared to the quality. At Hansik Goo, Korean fruits are also dispatched directly from Korea.
Do you have a particular philosophy when it comes to social media?
Rather than a philosophy, I try to deliver the content that I want to tell and personal stories without being tied to the subject. My past memories, family stories, cooking, friends, Mingles and many other restaurant stories… It is good to be able to communicate closely with many chef friends from all over the world through social media.
What dish have you been most proud of in your career?
Since we opened Mingles, we have created many signature dishes that I’ve loved, but my favourite is noodles with anchovy broth (멸치국수). Anchovy broth is one of the most commonly used soup bases in Korean cuisine. We spent a lot of time doing research on how to create the best anchovy broth, and as a result, we make and use pure anchovy broth suitable for Mingles’ dishes, and the noodles are made with sun-dried noodles. Making anchovy noodles is a simple and common dish, but it is difficult to find a place that makes them properly. Later, it will also be presented at Hansik Goo.
What effects has COVID-19 had on the Korean dining scene?
The situation in Korea has been much worse than Hong Kong. Many restaurants, such as Mingles, that were popular with foreigners suffered much more because foreigners cannot visit. We had some days where we only had one booking at Mingles. Mass-market restaurants for the locals and younger generation were less affected, but fine-dining restaurants like ours have had a difficult time.
Since then, under the control of the Korean government, the spread of the virus has been reduced following the guidelines of quarantine. As there are still no foreign visitors, visits by domestic diners who are not able to travel abroad are taking over. I think that the restaurant can be maintained for a long time only after receiving local people’s love, and I feel that there is a high demand for fine dining in Korea.
Long have different nations adored Korean cuisine, but now Korean cooking has become incredibly popular around the world, especially in COVID times, when people are becoming more adventurous. How do you feel about this?
It’s great to know that Korean food around the world is becoming more mainstream and that people, especially the younger generation, are starting to think of Korean food as something trendy or unique. I hope that more people during this time will learn to make more simple Korean food while they are spending more time at home. There are quite a few Korean dishes that are not that difficult and fun to make such as haemul pajeon (seafood pancake), beef bulgogi and tengjang jige (bean-paste stew).
Hansik Goo, 2/F, 8 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, 2798 8768, firstname.lastname@example.org
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