Community Cooks Learn Korean Cuisine

Personal Chef Karen Gill shares her experiences in Asia and offers samples of soju to the Community Cooks group.

Personal Chef Karen Gill shares her experiences in Asia and offers samples of soju to the Community Cooks group.

“Who here has tried soju?” asks Chef Karen Gill, as she pours a round of shots for the thirteen cooking students (all over 21) in her living room. “It’s about 20% ABV, made from rice.” In Korea, it’s not uncommon to walk the streets sipping on a bottle, she explains. But we stop after a modest taste and move into the kitchen, where we’re introduced to the ingredients in another popular Korean treat—kimchi.

Korean chili powder used to make kimchi can be found in most Asian grocery stores.

Korean chili powder used to make kimchi can be found in most Asian grocery stores.

This is the beginning of a typical Community Cooks class, a series of lively hands-on cooking demonstrations organized by Slow Food volunteer Nichole Crust. Classes are an inexpensive $5 to $10 each and generally include a meal or take-home treat.

In Karen’s Korean cooking class, we watched how kimchi was made before rolling up our sleeves to help prepare the bibimbap for dinner. Kimchi, a combination of salted cabbage, white rice vinegar, Korean chili pepper paste, garlic, Korean chili powder, ginger and scallions, is a fermented side dish served with almost any Korean meal. Jars of freshly made kimchi have to sit at room temperature for two days, then chill for four days before serving. Fortunately, Karen had some previously made kimchi for us to enjoy with the main course.

Bibimbap consists of steamed rice topped with sauteed veggies, meat, tofu and an egg.

Bibimbap consists of steamed rice topped with sauteed veggies, meat, tofu and an egg.

That brings us to the bibimbap, a healthy combination of sautéed veggies, marinated beef and tofu, served over steamed rice and topped with an egg, fried or raw. “The beauty of the dish is the versatility,” says Karen. You pick and choose what you want in your bowl. But the real kicker is in the gochuchang sauce drizzled on top. We learn how the sauce is made from gochuchang paste, a combination of white or red miso, sugar, soy sauce and Korean red pepper powder.

Community Cooks Korean knife skills

Jordan Lee (from 88.9) juliennes carrots for the bibimbap.

With several cutting board stations set up in her kitchen, Karen also teaches the group a few basic knife skills, and some tricks for julienning carrots, peppers and zucchini into consistent matchstick-size slices. Next, the veggies move to the stovetop, where they’re sautéed in sesame oil before being presented buffet-style to the hungry home chefs. We break into several small groups to dine and chat the night away, all the while raving about our new favorite dish.

“So will you make this at home?” Karen asks.

The group shouts a hearty “yes!” and we wrap up the evening, saying goodbye to new friends and looking forward to the next Community Cooks night. With our recipes in tow, I suspect to see a few of my cooking classmates at the Asian market the next day—it’s that good.

To find out about upcoming Community Cooks classes and other Slow Food Wise events, sign up for our free newsletter here.

For more information on Personal Chef Karen Gill, check out her website at downtoearthchef.com.

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