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Tradition meets science in the art of making kimchi

Stepping into this kitchen, one would think he had just stepped into chemistry lab. -Korea Herald/ANN
Julie Jackson

Wed, May 15, 2013
The Korea Herald/Asia News Network

Kimchi is viewed through an entirely different kind of lens by the chefs at the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill Hotel in Seoul.

These hotel chefs have meticulously developed an innovative approach to the complicated science of making kimchi, the key word being "science."

In 1989, the Walkerhill Hotel established its first kimchi laboratory to allow its chefs to study the science of fermentation and the process behind the making of the country's most representative dish.

Stepping into this kitchen, one would think he had just stepped into chemistry lab.

The goal of the lab is to create a kimchi dish that is both healthy and full of taste that could be loved by not only locals, but by non-Koreans as well. In 2007, the hotel initiated a kimchi production line in the laboratory allowing the Walkerhill Hotel to package its product to sell to the public.

The SUPEX, meaning "super excellent," brand of kimchi is known for its use of seasonings similar to those often consumed by the Joseon era's upper class.

It uses only salt and tiny pickled shrimps, giving the cabbage a dulled, salty taste.

Chef Lee Sun-hee, who has been making SUPEX kimchi for 16 years and now heads the hotel lab, said that the non-spicy, simple flavors of this type kimchi are the keys to having kimchi globalised and loved outside of Korea.

How does SUPEX kimchi differ from other kimchi products? Many modern day kimchi dishes tend to be both salty and spicy, making it intimidating to most foreigners, who are not accustomed to the strong, spicy and fermented tastes.

However, the Walkerhill Hotel's line of kimchi addresses this concern by minimizing the use of salt and red pepper flakes. In order to cater to non-Koreans who might shy away from the spicy and salty tastes of kimchi, the lab even monitors the ph levels in order to determine and the adjust the amount of sodium, sweetness and acidity.

The SUPEX kimchi is made with organic produce, with all ingredients being grown locally.

The hotel chefs follow strict guidelines established by the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points approach for food health and safety, receiving an HACCP accreditation in 2008. One must wear a lab coat, hair net, face mask, shoe covers and even step into an air shower before entering into the kimchi preparation area.

The SUPEX kimchi is also preserved in a special fermentation area where chefs closely monitor the duration and temperature of the fermentation process. The hotel also uses the traditional Korean pot-fermentation method, allowing the kimchi to be preserved for a long period of time without contamination or mould developing during the fermenting process.

In January 2010, the Walkerhill opened the doors of its research and development centre in order to develop the hotel's worldwide Korean food project. At the R&D centre professional chefs from across the country focus on Korean menu concepts, drafting recipes through cooking techniques as well as establishing scientific cooking systems.

"We aim to create outstanding signature menus that are only available at the hotel," said Baek Suk-nam, director of the R&D Center. "We consider the marketing strategy and the market trend so that we create the menus that can meet the customer's demands."

The R&D centre has already developed a wide-range of traditional dishes including dried seaweed and dried fish so that international hotel guests can experience the finest and highest quality Korean cuisine.

The Walkerhill Hotel's signature SUPEX kimchi can be purchased at the hotel and can be enjoyed at most of the hotel's restaurants. SUPEX kimchi comes in a variety of types including water kimchi, white kimchi, cabbage, spring onion, cucumber and more.

 
 
 
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