Thanks to Jin Li of MSG Food Blog, here’s the first installment of an interview series with our participating panelists who will be joining us this Monday at Asian Feastival. Social worker and student by day and food blogger by night, Jin has a serious passion for Asian food and has interviewed almost ALL our panelists, while still managing to make it to her classes on time.
First up is Maangchi, Korean food expert and YouTube superstar. You can catch her perilla leaf and cucumber kimchi demo at the Asian Feastival Asian Farmer’s Market at 2:30PM.
What does it mean for you to be a part of the Asian Feastival?
I’m so happy to be recognized by the Asian Feastival. We all have the same goal – that Asian food becomes more mainstream. I’m so happy about that.
What inspires you? Who or what motivated you to teach people how to make Korean food?
Three years ago, I started posting my YouTube videos. Before that, I really liked cooking, but my son was a computer science student and he asked me why I didn’t post some Korean cooking videos on YouTube. We figured that a lot of people might want to learn. My son inspired me. He got me into this. Also, my Canadian friends tasted my Korean cooking whenever they came over to my house, and they loved learning the recipes. They helped me by filming me. My first video was a spicy stir fried squid. Right after I posted it, so many people gave me feedback, and asked so many questions which I answered. I just kept making videos after that.
What do you find most enjoyable about cooking and teaching how to cook Korean food?
It’s very rewarding work. The relationship between me and my YouTube audience is very direct. They are like my friends. They are able to ask me questions, and I can give them advice. They approach me as my friends. Sometimes, their comments make me surprised by saying things like “You changed my life” or “You saved my life”. I’m just teaching Korean cooking, why would they think like this? It’s very touching. I’ve become very connected with email, Facebook, Twitter, and etc.
One especially touching story that I can tell you is about a woman in her 40′s. She is a Korean-American, but never had a chance to learn Korean cooking from her mom because her mother died of cancer. She ended up living with her father. She was born in the US, and she doesn’t speak Korean. Her father is an old man, but one day she found my website and she followed my recipes and she made a couple different Korean dishes. Her father came out of the room and told her how much the smells of her cooking reminded him of her mother, and it brought them both to tears. When you smell certain foods, it can easily remind you of someone or something. When I read this kind of email, I cry. It’s very rewarding work.
What’s your favorite Korean dish? Junk food? Any Korean food that you do not like?
When I was young, I used to eat ramen a lot. But these days I never eat ramen. I never make it for my children because it is so salty and has a lot of artificial ingredients. Sometimes my readers ask me to show them a ramen recipe, but I have to tell them that I’m not a big fan. Someday I’ll think about it.
So, what kinds of junk food do you enjoy now?
I usually like fried street foods. For example, fried vegetables. I like the taste, but as for my health, I should be careful eating these kinds of food. I do like the taste, even though I know it’s junk food. Fried sweet potatoes, crispy fried food is so delicious. I think the last time I had this kind of food was about a year ago, because I’m afraid for my health.
Do you have a favorite Korean dish that you like to make or eat?
I love so many foods. As you know, Korean food is so diverse. I love vegetables – for example, eggplant. Korean meals consist of rice, soup, and kimchi. These three things are very basic. Add a few more side dishes right before preparing the meal. The side dishes can depend on your mood. Yesterday I had some pork belly, but today I don’t feel like eating that, so I would choose some sort of vegetable side dish. My favorite food is tofu. I have posted some tofu side dishes on my website. I also like Soondubu jjigae (soft tofu stew). I posted this, and everybody loves it. It’s one of my most popular recipes. I also enjoy Korean style eggplant side dishes. Italian style usually adds cheese, but I prefer the Korean style more, using soy sauce, garlic, oil. My choice of side dish depends on my mood.
What kinds of flavors and ingredients do you like to use in your kitchen?
Besides Korean ingredients, I’m also interested in the cuisines of other cultures. As for Korean ingredients I have soy sauce, hot pepper paste, soybean paste, hot pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, roasted sesame seeds. These are the very basic Korean spices. Anybody who wants to learn Korean cooking need these items.
Do you have any future plans that you’d like to share?
I’m tempted to teach something that I learned from traveling in Costa Rica and Guatemala – maybe some authentic Central American dishes. I’d like to teach these dishes on my website, but so many requests for Korean dishes are waiting for me, so for now I’m sticking just to Korean dishes. Recently, I’ve taken some non-traditional Korean foods and added my own Korean touch to them. Most notable is my broccoli pickle recipe. Broccoli is not a common ingredient in Korean cuisine, but I made the broccoli pickle recipe and it was a big hit! People loved it. I’m now thinking about making Korean style collard greens. Sooner or later I’m going to post this recipe. Right now I’m developing the recipe, just adding a Korean touch.
Tell us more about the process of making your YouTube videos. How long does it take to make the videos?
I have been cooking without measurements. My way of measuring is just by using the tip of my finger. Never salty, and never bland. Sometimes I make mistakes – it depends on my condition. To make the video, it’s a different story. If making videos was an easy process, I could make 3 or 4 because I keep cooking. But it’s such a difficult process. When I first started 3 years ago, I didn’t have any good tools or equipment, just a small digital camera. That was my first video. Recently, we updated our camera. I also had to adapt my cooking style to use measurements like teaspoons and cups so that my viewers would know how much of each ingredient to add. I can’t just say “about this much”, so I have to give them exact measurements.
When filming, I don’t have any script. If I make a script and memorize it, it’s just too much and I would probably give up. Since I’m showing my face, I have to put on makeup and look good in front of my audience. It’s important to me. Finally, the cooking part comes. My friends come over to help film me. The filming usually is finished within 2 or 3 hours. After that, I put the video on the computer and begin to edit it. Editing takes a long time. I don’t know why. It takes longer than before, because I like to be as perfect as possible. Compared to my videos from three years ago, my current videos have better editing, lighting, and I look more natural in front of the camera. But the cooking has stayed the same because I cook all the time. My most recent video took 20 hours in total. It takes so long – I’m not a professional! I’m still learning. After editing, I add some music and I do color correction. Then I also have to take photos and post the recipe on my blog. I like to update YouTube and my blog at the same time. I also have a pod cast on Itunes. There are so many things to do! Can you imagine? This is my full time job right now. I cannot do anything else. Even if I meet some people for a few hours outside, a lot of things are waiting for me back at home. People are constantly asking me questions, and I try to answer their question individually. They also send me photos! I try to post all their photos on Flickr. So far I have received about 1000 photos. I also had a kimchi contest. It was very successful about 100 people came. I’m planning on doing another contest, and I have some sponsors to help me. I’m so happy about what I’m doing.
How do you create your recipes? Do you create them all on your own, or do you have help from family or friends?
Some recipes I learned from my grandmother, and some from my aunts. My grandmother was a great cook. I remember her cooking huge meals for many guests back in Korea. I learned to make soybean sprout soup from one of my aunts. She used MSG, but I don’t use it. Some friends also taught me how to make sweet and sour pork. I thought it was so crispy and asked her how she did it. I borrowed her recipe and figured out how she made it so crunchy – even with all the sauce. I learn some tricks like this from friends, and I try to teach everyone about it. Sometimes I go to a restaurant and I find the food is really delicious. I try to find out what is inside – I try to guess and to make it myself at home. I’ve mostly been successful. I try to guess what’s inside, and when I go home I begin to invent my own dishes.