Section: A Connoisseur
The Park Hyatt Food and Beverage team’s passion for fermentation, the essence of Korean food, is well-known across the local industry. Mr. Federico Heinzmann, in particular, has collaborated with the Venerable Sunjae, the first Master of Temple Cuisine designated by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Where does the team’s passion for fermentation stem from? Here comes a story about how the team has discovered the Korean alcohols on the menu at Park Hyatt Seoul. You may also want to try their exotic yet tantalizing pairings.
What motivated the Park Hyatt team to learn about Korean temple cuisine? I am curious about how it has influenced the F&B menu at Park Hyatt Seoul. And how have the Hyatt Group reacted to this new direction?
Motivation comes from the passion to understand and highlight this unique cuisine. We believe that temple cuisine is the underlying foundation of all Korean modern cuisine. It is healthy, seasonal, cares for nature and uses incredible techniques – these things sometimes go unnoticed but they are present in the daily food culture and culinary expression. All the chefs at Park Hyatt attended lectures with monks and, including me, were touched by the understanding we gained of our role in the culinary scene.
I read an article saying that Heinzmann and his team have been fermenting pine needles for teas and soybeans for soy sauce since 2017. Did your team make progress in fermenting other foods such as gochujang and makjang since that time?
We do it but only for a better understanding and keeping the traditions with us. We support old traditional houses or masters to give them space in the Seoul culinary scene to display their art. We are still behind the great masters who have been doing this for many years as a part of family tradition. We love the coexistence of both the new and the old style in making the Jangs.
Joanne Lee, the founder of SoolCoree, told me that she encountered your team – Federico Heinzman, Roman Kardashov & Andreas Kwon – at a Korean sool tasting event held at Hotel Banyan Tree Seoul last year and that she was impressed with your team’s eagerness to learn about Korean traditional alcohol. Tell me more about what brought the entire team to the event? Will you keep on attending Korean alcohol tasting events on a regular basis?
Making alcohol using what surrounds you is a millennia-old tradition around the world. The best way to understand a culinary culture is to see how people manage to do it – the techniques, ingredients, and range of flavors. Korea is very diverse and interesting in this regard. Our beverage team, led by Roman, Director of Food & Beverage, is helping the culinary teams to begin including liquors; we do continual field research to find new ingredients from all over the Korean peninsula. It is a great journey that we always recommend – try the local food and the local liquor wherever you go in Korea!
A pairing of foie gras with Moonheeju is a very novel idea to me. I’d also like to taste the combination in the future. How did you come up with such a unique pairing?
Because we are foreigners, Korean flavors are definitely new additions in our memory book of taste. We see Korean flavors as something new, which gives us a different approach and uses. But this particular case was a shock. We (Federico and Roman) tasted it and instantly looked at each other and said: Foie Gras! Maybe it reminded us a little of a Sauternes wine.
Do you plan to offer the pairing on the list of the menu later? What convinced your team to pick Moonheeju over the many other award-winning Korea alcohols showcased at the tasting event?
How would you describe the overall taste of Moonheeju?
We are planning to offer different types of Korean sool with menus in our restaurants, mainly at the Lounge and Timber House.
Moonheeju has a unique flavor and texture which can perfectly match with the food. One of my favorite food pairings is French dessert wines and Foie Gras terrine. We felt that this combination would be very attractive to our guests. Moonheeju exhibits unique aromas of lavender honey, honeydew, white flowers, and surprisingly, rice pudding. On the palate, the texture is smooth and rich. The finish is luscious, with a sweet aftertaste and a hint of acidity. This works very well with rich and delicious foie gras terrine, making it a great combination of Korean sool and French sophistication.
Other than Moonheeju, are there any other Korean sools or foods on the top of your mind that your team is thinking about combining next?
We are constantly looking for new combinations. Sparkling Makgeolli and caviar, Bokbunja and desserts, Korean brandy and grilled meats − these are just a few. We will continue our everlasting journey to find new combinations to offer exquisite experiences to our guests at Park Hyatt Seoul.
I wouldn’t be surprised if your team has also tried to ferment some Korean alcohols such as makgeolli, takju – as on the menu at the Park Hyatt, cheongju, yakju, etc. on your own. Have you learned how to brew some Korean sools or plan on learning how to do it in the near future?
Not directly. By law, we cannot use any homemade alcohol in the restaurant. However, of course, some staff like to try or learn and we do it just for us. It is an important tool that we can use when we go to other countries to show Korean cuisine, to help introduce at least one local liquor with an international tasting dish. That’s our ultimate goal, to see a foreign chef using Korean liquor in their menu. That would be awesome!
How do your F&B team make Korean sool – woogokju, gangjang baekseju, Gowoon Dar – appealing to your guests? They are not very well-known yet, not even to the Korean public. Do you have a particular reason to serve those selections from the over 3,000 different alcohols produced in Korea?
Park Hyatt hotels worldwide are in constant pursuit of ways to contribute to the local community and support the native heritage. It is so important to maintain the identity of a place and its people where the hotel is located. Globalization gave the world lots of great things, but also posed a challenge in terms of staying true to our roots. Korean sool (rice alcohol) is a great way to create authentic experiences and showcase the richness of Korean culture through drinking and dining.
How do you foresee the future of Korean traditional alcohol in the global market? How would you introduce the merits of Korean traditional alcohols such as takju, cheongju, yakju and distilled soju like Hwayo to the global audience?
I believe that the future of Korean traditional alcohol is bright and very promising. The high quality and unique flavor of the beverages is the recipe for success. Restaurants in Korea play a crucial role in making this happen – through educating customers by a creative pairing of food and sool and offering the unique experiences that guests are seeking these days. To make these beverages appeal more to younger generations, bartenders are not to be forgotten. They can create concoctions that will serve as a guide into the world of Korean sool, making the drinks more approachable while still highlighting the true essence of the Korean beverage.
I noted that Gowoon Dar, an omija brandy, is listed on the menu at Park Hyatt Seoul. How much do people like it in general?
This is one of our favorite Korean spirits. The flavor is distinct and complementary to every meal. We offer it as a great alternative to world-renowned digestives. Foreign travelers looking for new experiences are definitely the ones ordering this sool, and with this experience, many times they take back a bottle or two as a gift for someone back home.
Korea produces about 300 different kinds of fruit wines made from omija (schisandra chinensis), wild raspberries, strawberries, etc, according to the Korean Wine Producer’s Association. Your team might have tried some at the event. Do you also consider serving them to your guests?
Absolutely yes. We encourage our restaurant teams to explore the world of Korean beverages and find ways to incorporate these wines into the dining experience. We believe that at first, it is important to simply make the decision for the guests by including these beverages in signature menus in order to spark their interest and start the conversation.