Bread & Brew: No passport needed - All-star chefs fire up Korean Food Fest
CNN Travel just did a story called "Best Korean dishes: 40 foods we can't live without."
It went on to explain that Koreans have more than 100 types of kimchi, and that other beloved dishes — everything from well-known bibimbap to the more intriguing "hangover stew" — are typically tied to custom, and often smothered in chili paste for a mouthwatering bite.
Chefs in Portland and across the country have adapted those flavors into the mainstream lately — think Korean fried chicken and bulgogi burritos. The Korean food scene officially has exploded.
The third annual Korean Food Festival in Portland on Sept. 10 will celebrate that meteoric rise, but also the fact that despite being everywhere, Korean food is still true to its roots.
That's the reason this festival, hosted by the Korean American Coalition of Oregon, is driven by the chefs themselves — perhaps the only one of its kind in the country, says KAC board President Sam Kim.
And that says a lot about Portland.
"Portland's food scene is uniquely accesible," Kim says. "If I were to do something like this in Los Angeles, it would be hard because I would need an in to the chefs. In Portland, usually you can usually just walk up to them. We got to know them by just going to the restaurant and talking to them."
Like last year, this year's festival will be held in the parking lot of the Ecotrust building, in the Pearl District.
Festival-goers — 750 attended last year — will grab small dishes from 11 chefs, one more than last year.
Free nonalcoholic drinks are offered, and beer, soju cocktails and makgeolli are available for purchase.
Makgeolli is an unfiltered rice wine, similar to nigori sake. The Korean version is a little more rustic, less sweet, with a little more funk to it.
The lineup of all-star chefs include Portland mainstays: PJ Yang, chef/owner of Bamboo Sushi; Peter Cho, chef/owner of Han Oak; Han Hwang, chef/owner of Kim Jong Grillin'; Joanna Ware, chef/owner of Wares; Kate Koo, owner of Zilla Sake; Bo Kwon, founder of Koi Fusion; and Sun Kim, chef at the Korean fried chicken food cart, FOMO Chicken.
Another featured chef at the festival will be Rachel Yang, chef/co-owner of Revelry, who'll release her first cookbook later this fall.
Her "My Rice Bowl: Korean Cooking Outside the Lines," by Sasquatch Books, is due to release Sept. 26.
It includes 75 recipes based on Yang and husband Seif Chirchi's comfort foods they serve at Revelry in Southeast Portland. They also run three Seattle restaurants: Joule, Revel, and Trove, and together hold four James Beard Award nominations for Best Chef.
Two of the chefs are visiting from the Golden State: the trio of owners of the Seoul Sausage Co., from Los Angeles; and from San Francisco, Deuki Hong, chef at Sunday Bird, an uber-popular Korean fried chicken pop-up spot.
This year's festival was timed to coordinate with the KAC national convention, which is being held in Portland for the first time.
The theme of the convention this year is bridge building — forging relationships across political, cultural and religious divides.
For instance, one panel at the convention will include an imam, a black pastor, a Korean presbyterian pastor and a Jewish rabbi who'll discuss how to build bridges between their communities. "We don't have a lot of political voice, so whenever we see some of our allies, we try to support them as best we can," Kim says.
It's the KAC's hope, he adds, that many of the national convention attendees will stick around in Portland for a week to attend the festival, bringing some national exposure that it doesn't yet have. "The KAC Los Angeles chapter is coming. We have to compete with them to some degree, but I think the food festival will help put us on impressive footing. We're hoping it might inspire them."
Check it out: Korean Food Festival, 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, Ecotrust, 901 N.W. Irving St., $70-$100 tickets, www.kacoregon.org.