Sheraton's executive Korean chef Kibum Park tickles Filipino palates with Seoul food
By Paola Navarette | Images by Noel B. Pabalate
Korean cuisine has never been hotter than it is now, so much so it is being recognized as a source and trendsetter for new and exciting dishes. The provocative aroma of street food snacks, for example, like tteokbokki and the deeply satisfying scent of a hearty bowl of naengmyun have wafted across the world’s stage, and their recipes are spreading fast as quality meals. Understandably, they are being produced and reproduced at restaurants everywhere. The reason for this is simple: people today are becoming increasingly conscious about their health, and Korean food can be tailored to suit their needs.
“Korean food is a great source of energy, and it goes beyond physical strength,” says Kibum Park, Sheraton Manila’s executive Korean chef.? “Its philosophy is centered around creating overall wellbeing through the thoughtful placement of fresh, seasonal vegetables, nutritious grains, and proteins that, when all mixed, create harmony.”
Chef Kibum led some of the world’s renowned hotels and Korean restaurants in Australia, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, and the Philippines before joining the hotel six months ago.? In his current role in Sheraton, he is utilizing a unique combination of faithful culinary tradition and enhanced culinary techniques at Oori, an upscale Korean restaurant that occupies half of the second level of the hotel.
Oori, a Korean word that means “ours,” features two sub-concepts: a casual place where you can have fast and easy comfort Korean dishes and a sophisticated barbeque grill spot with personal stations fuelled by sustainable coconut charcoal.
Inspired by the refreshed Sheraton brand of being a gathering place, the dining outlet makes use of communal tables, a live cooking bibimbap bar, and luxe private dining rooms that serve as perfect venues for breaking bread with others.
Quiet exhilaration best describes the feeling one gets seeing the inside of the restaurant, reminiscent of a peaceful refuge before winter sets in. Simultaneously traditional, cozy, and chic, the interiors, designed by Chinese stylist Karen Wang, feature wooden slats, ropes hanging from an open ceiling, and Korean ceramic pots for décor. These artistic sensibilities take center stage on plates of food that seem too gorgeous to be consumed.
Oori’s menu is a mix of interactive dining dishes, chef-created Korean dishes, and a premium selection of meats. Oori divides its menu into two categories: traditional and modern. On the traditional menu are dishes such as Korean-style fried chicken, rabokki (rice and fish cake), and yachae jeun (assorted vegetable pancake). There are also high-quality Korean meats, Wagyu, Angus steaks, signature plates, soups, hot pots, and stews.
Doenjang jjigae or Korean Soybean Paste Stew
Kimchi,?rabokki, and bibimpap ingredients
Chef Kibum has a few signature hits under his belt. An example is his handmade kimchi, which he stores for five days. “The lactic acid and aromatic components that are generated during the five days of fermentation give kimchi not only its unique sour and spicy flavor but also properties that promote a healthy digestive system,” he says.
Chef Kibum also makes his own gochujang sauce for his bibimbap, and it’s a tangy, salty, and savory concoction with a hint of sweetness.He adds to the diner’s experience by serving the dish fully laid out on the Korean dining table, that is, instead of putting all the ingredients in a bowl, the gochujang, vegetables, and sous vide egg are served on the side. “The ability to be involved in the preparation of your food brings excitement, a certain energy,” he says.
For the truly adventurous, try the Sisig Bibimbap—its crunchy texture makes it distinct from the traditional bulgogi bibimbap. With this, Chef Kibum invokes his Korean muse to boldly inspire a dish that could entice the taste buds of Filipinos hungry for something new. The unique taste of Korean sauces in this interesting twist makes it a success. Other must-try bibimbap dishes are Hoe (fresh sashimi), Yuk Hoe (marinated beef tartare), Yachae (vegetables), Jeyuk (spicy marinated pork), Hemul (spicy marinated seafood), and Dak (sweet soy marinated chicken).
Chef Kibum’s 16 homemade?banchan
Oori’s modern menu proclaims its specialty is Korean pork belly, but you can‘t go wrong with just about any from the wide selection of cuts and kinds. For example, there are the Australian Mulwarra?Wagyu?beef with marble scores of 5+ and 9+ (the highest recognized score) and Duroc Spanish pork, a highly-prized and valued meat that comes from pigs that exclusively eat chestnuts. Each set comes with five kinds of sides and rice. Also not to be missed when in the grill area are Chef Kibum’s 16 homemade?banchan?(side dishes) and?meljorim?sauce, a mixture of anchovy and soybean paste that goes perfectly with grilled meat.
And of course, one cannot leave a Korean restaurant without eating bingsu, a popular dessert made of shaved ice, milky sauce, and various toppings. Chef Kibum’s rendition of the well-loved mango bingsu has a generous amount of chunks of locally sourced mango on top of the soft layers of shaved ice, delivering an exotic and fresh flavor. Toppings like cornflakes and cheesecake crumbs are also added for varied texture.
With his exceptional use of fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients to create a wide variety of dishes at Oori, he transforms traditional Korean flavors into something that can be reproduced with ease by Filipinos as part of an everyday meal. “My vision is to recreate the warmth and gregariousness Korean people are known for by introducing the true taste of our food,” he says. “This year, expect bright and bold flavors, and expect to eat a lot!”