Though still in his early 30s, chef Mingoo Kang has already built up an impressive résumé beyond Korea. After becoming the youngest head chef at Nobu Bahamas (part of renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s empire), Kang returned to his homeland.
“I am a native Korean chef. I studied culinary art at Kyonggi University in Suwon, and then lived abroad for five years gaining experience by working in various locations in the USA, Spain, the Bahamas, etc. I sought out apprenticeships wherever I could enhance my culinary knowledge, without the constraints of borders or environment.”
Kang’s cuisine reflects his sense of duty for bringing his international experience to the table. “It’s hard to make Korean food fresh for Korean customers but they can discover new aspects of it through my food. I want to provide a memorable experience and for non-Koreans I want to provide a special meal that they can only get in Korea. I want them to discover novelty in familiarity whether they are Korean or not. Korean food has yet to achieve the popularity enjoyed by Chinese and Japanese food.
“Of course, consistent food quality is a key aspect of a restaurant but I think identity is equally important. Over the past few years, restaurants in Korea have started to have their own diverse food offerings. If there’s one identity that Mingles can claim, it’s that of serving innovative hansik.” Hansik is Korean food containing less meat than most traditional Western or Chinese cuisine and featuring a wide variety of fermented foods, assorted vegetable dishes and rice. It is very nutritious and popular for its health benefits.
I provide something refreshing with a familiar feel.
Initially at Mingles, Kang used recipes from other restaurants he had worked in and simply substituted Korean ingredients. “It was ok at first but suddenly I felt something wasn’t right. I couldn’t put my name to this food so I started to learn what real Korean food was.”
Kang points out that to do this he had to learn from his master, chef and mentor Cho Hee Sook, and the priestess Jeongkwan. Cho taught him traditional Korean cuisine and Jeongkwan guided him to see the true nature of the ingredients and food we consume. He now has an intimate knowledge of Korean vegetable culture. More than 70% of Korea, a peninsular country, is mountainous, making it very easy for people to forage seasonal vegetables. The west coast of Korea also produces sea salt high in minerals. Easy access to vegetables and high-quality salt have resulted in different ways of preserving food, and have given rise to many dishes based on fermented vegetables and fermented sauces such as Jang (ganjang, doenjang, gochujang).
Kang makes excellent use of Jang and fermented vinegar to create authentic Korean cuisine. He says, “I provide something refreshing with a familiar feel. It would be too restrictive to focus purely on unique and eclectic dishes. Instead, I believe in using familiar ingredients to innovatively capture the essence of the traditional dish, hence the keen use of Jang. As the old saying goes, ‘The taste of Korean food stems from Jang’. So for the guest chef tour in April 2018, we are trying to create innovative dishes without compromising the essence of Korean flavors.”
People may find his signature multi-course meals, Mingles bansang (many small dishes of food served along with rice and soup), familiar yet new and distinctive at the same time - a constructive showcase for Korean food culture. Kang has reinterpreted boogak, one of the amuse-bouches, by using typical Korean seaweed, similar to Japanese nori, and anchovy stock. The menu takes full advantage of fresh, sustainably grown, seasonal vegetables and a variety of fermentation methods to deliver a wide range of health-giving dishes.
The name Mingles doesn’t just reference the chef’s name; it also signifies a “harmonious mix of different things.” It is a space where this young chef’s dreams, experience and philosophy come together, guaranteeing a tasty meal no matter where you come from.
Those with a yen to experience the exotic but innovative flavors of East Asia can ”mingle“ with Mingoo Kang when he blends cuisine and culture as guest chef at Restaurant Ikarus in Hangar-7 in April 2018.
ServusTV: Culinary Heights at Ikarus on ServusTV
Each month at Salzburg’s two Michelin-starred Restaurant Ikarus, a different top international chef creates the menu. For this globally unique concept, Hangar-7 executive chef Martin Klein visits the cream of the crop, takes a look behind the scenes of haute cuisine, and is let in on some exciting culinary secrets. “Culinary Heights at Ikarus” offers a unique glimpse into the world of high-end cuisine and provides an interesting portrait of each guest chef, their culinary philosophy, and the food culture of their country.