What is the process of creating and creating Solbam's menu that changes completely every season on the customer's table? Chef Eom Taejun talks about how to come up with Solbam's menu.
What types of dishes can one expect to find at Solbam?
That's actually quite a challenging question. I'm still pondering it, and I don't believe it's a fixed concept. Instead, it's a dish that continues to evolve as my thought process unfolds.
Drawing from my hometown roots and personal identity, I place a strong emphasis on respecting nature, honoring the seasons, and finding joy in collaborating with my team. These values have been with me for months, years, and continue to evolve as I work on Solbam. It's not just a set of nice-sounding words; it's something that has been on my mind for an extended period.
When it comes to categorizing Solbam's cuisine as Korean, French, or Contemporary, I sometimes find it hard to fit neatly into these boxes. Different diners have different perspectives. Some may label our dishes as Korean cuisine, while others might see them as contemporary Western Quizin. It really depends on the perspective of the person enjoying the food.
I consider myself a work in progress. My experiences shape my output, leading to constant change. I believe that when it comes to reaching the highest level in cooking, it doesn't matter if it's Japanese, Chinese, Korean, French, or Italian – they all converge and break the rules in their own unique ways. So, the fundamental aspect is to deeply "examine" the ingredients. If deep thinking is insight, then insight is about truly understanding the essence of the ingredient. Regardless of the cooking method or technique applied, it becomes crucial to convey what you want to express at the core of the ingredient.
Can you change the menus every season?
I'm constantly immersed in the world of cooking. Ideas seem to pop up everywhere – whether I'm at work, visiting a farm, spending time with my family, driving, or even taking a shower. I make sure to capture these ideas as soon as they strike me. I use my phone to jot them down, take photos, and make notes in my notebook. Recording these ideas is absolutely crucial because if I don't, it feels like I'd be missing out on something significant. These fleeting thoughts, like evanescent alcohol vapors, often become the wellspring of inspiration when I'm crafting a new menu. While they may be unrefined data at first, they hold immense importance.
When it comes to creating a seasonal menu, it all starts with the seasonal ingredients. I begin by brainstorming the ingredients available for the upcoming season and compile a list. This process unfolds over several days as we look for fresh produce and identify any missing elements. The first step is to determine the protein, as it serves as the centerpiece of the dish's composition. Then, we carefully select various vegetables that complement it, ensuring there's no overlap between courses. It's crucial to me that no two courses feature the same ingredients.
Once the protein and vegetables are in harmony, I infuse my own creativity and essence, adding the finishing touches. At this point, the menu is about 70% complete.
Do you start by selecting the ingredients and then develop the recipe?
Yes, that's right. I begin by pairing ingredients, ensuring there's a harmonious connection. For instance, lobster and cauliflower or jar and zucchini are matched in this way. This prevents any overlap in ingredients, making it more challenging to make gradual changes to the menu. If you were to switch to cauliflower after the zucchini season has passed, it would disrupt the flow, just as the lobster menu and the vegetables in front of you shouldn't overlap.
I approach recipes in a similar fashion, offering a diverse array of cooking techniques such as dry aging, butter poaching, steamed cypress, charcoal grilling, and kongpi, all used in various ways.
When it comes to plating, I'm meticulous about ensuring there are no visual redundancies while combining textures. Specifically, during the plating process, we establish a carefully considered ratio and incorporate various materials like ceramics, woodenware, and glass bowls. I plan this meticulously so that customers can naturally experience a wide range of artistic presentations without needing to weigh each dish individually. I avoid using the same type of pottery from start to finish or using more than half of a glass bowl. Even with ceramics, I carefully consider the arrangement of bold glazes and simpler elements.
The process of creating a course at Solbam involves selecting ingredients, generating ideas, refining recipes, contemplating textures and presentations, and arranging objects in proportion and flow.
What's your main focus when creating a menu these days?
I'd say "Korean food." While Solbam doesn't exclusively showcase traditional Korean cuisine, I firmly believe that a deep understanding of Korean food is essential to creating exceptional dishes in Seoul. Ingredients serve as the cornerstone of cooking, and it's undeniable that Korean cuisine has evolved to perfection with ingredients sourced from Korean soil. The amalgamation of various ingredients has already stood the test of time.
For instance, consider our summer menus featuring bottled fish and zucchini. Seasoning zucchini with salted shrimp and adding pumpkin when steaming or cooking fish represents a distinctly Korean culinary approach. On the surface, our menu may not fit the conventional definition of Korean food, but our perspective on ingredients is rooted in the rich history of Korean cuisine. It's the kind of delicate and metaphorical expression I'm currently striving for.
The deeper we delve into this journey, the more we aim to articulate the excellence of local ingredients. To be honest, if I had opened Solbam in a place like Singapore or San Francisco, I might not have fully grasped the significance of Korean food as I do now. Using zucchini instead of another vegetable, for example, would alter the taste, and it might not pair well with salted shrimp. Each region has its own climate, ingredients, and culinary traditions. Being Korean and cooking with local ingredients, it's crucial to comprehend the essence of Korean food as we explore its framework and identity. I'm dedicated to ongoing learning and improvement in this regard.