‘Conglomerates should lead K-food drive’

Updated : 2014-05-09 18:33

‘Conglomerates should lead K-food drive’

By Kwon Ji-youn
Food “hallyu” (Korean wave), or K-food, has only just begun, according to star chef Edward Kwon.
“And this is going to be a long battle,” Kwon told The Korea Times in a recent interview. “It’s not something a chef can do on his or her own.”
Kwon stressed that for K-food to succeed in a relatively short period of time, conglomerates must work hard at its forefront. Great examples include soy sauce brand Sempio, and food manufacturers Chungjungone and Pulmuone, according to Kwon.
“We shouldn’t look at these companies with too critical an eye,” he said.
Kwon didn’t expect CJ Foodville’s Bibigo to reap large profit margins. In 2010, CJ launched the flagship restaurant specializing in bibimbap in international locations such as Beijing, Los Angeles, Singapore and London.
“From an industrial logics point of view, CJ’s expansion prospects could have seemed bleak,” Kwon said. “But if you look closer, it’s a concept worth investing in. They’re taking Korean food that isn’t too unfamiliar to foreigners and customizing it.”
He lauded the soy sauce projects that CJ and Sempio are carrying out in an effort to join Japan in the global market. The Japanese-style soy sauce, called shoyu, is especially popular in the West, with Japanese brand Kikkoman at the forefront of the market. Kwon attributed the beginnings of Japanese food globalization to soy sauce.
“It may be wiser to make inroads into the global ingredient market first,” he said. “For example, efforts to globalize our gochujang (red pepper paste) and doenjang (soybean paste) should perhaps be our priority.”
According to Kwon, the government has laid the groundwork for K-food by promoting hallyu, and conglomerates are adding structure to the foundation. Then it is up to individual chefs to build the house.
“And that’s when attention will focus on Korean chefs, and they will eventually saturate the market,” he predicted.
Kwon, now a star chef, epitomizes the rags-to-riches story. He began cooking when he ran away from home as a teen and his need for money led him to a local restaurant kitchen. He went on to study food at college, because, he claims, he had no other strengths.
Kwon rose to stardom when it became known that he was serving as a head chef at the prestigious Dubai Hotel, Burj Al Arab. But fame came with a price. Kwon suffered from countless rumors that he had falsified his resume.
“I was head chef at the hotel, but there was an executive chef above me,” he explained. “The position doesn’t exist in the Korean system, so media assumed that I had served as the executive chef. I should have clarified but I didn’t think I was ‘star’ enough to hold a press conference to explain such misunderstandings.”
Kwon’s feats couldn’t go unnoticed. It is with Kwon’s accomplishments that the nation’s first “star chef” was born, and that the term “chef” began to be used in Korean restaurants.
“Chef is a very formal name for the main cook,” he explained. “While I was in Dubai, I received e-mails from students who hoped to one day become a chef, but whose parents were against it. In Korea, people turned their noses up at chefs, or cooks, but after a documentary on my experience at the Dubai Hotel was aired, people began to appreciate them.”
He continued, “I also created the star chef market, through which many second-generation star chefs like Kang Reo have very much benefited.”
Deciding to come back to Korea after working at a world-class hotel was toilsome, but Kwon said he had been enduring a period of lassitude at the time. His friends and acquaintances had strongly disapproved of his decision because they knew he would become the subject of rumors and hearsay regarding his experiences and career.
“They said that most people here would be busy trying to pull me down,” he recalled. “But I needed a new challenge. I wanted to write history in Korea, to bring attention to chefs in a country where they were largely unappreciated,” he said.
Kwon is now the owner of three restaurants in Seoul, and is planning to open up several more in New York, Seattle and San Francisco. And as of now, he’s refraining from appearing on too many television programs, though he once had his own talent show, “Yes, Chef.”
“After all, I’m a star chef, not a star,” he said.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: