PEOPLE #12: CHO TAE KWON (2), The Chairman of KwangJuYo Who Is Devoted to Globalizing Traditional Korean Culture

Since ancient times, eating wholesome food has been based on the philosophy of ‘YakSikDongWon’ (food is as good as medicine). This is an important part of everyday life in Korea. Korean cuisine has long been known as healthy food in Asian countries, since it was introduced by Korean dramas such as Daejanggum (Jewel in the Palace).

This month THE EAST focuses on Mr. Cho’s insight into the past, the present and the future of Korean food culture, as well as his vision of globalizing Korean food and most importantly his campaign to raise public awareness. As part of his presentation given at a symposium entitled ‘Korea Cuisine to the World 2009’, on 7th April, Cho shared his philosophy and vision of globalizing Korean cuisine.

After taking over my family’s ceramic business 21 years ago, I have looked around the world thinking, learning, understanding and making business decisions. In doing this I have come to realize that there is an unbreakable link between the culinary culture of a country and its tableware, liquor, level of public awareness and economic position in the world. If we assume that there are about 2 billion middle-class people across the world, the value of the restaurant business worldwide within the food industry would be worth nearly 5000 trillion won (£2.5 trillion). Through trial and error over the past 21 years I have become convinced that the restaurant business will become a creative and growing industry during the 21st century. Today I am still learning and searching for answers as to the best way of globalizing Korean culinary culture by observing developed countries that have successfully globalized their cuisines. My wish is that we can successfully globalize Korean culinary culture during our lifetime and hand it over to the next generation as a great heritage.

The past, the present and the future of Korean cuisineDuring the Joseon Dynasty, Korea historically had two main streams of food culture. The first was of the ruling Yangban, which was influenced by Chinese culture. The second was the Sangnum, who did not have the benefit of a good education.Since both food cultures were not joined with each other, the Yangban food culture was kept in the ruling classes families for generations, while the other became regionalized. Korean cuisine was however devalued due to the ruling-classes bias to Chinese culture during this period. After the hardships of the Japanese colonization and the Korean War, Korea was able to restore its strength with the aid of other countries. Korea joined the industrially developed countries within a short period of time. However, rapid economic development had not been accompanied with spiritual development.
Korea largely depended on its exports, leading to a capital-intensive economy. In this process, the adoration of Chinese culture in Korea was replaced with the adoration of western culture, which further caused Korean’s to look down upon their heritage.
Today we have a dual food culture. On the one hand, we seem to be praising the food culture of the common people, whilst on the other hand many admire the western cultures, longing for the high-end food from the most developed countries. It seems likely this longing could lead to us giving up on globalizing Korean food.
We have kept Korean food locked in tradition and have been reluctant to use our imagination and have neglected our creativity because we were afraid of the views of the others. Now it’s time for us to question whether or not we have criticized and rejected new ideas of promoting our culture further without sufficient reasons. With these attitudes, it will be impossible to revolutionize our cuisine. It is us who are responsible for not being aware of the importance of our culinary culture. However, I have a better vision of the future. I am convinced that we can come up with ways to help us make Korean culinary culture, which I believe is as good as those of other nations, reach global recognition for its quality.
We have high ranking public figures who have experienced other global cultures and can make this happen. We have learned from what the Chinese and Japanese went through when they differentiated and globalized their own food cultures. We are a people who have the ability and power to restore Korea from the ashes of the war and become an industrially developed country. We can create a Korean food culture that can be promoted on a global scale if we use our imagination and creativity to give Korean food culture a new birth. This re-born cuisine will spread over Korea and as the awareness of our culture grows, we will be motivated to promote it to the world with pride.Because of our hard work and effort to learn from other countries, I strongly believe that in 10 years, Korean cuisine will bloom all over the world.

(NB: The above shows a section of Mr Cho’s lecture. In the full presentation Mr Cho further explains the processes taken by the U.S., China and Japan in globalizing their culinary cultures.)

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