Pablo Park, the chef who was inspired by his grandmother’s dishes

Pablo Park in “Kiopo”, the restaurant he opened in Floresta, where his family’s textile workshop was located. (Photo: Daniel Dabove)

Park Suk Chun takes the bike with both hands, rides, rolls it. Then get on. He moves slowly, indecipherable, in the middle of the street. The boxes with vegetables, the improvised saddlebags, project a rainbow that leaves Pablo Park amidst charm and restlessness. He can’t understand how his grandfather manages to keep his balance, a they combine the Central Market with the fruit they have in Ciudadela without losing anything on the way. Neither he knows that this scene of strong scents and colors will be the bridge that will lead him to become one of the most renowned chefs of Korean cuisine in Argentina.

Pablo Park turns 33 today. and evokes those bicycle trips as a mark of origin. An identity that began to take shape in the early 1970s, when his parents and grandparents, like hundreds of thousands of Koreans, arrived in Argentina in search of a new horizon.

“When I was a boy, only women cooked, but I thought cooking was a lot of fun.”

He did the rest: he studied cooking at Mausi Sebes and pastry with El Gato Dumas; he worked at the Four Seasons hotel, where he left to travel to South Korea and learn about traditional and Buddhist cuisine; created “kyopo” (Aranguren 3053, Flores), one of the first restaurants that has transcended its community of origin and is about to open branches in Caballito and Villa Crespo; Through the “Kimchuski” brand, it produces and sells ferments and kimchi.

A team behind success. (@pablopark)

“As a child I liked to see how my grandmother cooked. How did the ferments, the basics. Everything was homemade. I think that was when my love for cooking was born ”, Pablo Park tells Télam.

Park is one of the protagonists of the fury that Korean food is experiencing: the Hansik Festival brought together thirty restaurants in Buenos Aires days ago with a multitude of enthusiastic diners. AI like K-Pop and South Korean series and movies that are multiplying on streaming platforms, gastronomy is multiplying faithfully and arousing greater interest every day.

a Korean burger

Pablo Park made the “Kyopo Burger” one of the highlights of his restaurant’s menu. Universal, but also tradition in Argentina, cooking an original hamburger has its secrets.

Which ones are they? “Not many, actually”, Park answers Télam’s question, and immediately adds that “the kitchen must be careful”. But there is more: “We marinating the meat in a different way, with Korean flavors, based on soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and onion, which gives it a special flavor “.

“And we also use cheeses, salads that have kimchi, we’re playing. now we have a spicy pork burgermade from chilli paste, which caramelizes very well when grilled ”, he concludes.

How to do it at home.

Tteokguk veggy With broccoli mushrooms and pablopark seaweed
Vegetarian Tteokguk. With broccoli, mushrooms and seaweed. (@pablopark)

-Pablo, when did your family arrive in Argentina?

-My parents and grandparents were from Korea in the early years. 70. My father and my mother came separately. They met and married in Argentina. I was born here. We live in different places, in Buenos Aires, in Ciudadela, in La Plata, where I was born. I also have a sister and a brother, although not my uncles, who have already left.

-Most Korean immigrants who arrived in the country have dedicated themselves to the textile industry. Has your family devoted itself to gastronomy?

– To gastronomy, no. My grandfather had a grocery store. I remember that he used to carry the boxes of the Central Market by bicycle. I took the bike and had to start pedaling to be able to move all the weight I was carrying. It was the time we lived in Ciudadela. Subsequently, my family devoted themselves to the textile industry, to the production of clothes, like most of the Koreans who came to Argentina and started learning in that field.

-And you went to the kitchen …

-It was weird. As a child I liked to see how she cooked my grandmother. See how she made the ferments, the bases, which were held in the houses. It was a time when everything was homemade: soy sauce, gochujang (chili paste), Korean stew (kimchi jjigae). All homemade. I think that’s when my love for cooking was born.

Chickpea Mushrooms Coconut Cabbage Garam Masala Pablopark
Mushrooms, chickpeas, coconut, cabbage, garam masala. (@pablopark)

-We can say that you sneaked into Grandma’s kitchen.

– If it can be. I got involved, it helped me. Despite the fact that at that time only women cooked. But I thought it was a lot of fun.

-Traditional cuisine can have strong aromas, what attracted you the most?

-I don’t know if the aromas, because I was very young and they were pretty strong smells. For example, to make Korean soy sauce you need to use a base with some soy bean cubes, which are left to ferment in the open air. They had such a strong smell that I still remember. All that concentration did not allow you to enter the house. That’s why they let it ferment.

-What is there in your current cuisine of the flavors and aromas of childhood?

-The basics, the kimchi. I have never received a prescription. To this I added what I was learning. I still use soy sauce, kimchi, Korean stew like they used to do at home. I also remember how they made many dishes. Basically the flavors. I try to recreate them as they were and some combine them to get a more Argentinian flavor.

Kale shiitake porto anco red quinoa lemon pablopark
Kale, shiitake, port, anco, red quinoa, lemon. (@pablopark)

-Nothing is lost, everything is transformed. Could it be a maxim of Korean cuisine?

-We try to make the most of all the ingredients. For example, when you cut vegetables you use the stem for something, the roots for a broth and so on. We try to use everything, without wasting anything.

-Argentine chef Javier Urondo ensures he learned a lot from Korean cuisine, such as reusing what is cooked. Can what remains of one preparation be reused to create another?

-Yes of course. This is very characteristic of Korean family cuisine. When there are leftovers, such as soup, it is used by reducing it and mixing it with rice and making a different dish. Everything serves and is reused to make another dish. But this is more at home than at the restaurant.

-You have finished your training as a cook in Korea. Was it a return to origins in search of something new?

-I studied in Argentina and Korea since 2012. I specialized in the cuisine of my origins. It was a journey where I learned to recognize multiple flavors. I took courses in traditional Korean cuisine and also in Buddhist cuisine. I also studied vegetarian and Chinese cuisine, the latter in that country.

“Ferments are the basis of Korean cuisine and have many probiotics, vitamins and health properties.”

crispy kimchi pablopark
Crunchy Kimchi. (@pablopark)

-What do Korean and Argentine cuisine have in common and what’s different? What do you look for of all this in your dishes?

-A Kyopo we try to adapt the dishes to a more local flavor. For example, let’s make a pasta that instead of wheat noodles we use rice noodles, with a cream of kimchi. It thus takes on Italian flavors, closer to the Argentine tradition. The result is a creamy, spicy, very tasty pasta with a sea flavor. We also make a curry that is eaten a lot in Korea and we adapt it to the Argentine flavor, with texture and a little sweetness, with pumpkin, with cheese.

-Does this allow you a sort of adaptation of even the most traditional dishes?

-Yes of course. We make a traditional dish like bibimbap, which has a rice base with egg and various ingredients, such as vegetables and meat, which are a bit fresher. We put the mango and instead of the chili sauce we use a mixture of coconut and peanuts which is very good. Something similar happens with spicy pork, which has crunchy onion, Parmesan, and other ingredients that traditionally weren’t on top. We do Korean cuisine but always looking for new flavors.

-In 2016 you opened Kyopo, your first restaurant. How did the idea come about?

– He was born out of here. When I got back from Korea, I realized that Korean food was unfamiliar to most Argentines. I thought of bringing it closer to all audiences, but with a friendlier flavor to the Argentine tradition. There weren’t many restaurants when we started. We were with Kyopo, A Korean Song and Bi Won. Nothing more.

-Why are enzymes the basis of Korean cuisine?

– They were used to store products. Everything was fermented to preserve it in the cold seasons. Kimchi was kept underground. All fermented to last a long time. It was a very different climate and it was necessary to come together at that time. And still today the enzymes are used, which are the basis of Korean cuisine, and have many probiotics, vitamins and very healthy properties.

-Are playing in the kitchen and looking for new flavors the keys to your way of cooking?

-I think yes. We are always trying to change and look for new flavors for people.

Park learned to cook from his grandmother and years later traveled to South Korea to perfect himself Photo Daniel Dabove
Park learned how to cook from her grandmother and years. she later she went to South Korea to perfect herself. (Photo: Daniel Dabove.)

Advice on oils and fries

The use of vegetables and meats provides a very varied diet in Korean cuisine, which can make it very healthy. However, there are also oils and fried foods, with which one must be careful.

“The problem with fried food is that it depends on how it’s done. Whether the oil is careful or not, for example. It is very important that the oil is not burned, that the temperature is not exceeded because it starts to burn, which in turn produces a chemical reaction that is harmful to health. It is also important that the oil is not reused, ”explains Pablo Park in Telám.

“A part of Korean cuisine has a lot of influence from Chinese cuisine,” he warns, referring to the use of fried foods. But he immediately points out: “Even so, I am much healthier food than a traditional burger“.