Joe McPherson (I wrote up our legendary meeting here), master of the internationally famous Zen Kimchi blog, has decided to shift his focus from the keyboard to the smoker: he's starting up his own barbecue joint—McPherson's BBQ Pub. Joe has given plenty of talks (including at least one TEDx talk if not more); he's been writing about food for around twelve years, and while he's done more than his fair share of cooking—at home, in restaurants, and at various events all over the world—he has never undertaken a project as large and ambitious as this one. Here he is, from his newest blog, in his own words:
Opening a restaurant in Seoul is risky. It’s one of the most saturated and competitive restaurant markets in the world. Opening a foreign restaurant with a foreign owner… well, let’s see how this goes. The Korean palate has rapidly internationalized, but [it] still has a way to go in actually respecting other cultures’ cuisines. We all know that foreign foods get tweaked in all countries, especially when they’re new to locals. Korea takes that to an extreme. It’s going to be a challenge to make food that Koreans will eat while also maintaining the integrity of my own culture’s traditions. That doesn’t mean capitulation. I hope to challenge the Korean palate in some ways and broaden it. That sounds so arrogant now that I write it down.
The other challenge is ingredients and equipment. For all the free trade agreements (FTAs) Korea signs, it’s still very much a closed market. Foreign restaurateurs and ordinary expats trade tips all the time on where to find what would be the most common basic ingredients in other countries. This has been repeatedly cited as one of the barriers preventing Seoul from becoming an internationally recognized and respected restaurant city. And being an American BBQ establishment, getting things like smokers, decent charcoal, and wood is way harder and more expensive than one would think.
So to help others with this insane idea of opening a restaurant in Seoul and to give a window into what it’s like to open a restaurant in a foreign country, I’m starting this blog. It may just end up being an outlet for griping. I can hear old style PR people screaming how this is such a bad idea. But you know, I’ve always been fascinated by behind-the-scenes stories of restaurants. Even when they’re crazy, they’ve made me want to visit the places even more.
I'm excited for Joe, and I wish him the best. Go to his new blog's main page, and you'll see a countdown timer tracking the days, hours, and minutes to his resto's grand opening. I can't promise that I'll be first in line to try the new place, but I'm definitely going.
If you've seen Joe's site and clicked on the "location" link, you'll have noticed right away that his joint isn't anywhere near Itaewon, which to me is a smart move. Itaewon is a land of strangling creepers poised to drag down all newcomers; restos that start up there face a grueling uphill battle. What good are customers when there's no room to breathe?
Joe's place, by contrast, is in the less competition-charged Mokdong/Omokgyo area, which most expats know as the neighborhood harboring one of Seoul's most infamous immigration offices (Mokdong is, as I've written before, my least-favorite branch of Immigration). That means there will always be a steady supply of hungry foreigners on the lookout for some good eating—without the smarmy Itaewon ambiance. This part of town is decidedly more Coruscant, less Mos Eisley. Come to think of it, if the number of foreigners in that neighborhood is higher during the day because of Immigration's office hours, it's entirely possible that Joe's place will do better-than-usual lunchtime business.
The menu looks good; my fangs are sharpened, and my stomach is primed. I've tried Manimal; I've tried Linus. It's time for some goddamn McPherson.