The Kimchi Chronicles: Korean Cooking for an American Kitchen by Marja Vongerichten with Julia Turshen, photography by Andrew Baranowski, foreword by Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Confession: in spite of every good intention, I haven’t yet seen the eponymous show for which this book is billed as a “Companion to the Public Television Series.” That said, this gorgeous volume clearly stands alone … and most deliciously so.
The book’s dedication instantly draws you in: “… to my two mothers, one who gave me life and the other who helped me live it.” Marja Vongerichten is a hapa Korean adoptee, who openly, lovingly shares her personal story here.
Born in Korea to a 19-year-old Korean mother and an African American serviceman who abandoned her when she was seven months pregnant, Vongerichten spent the first three years with her birthmother who with “no financial support … faced incredible hardship.” She was “adopted by loving American parents,” who renamed her Marja, “a combination of [their] names Margo and James.” She grew up mostly in northern Virginia, “raised on the typical American diet.”
In college, at age 20, “feeling independent and ready,” she began searching for her birthmother … and miraculously found her living in Brooklyn. Their first reunion, “needless to say, an emotional experience,” was also very much about food: “Although I hadn’t eaten authentic Korean food in almost 2 decades, the meal was strangely familiar; the food I had eaten for the first 3 years of my life had taken root in my subconscious, and reawakening those sensory memories helped me feel connected to my mother.”
For Vongerichten, the culinary reconnection proved magical: “Food was and continues to be a bridge between to my Korean identity and my life in America, especially when I eat and cook with my mother and my extended Korean family, and when I introduce my American family to Korean food.” That American family, of course, includes her renowned chef husband, Jean-Georges Vongerichten who, in the book’s “Foreword,” confesses to “working on putting a hot dog with kimchi relish … on the Menu at the Mercer Kitchen,” and making his own version of “Fast, Hot Kimchi” that gets “tucked underneath a nicely seared piece of fish” at Spice Market. He proudly boasts his chef-son is serving up a dish “with a sauce made of butter and gochujang” at Perry Street.
Hungry yet? The book is filled with fabulous recipes that run the gamut from the most Korean (kimchi and “Birthday Seaweed Soup”) to inventive fusion (“Grilled Korean Lobster Rolls” and “Korean Baeckoffe” – a Korean spin on a traditional Alsatian dish). Luscious photographs will get you salivating for sure.
As exquisite a cookbook as this certainly is, read it for the delectable, satisfying, heart-warming, belly-filling memoir that it also most definitely is. Vongerichten’s journey is indeed remarkable … one gratifying dish at a time.