Celebrity Chefs and Scholars Unite to Explore the Global Success of Korean Cuisine and New Directions in Korean Studies

Celebrity Chefs and Scholars Unite to Explore the Global Success of Korean Cuisine and New Directions in Korean Studies

The Korea Program at APARC brought together celebrity chefs Judy Joo and Ryu Soo-young along with esteemed academics to explore the global ascendance of Korean cuisine and consider how food traverses national and cultural boundaries.
Judy Joo Rod Searcey

Sana Sugita is an MA student in East Asian Studies. Her research interests include comparative study of Japan and South Korea’s soft power strategy, the shift from traditional public diplomacy to new public diplomacy in Japan, and nation branding, nationalism, and identity.

The charm of South Korean cultural exports — from the tunes of celebrated K-pop bands like BTS and Blackpink to the esteemed narratives of movies and TV dramas like "Parasite" and “Squid Game” — has also catapulted Korean food onto the international stage. Welcome to the latest chapter of Hallyu, the Korean Wave, where kimchi, gochujang, and tteok are the stars of the show and Korean gastronomy is not only enriching dining experiences but also sparking curiosity in Korean Studies.

To understand the transformation of Korean food from an “ethnic curiosity” into one of the world’s hottest cuisines, the Korea Program at Shorenstein APARC brought together culinary experts and esteemed academics at the conference “Korean Cuisine Gone Global.” Held on April 11, 2024, the event featured celebrity chefs Judy Joo, a renowned television star, an international restaurateur, and owner of the famed Seoul Bird, and Ryu Soo-young, an acclaimed actor turned culinary maestro. They shared their culinary journeys and joined a lineup of esteemed scholars to offer insights into the transformation of Korean cuisine, the role of race and place in its success story, and new directions in the study of food and Korean culture.

The Success of the Korean Wave

"We have had an enthusiastic response from the Stanford community and beyond. The growth of K-pop and K-drama has facilitated a broader interest in Korean culture,” said APARC and Korea Program Director Gi-Wook Shin, the William J. Perry Professor of Contemporary Korea. 

The Korea Program previously hosted several successful forums on Korean culture, including the symposium “The Future of Hallyu: Korean Cinema on the Global Stage” and panels on K-pop and Hallyu as part of its 20th anniversary conference. "This conference is a product of the continued interest in many parts of Korean culture, combined with our motivations to understand Korea's growing cultural power," said Shin

New Directions in Food Studies 

The conference opened with a panel on new directions in Korean Food Studies moderated by Dafna Zur, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures. "The idea to host a conference on Korean food was a no-brainer. Korean food is hot, it is hip and sophisticated, but it is also comforting," said Zur.

In a presentation filled with music videos and plentiful cultural references, Robert Ku, an Associate Professor of Asian and Asian American Studies at Binghamton University, SUNY investigated the changes Korean food has undergone in the era of K-pop. According to Ku, Korean food on the peninsula and around the world has changed dramatically. Ku highlighted that he wanted to understand the changes in the diaspora and Korean culture across generations. 

Jooyeon Rhee, Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Comparative Literature at Pennsylvania State University, shared her insights on Zainichi Korean food routes, and how border-crossing is a sticky matter for Zainichi Koreans, as the complexity of geopolitics has divided communities and families and made the crossing of borders extremely challenging even in the post-Cold War era. “Food is versatile and is everywhere; it represents poverty, wealthiness, and other things in between,” said Rhee. Introducing an example of Hong Songik’s legacy, she explained how spaces in Osaka, Japan, became a place for Japanese people to experience Korean food and learn its history.

Rebecca Kinney, Associate Professor, School of Cultural and Critical Studies at Bowling Green State University, noted transnational tastemakers in the Seoul food scene. Kinney asked the question, “What makes Korean food, Korean food?” To answer this question, Kinney focused on the foodways among diasporic Koreans by examining Koreans who returned from abroad and their cooking. Kinney explored the movement of food across time, space, and communities to explain how authenticity and tradition are transformed and co-created.

Globalizing Korean Cuisine

The second session featured Judy Joo and Ryu Soo-young, who were joined by moderator Soh Kim, Director of the Food Design Lab at Stanford University. Joo shared the story of her transformation from Wall Street financier to chef, stating that she decided to follow her passion for cooking despite her parents' opposition. “You have to be willing to bet on yourself,” she declared. Joo described the challenges and highlights of balancing her multifaceted career as a chef, author, restaurateur, and television personality.

For Joo, working at the intersection of the culinary world and the entertainment industry is a joy, as she has the opportunity to “give people a glimpse into what Korean food is all about.” Her description of what makes Korean cuisine unique is its variety, flavors, colors, textures, balance, and harmony: “Korean food is punchy and vibrant, and sitting around the table together, it is convivial and interactive and fun!” Joo described that “food is the language of love, you can be transported [to anywhere in the world] with friends and create core memories.” 

Ryu Soo-young also shared the development of his dual career as an actor-turned-chef. While he has been an actor for 26 years and has only recently started cooking during the pandemic, Ryu’s online cooking show has generated millions of views and a wide following of loyal fans who await his weekly videos. Ryu shared how he has enjoyed cooking since childhood, and shared a story of making a lump of “bread” with a microwave when he was eight years old. For Ryu, cooking has been his “true joy” throughout his life, and suggested that “cooking is like yoga for me.” When he received an offer in the summer of 2020 to appear on a cooking show, he hesitated, as he did not want to turn his favorite pastime into a job. Despite his initial fears, Ryu agreed to appear on the show after hearing that the proceeds would be donated to underprivileged children.

Ryu shared the challenges he has faced in balancing both acting and his cooking show at the same time. “Having two jobs helped me keep my balance – when I act, it makes me want to cook. Cooking makes me want to get into the script. The tension between the two motivates me to continue doing both diligently,” he said. Ryu pointed out further similarities between cooking and acting: “For both, you prepare, present to an audience, and find meaning in the people’s reactions.”

The event not only celebrated the success of Korean cuisine on the global stage but also emphasized its potential to foster cultural exchange and understanding. By bridging the gap between academia and the culinary arts, it offered a holistic exploration of Korean culture and its impacts. As culinary diplomacy continues to gain traction, events like these play a crucial role in promoting cross-cultural dialogue and appreciation for diverse culinary traditions. In the words of Chef Ryu, “Let’s keep cooking!”

On April 12, following the conference, Stanford students got hands-on with Korean cuisine in cooking classes with both Joo and Ryu. Get the highlights >

Conference Media Coverage

In English
K-Vibe (Yonhap)
Maeil Business Newspaper

Korean Media
Chosun Ilbo
Chosun Ilbo - Biz
Chosun Ilbo - Economy
Donga Ilbo
The JoongAng
The JoongAng II
The Korea Economic Daily 
The Korea Economic Daily II
The Korea Herald 
News1 II
Seoul Shinmun
SBS News
SE Daily

Read More

Judy Joo

Kimchi Adventures: A Stanford Culinary Journey with Chef Judy Joo

Stanford students got hands-on with Korean cuisine in cooking classes with celebrity chefs Judy Joo and Ryu Soo-young. Hosted by the Korea Program at Shorenstein APARC, the classes followed the conference “Korean Cuisine Gone Global.”
cover link Kimchi Adventures: A Stanford Culinary Journey with Chef Judy Joo
South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party (DP) leader Lee Jae-myung (C) and candidates, watches TVs broadcasting the results of exit polls for the parliamentary election at the National Assembly on April 10, 2024 in Seoul, South Korea.

“Korea Is Facing a Crisis in Political Leadership”: Stanford Sociologist Gi-Wook Shin Unpacks the Korean Parliamentary Elections

Following the disappointing performance of South Korea’s ruling People Power Party in the April 10 parliamentary elections, Stanford sociologist and APARC Director Gi-Wook Shin analyzes the implications of the election outcomes for President Yoon’s domestic and foreign policies and Korean society and economy.
cover link “Korea Is Facing a Crisis in Political Leadership”: Stanford Sociologist Gi-Wook Shin Unpacks the Korean Parliamentary Elections