There is nothing like having a long and lasting relationship between two countries, exchanging culture, learning from each other and about each other. It is truly one of the most beautiful and enriching things in the world and this is exactly what South Korea and Belgium have been doing for over a century, celebrating this year the 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
The two countries grew closer over time, nourishing their cultural and diplomatic relations, even more so since 2013 when the Korean Cultural Centre was established. This cultural centre, located in the heart of Brussels as a window for Europe to the Korean culture, organises different types of cultural events and exchanges, from exhibition and concerts to film festivals to bring the Korean culture even closer to the Belgian and European audience.
One of the things that best connects people is definitely food. People of all cultures from all over the world like to gather around the table with their friends and family and enjoy delicacies with different cuisines influencing each other over time. As Mr. Jae Hwan Kim, director of the Korean Cultural Center said: ‘Food is the perfect medium to connect people.’
This is why it is not surprising for chef Sang Hoon Degeimbre to be chosen as an ambassador of Korean culture. Sang Hoon Deigembre, an owner and chef of the 2 Michelin star restaurant L’Air du Temps in Liernu, who embodies and perfectly ties the two countries and cultures and continues to bond both through his culinary art. Korean born, Sang Hoon was adopted by a large Belgian family at the age of five.
I am Korean born, a Belgian man and a citizen of the world.Chef Sang Hoon Deigembre
Growing up in a large family, Sang Hoon was interested in food and cooking from an early age. Though studying first to become a pharmacist, his passion for food and wine prevailed, becoming first one of the best sommeliers in Belgium and afterwards, becoming a chef with the opening of his first restaurant. The constant curiosity, need to improve, learn more and perfect his cuisine as well as to innovate brought him to an exquisite level, resulting over time in two Michelin stars.
When visiting Korea in 2008, for the first time since coming to Belgium, Sang Hoon discovered Korean cooking techniques, ingredients and spices which very much influenced his future cooking, which was until then mostly based on French cuisine. In addition, he also discovered many similarities between Belgian and Korean cultures in ways of enjoying life and food which led to experimenting more and more with fusion of the European and Korean cuisine resulting in his specific style of cooking.
Each dish chef Deigembre prepares has a certain special signature giving it his own special twist. The ingredients he uses are always of the highest quality, coming either from his own garden he grows next to the restaurant or from a wide network of carefully chosen cooperatives from the region. This was also the case with the menu of the Korean dishes prepared for this occasion.
The appetizer bossam is a bite-sized delicacy that combines cabbage from the chef’s garden with fine European pork and oysters and kimchi and becoming a true fusion between the Korean techniques such as fermentation and Belgian food.
The main dish, samgyetang, one of the most popular Korean dishes is also prepared with special care – the chicken filled with rice is boiled to achieve a kind of a smooth and tasty broth, rounded up with different spices and jujube, a kind of plum from Korea which gives it a distinguished taste.
The dessert kkwabaegi is a kind of fried brioche, a twisted doughnut with the special touch of wrapping it up in matcha tea mixed with sugar.
With such delicious ties, influences and cultural exchange, the friendship between Belgium and South Korea continues to grow, combining the two cultures and creating even more bonds for the future.