Friday, October 3, 2008

Taste of Korea celebrates rich history

Han Bok-Ryeo is a highly renowned chef in South Korea, and an important link to the country's rich culinary history.

(SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.) The Taste of Korea event the Korean Agro-Trade Center brings to downtown San Bernardino’s Court Street Square on Saturday is a celebration of history dating back more than 4,000 years.

“Today is Korea’s founding day,” said Sihwan Lee, assistant manager of the Korean Agro-Trade Center on Friday. “We have been celebrating all week and it will end with the Taste of Korea in San Bernardino.”

This year is also the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Korea, also known as South Korea. This nation formed on Aug. 15, 1948.

South Korea celebrates the founding of historic Korea 4,341 years ago. National Foundation Day, known in Korea as Gaechon-Jeol or “The Opening of Sky/Heavan: has been celebrated annually on Oct. 3 for most of the past 100 years.

Back in 2333 B.C., on about Oct. 3,. Dangun Wanggeom founded Gojoseon, the first kingdom of Korea. To this day Dangum Wanggeom is recognized as the founder of Korea.

And no sooner than Dangun Wanggeom became the first king of Korea, he had royal chefs to prepare his meals. That lasted all the way through the Joseon Dynasty and the rule of King Sunjong, Korea’s last king.

Han Bok-Ryeo is coming to San Bernardino to cook a meal that would have been fit for Dangun Wanggeom, King Sunjong or any of the kings in between. This highly-renowned Korean chef, the president of the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine, had a direct link to one of the last Korean royal chefs.

That chef was Hee-Sun Han, who began working in the Korean Royal Court in 1904, when she was 13 years old. In 1942, Hee-Sun Han was still cooking for Queen Yunbi and other members of the last royal family, and befriended a young professor, Hae-Seong Hwang.

Through this friendship Hae-Seong Hwang learned about and documented many of the Korean Royal Cuisine recipes and began writing a book about them.

In the mid 20th-Century, the Korean government also developed an interest in preserving Korean tradition, and declared many aspects of it to be “intangible cultural assets.”

In 1971, after much lobbying by Hae-seong Hwang, the government added Korean Royal Cuisine to the list of “intangible cultural assets.” As the last surviving gungnyeo (royal chef), Hee-Sun Han was the only person with first-hand knowledge of the Korean Royal Cuisine. Thus the Korean government declared her to be the first-generation skill holder, which was in and of itself a special honor.

That same year, Hae-seong Hwang founded the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine, which trains professional chefs in the art of preparing this cuisine and works to promote it worldwide through education and exhibits. One of its early graduates, training there while Hee-Sun Han was still alive, is current president Han Bok-ryeo.

Hae-seong Hwang, now 88 years old, is herself recognized as an “intangible cultural asset,” for her role in preserving the Korean Royal Cuisine, according to the Institute’s Website. Her protégée Han Bok-ryeo will inherit this title from Hae-seong Hwang upon her death.

“Han Bok-Ryeo keeps alive a rich history the Koreans are celebrating this week,” Sihwan Lee said. “We are thrilled to have such an important link to Korea’s past join us in the Taste of Korea celebration.”

The Korea Agro-Trade Center is an agency of the Korean government and its purpose is to promote Korean agriculture. It has done this by holding cooking festivals in the Los Angeles area, but this is its first time the Taste of Korea will be held in the Inland Empire.