Cookbook review: Koreatown by Deuki Hong

Add this cookbook to the growing list of “celebrity chef” cookbooks.  For those who don’t know, Deuki Hong is the chef of a Korean barbecue restaurant in Manhattan.  This book imitates other cookbooks in this genre of cookbooks in that it tries for the funky vibe, trying to appeal to foodies who worship at the cult of David Chang.

First, I liked the general formatting of the book.  The pages were nicely covered (there weren’t tons of blank space on the pages), the font was easy to read (not too small, but not something from the large print section of the library), and the colors were vibrant.  There weren’t pictures of every recipe, but there were many recipes.

I liked some of the narrative in the cookbook.  For instance, the author pointed out that you should judge Korean restaurants by their banchan (so true!).  Of course, the entree is important, too, but I love the banchan.  There is a nice section at the beginning of the book with ingredients and equipment that are needed in many of the recipes as well as tips on where to purchase them. It was also interesting to read about the different Koreatowns across the United States.

I tried the bulgogi recipe, which was pretty easy to make and tasted decent.  Since I was eating it at home, I didn’t have all of the banchan and it just wasn’t quite the same as getting it at a Korean restaurant.

I have two major problems with this cookbook: (1) the celebrity chef interviews made no sense to me; (2) if you’re talking about the different Koreatowns across the United States, why not make the recipes specific to those regions in the cookbook?  There was an interview with David Chang on why he shouldn’t be called a “Korean” chef even though he is of Korean heritage.  His dad loved Japanese food so grew up loving Japanese food.  It’s mildly interesting, and while I like David Chang, I found my self wondering what the interview was doing in this cookbook.  The article really didn’t offer anything to the cookbook – it was an item of interest for David Chang fans could find on the Internet.  That’s where I thought the article belonged – on a blurb on the Internet or maybe in a foodie magazine like Lucky Peach, not in this cookbook.  Same goes for the articles with Andrew Zimmern and the other celebrity chefs.  My second major issue is after reading about some of the different Koreatowns, I wanted to know which recipes reflected the different regions.  It seemed like such a waste of a good idea.  We all know that there are regional differences to cuisine so why not present them?  Instead, the book is split up into categories such as kimchi/banchan, rice/noodles/dumplings, barbecue, etc.  I would have loved to see something along the lines of, here’s a recipe for kimchi you might find in New York and here’s one you might find in LA.  If the recipes are too similar, then why present information about different Koreatowns?

This cookbook seems to be having an identity crisis.  First, it’s trying to present traditional Korean recipes.  Second, it’s trying to imitate Lucky Peach with the cartoon illustrations and short interviews of celebrity chefs that add very little to the cookbook.  Third, it’s trying to introduce Korean culture by presenting information about different Koreatowns across the United States, but fails to tie in the culture to the cookbook.  Instead of being one cohesive unit, the cookbook consists of bits that have been thrown together under the general umbrella of “Korean.”

The sweets/desserts section is a bit odd – but the authors admitted that Korean desserts are different.  For example, there was a dessert with a hotdog sitting on top of a flaky pastry crust and the notes in the cookbook said that it was usually served with mustard and ketchup.  Not my typical idea of dessert, but I’ve never tried it so I can’t say anything.

The recipes themselves appear to be pretty easy to follow, but I don’t think this is a cookbook I will be using too often.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.