It’s no secret that I absolutely adore Korean food. I eat it, I cook it, and I watch stupid videos about it on YouTube. So you can imagine my joy when I was invited to participate in a Make-Your-Own-Kimchi experience organized by Cham Korean Bistro, a modern Korean restaurant in Pasadena. Apparently I would get to learn how to make kimchi, and take home my very own batch. Plus, there’d be Korean tapas and bossam (my new favorite Korean dish) and cocktails. You had me at hello, Cham. You had me at hello.
Pictures of the experience after the jump…
The evening’s activities took place in Cham’s research and development kitchen, located in a dark warehouse quite literally in the middle of nowhere (a.k.a. Vernon, CA). I had to take two bridges to get to this desolate area, and in a city with no bridges, that’s kind of noteworthy.
Inside the warehouse, however, was a dramatically artistic interior with a giant spiral staircase. There was a lot of “What the?” going on in my head.
Turns out the test kitchen was in the same facility that houses the designers for !It Jeans. Why? Because both Cham and !It Jeans are owned by the same woman. I knew none of this at this point though.
I enter a futuristic elevator and feel like I’m entering The Matrix.
However, when I pop out on the third floor, I’m far from a sci-fi landscape. I enter what looks to be a set for Top Chef.
The good people of Cham have all sorts of snacks for us: roasted kale chips, seared ahi, and three different tofu pockets — one topped with tuna tartare, one with kimchi, and one with seaweed. The kimchi one was by far my favorite. I had three.
The roasted kale. It was a bit too salty for me.
There were also two cocktails (or CHAMtails, as they called them) on display. On the left was a raspberry concoction that I stayed away from. The right was something involving Sprite, agave syrup, pineapple juice, and Makgeolli, which is a Korean rice wine.
I’m not a big fan of pineapple, but I did enjoy this drink.
Did I mention free aprons? Best night ever!
Soon it’s time to make kimchi. Here are the ingredients.
The counter is full of ingredients and fermentation already.
The local public radio station, KCRW, has sent a two-person team to cover the event. I immediately hope that I can be featured in the trademark NPR background noise.
People gather for the demo.
First we start with napa cabbage, which gets quartered.
We’re to use four cups of water for every head of cabbage. Also, we’re supposed to use sea salt — not kosher salt — for the process.
The cabbage is supposed to hang in the salted water for twenty minutes. At that point, the cabbage comes out of the water and gets salt (about half a cup per head) applied directly to its leaves. It then goes back into the water.
Five to six hours later, the cabbage should be limp and sad. Here we are touching the rubbery, wilted leaves (and no, we didn’t hang out for six hours. They had some prepared for us).
Next it’s time to make the marinade.
Our chef starts by dropping a container of rice “porridge” into the bowl. It’s really rice powder (which is the same as rice flour, I think) heated and mixed with water until it makes this goop. There were wisecracks about its resemblance to, uh, certain bodily fluids. I, however, was a gentleman and said no such things. Can’t say the same about Cathy from gasâ€¢tronâ€¢oâ€¢my. Just sayin’.
Next our chef adds heaps of red pepper powder into the bowl.
We’re left with a red, gloppy mass. It soon changes colors to something bright and vibrant. Already, it smells intense — in the best possible way.
Entering the mixture is a purÃ©e of onion, garlic, ginger, Asian pear, and fresno chiles.
The aromas are amazing.
Next comes shredded Korean radish.
More greens: red mustard and something called minari.
Soon our bowl is ready for mixing.
I kind of wanted to go and grab a handful out and stick it in my mouth. But that would be unpleasant for those around me.
Eventually, everything is thoroughly mixed up with all the greens adequately coated in the wet stuff.
Back to the cabbage.
Just kidding. Back to the marinade. The last touches enter the bowl: anchovy sauce, shrimp sauce, and raw shrimp.
Oh wait, THERE’S the raw shrimp.
Now it’s cabbage time. Each wilted quarter of cabbage goes into the bowl. We’re to then rub the marinade on each leaf and then sort of stuff each leaf too.
Ultimately we then fold the cabbage in half, making a little packet.
It then goes into a jar where it stays for twenty days.
My messy jar. I overpacked it and had many people fearful that it would explode in a few days as the liquids are released. Don’t worry though: when I got home, I transfered some of the items to a tupperware container.
After making the kimchi, we are treated to the aforementioned bossam, which is basically pork wrapped in cabbage with kimchi and other condiments.
In a non-traditional twist, Cham also offers us some persimmon kimchi, which is really quite tasty.
My jar, cleaned up and made pretty.
Another variation of kimchi. I believe this is fresh kimchi that hasn’t aged as long. I don’t remember. All I know is that it was good.
Afterwards, we tour some of the art installations found in the warehouse.
Most certainly a very random evening.
More art, etc.
Eventually I return to the parking lot. A lovely night of kimchi indeed.