Although Korean food is still an undeniable favorite among Busan’s residents, new and international influences are slowly making themselves felt on the city’s dining scene. Hal Swindall explores Busan’s French culinary prodigy, and visits three of the city’s most respected and sought-after French restaurants.
South Koreans are proud of their traditional cuisine, and local food is celebrated for its health qualities. As a result, prior to 2000 there were few foreign restaurants outside of certain neighborhoods in Seoul. Over the last decade, however, attitudes toward foreign cooking have changed among many Koreans; someone leaving the country in 2000 and returning a decade later would be astonished at the proliferation of Indian, Italian, Thai and even Turkish restaurants, even though they are still limited to special areas of major cities. Of these new foreign eateries, arguably the most significant are those serving food from France, since French cuisine is widely considered the most rarified. In fact, so much culinary courage has blossomed in Korea that a branch of its bakery chain Paris Baguette recently opened in Paris! We take a look at those located in Korea’s second city – Busan.
The first of Busan’s signature French dining establishments is Tres Bon, launched in July of 2012 by a Korean chef Ham Chungmin. A Busan native, Chef Ham studied hotel management at Queensland University in Australia, and then worked at a high-class hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland. While there, he took a cooking class that sparked his interest in French food. He went on to study for two years at the Bocuse Institute in Lyon, France, as well as learning about wine in the cellars of Bordeaux. Ham then became general manager of a five-star hotel and a university professor before opening Tres Bon, whose name stands for ‘very good’ in French. As chef-proprietor, Ham says his mission is to bring healthy and good-tasting food to people, and according to many, the success of this mission is evident. Like most other French restaurants in Korea, Tres Bon has a small menu, but everything on it is worth trying. All dishes are in filling or extra-filling portions. There is nothing Korean about his duck confit with orange sauce or lamb chops. Other French staples like coq au vin and Alsatian chicken bring poultry to the fore. Ham also makes excellent pasta dishes for under 20,000 won. Upon reservation, Ham can also prepare his cuisine royale, but otherwise there is no need to call ahead. Tres Bon, Suyeong-gu, Namcheon-dong 5-29, Busan, South Korea, +82 10-8339-7736
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