An excavation into Korean Cuisine with Chef Mingoo Kang

“Hansik,” or traditional Korean cuisine, has been a lifelong passion for Chef Mingoo Kang who currently heads up the two Michelin star restaurant Mingles in Seoul. Pursuing an in-depth reinterpretation of heritage dishes, little known outside Korea, he has created a palate expanding – and award-winning – tasting menu. He’s also the recipient of the Inedit Damm Chefs’ Choice Award by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 and credits his apprenticeship under Cho Hee-sook, otherwise known as the godmother of Korean cuisine, and Buddhist monk Jeong Kwan who introduced Korean temple cuisine to the world for his continued learning. Mingoo Kang’s next outpost in Hong Kong will be Hansik Goo, which translates to both “family” and “Korean food by Mingoo.”

Aspire Lifestyles: Who has influenced your cooking style or philosophy?

Chef Mingoo Kang: Chef Cho Hee-sook and Buddhist monk Jeong Kwan influenced me the most. I learned the attitude of constantly studying Korean food from Chef Cho Hee-sook, the teacher of the chefs, and from monk Jeong Kwan, I learned about the attitude towards cooking with temple foods and recipes.

AL: What do you want the world to know about the cuisine of your country and the cuisine of your restaurant?

MK: I would like to let the world know that there are various aspects of Korean food which has been simply known as bulgogi, bibimbap, and kimchi. As Korea is surrounded on three sides by the sea, you can use various seafoods, many kinds of vegetables & fruits, and even good fermented foods. My goal is to convey various flavors and scents which can be experienced in Korea, and furthermore, showcase Korean culture to the world.

AL: What is the most important value you teach your kitchen team?

MK: Growth potential, cleanliness, to blend in well together in the kitchen while faithfully performing own role; these are the values that I am seeking and emphasizing.

AL: What has been your most memorable food destination (city / country)? Why?

MK: Hong Kong is the most memorable place. (Before COVID-19) Since last year, I have frequently traveled between Hong Kong and Seoul while preparing for the opening of a Korean restaurant called ‘Hansik Goo’ in Hong Kong, and I was impressed by both similar and different food culture. There were many things to be emulated at that center of Asian gastronomy, where various food cultures exist.

AL: As the COVID pandemic has forced the industry to change on so many levels –what was the most important detail or aspect of service / experience for you that you wanted to keep the same upon reopening? What were the main things you felt you needed to change / adapt?

MK: I think the cleanliness has become more important than ever. Although Mingles has always been trying to be clean, but I think we should pay more attention.

AL: Some Chefs we have seen ways to support food banks, feeding those in need and truly taking an incredibly challenging time and finding ways to adapt and give back –do you think with these focuses in mind that the culinary industry will ever go back to the “way it was”?

MK: This year Mingles joined a lunchbox sharing event for medical staff with Michelin. This is very difficult time, but I think if everyone works hard in their own place and unites our strength, then we will be able to overcome it.

AL: Being reopened, how do you feel the pandemic has changed the mindset of your diners and how are you and your team manage these changes?

MK: I spent six weeks visiting Hong Kong for “Hansik Goo” even under this pandemic situation. Even if I often communicated with the Mingles team while I was away, I was relieved to see the restaurant run well for six weeks. I have experienced once again that I have a great team to challenge new things. And I think that we are able to become a stronger restaurant based on our trust in each other as the Mingles team — to overcome any period of time!

AL: As a Chef at a top restaurant, you likely always go at a very fast pace. Did you enjoy the “downtime” of quarantine and what did you do to fill your time?

MK: I could spend a lot of time with my family. I read a lot of books and worked out a little harder.