Last week, I had an opportunity to attend the 4th International Kimchi Conference held in Washington D.C. The conference was a prelude to the 19th Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival to be held next month in Gwangju, Korea. The theme of the conference was "Kimchi from the East Meets Pickles from the West". It was a full day of learning the history, ingredients, manufacturing process, hygiene, health benefits and microbial safety of kimchi and other fermented foods.
Speakers included: Sung-Hoon Kim (Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Chung-Ang University), Soon-Ja Kim (No.1 Kimchi Master as recognized by the Korean government), Karen Hulebak (former head of the Codex USA), Christoph Freitag (Director of the German Vegetable Processing Association), and other researchers and scholars on fermented food and health science. (See here for the full list)
The conference was great, and I learned a lot! There were 10 sessions on various topics ranging from an overview of kimchi to hygiene and microbiology of kimchi. Ms. Sun-Ja Kim, founder and CEO of Hansung Food, spoke about the kimchi manufacturing process and her vision for globalizing kimchi. It was impressive and comforting to learn about their immaculate kimchi production process that ensures hygiene and quality of kimchi. Throughout the conference, the health benefit of kimchi was discussed, often with a reference to an article in Health magazine (March 2006) that named kimchi as one of the top 5 healthiest food in the world. Kimchi is rich in healthy bacteria (called lactic acid bacteria) and vitamins that are generated during the process of salting, seasoning, and fermenting. Kimchi export exceeded $100 million dollars in 2011 to 54 countries. Numerous scientific studies have been performed and are being performed to improve the quality of kimchi, to extend the shelf-life of kimchi, and to further evaluate and improve its health benefits.
The highlight of the conference, for me personally, was meeting Ms. Sun-Ja Kim. She is the first Kimchi Master, as recognized by the Korean government, and the CEO of a company that manufactures about 300 types of kimchi for two million people every day. I was ecstatic! I felt honored and totally inspired!
The celebration of kimchi continued through the weekend at the 10th Anniversary KORUS Festival (annual Korean-American festival) held at Bull Run Park in Centreville, Virginia. This year's festival featured a "Kimchi Festival" in partnership with the Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival. As such, many of the participants from the International Kimchi Conference also attended the KORUS festival, hosting "Kimchi-making demonstration" by the kimchi masters, participating in "Sharing Kimchi Along with Celebrities". During the opening ceremony, Marja Vongerichten, from Kimchi Chronicles (a popular PBS TV documentary on Korean food and culture), was recognized as "Ambassador of Kimchi", along with Phillip Lee, owner of the "Kimchi Taco Food Truck", from NYC. Very well deserved!
Afterwards, I had a brief moment to chat with Marja Vongerichten. Can you imagine my excitement? She was very approachable and gracefully posed with me for some photos. When I introduced myself, she even remembered my post that was featured on the Kimchi Chronicles blog. Thank you, Marja!
Photo courtesy of Xena Wilder
Then, I moved onto food foraging. To my surprise, I saw a kimchi stand by a local distributor that was selling Hansung Kimchi (remember the food company by No. 1 Kimchi Master?). Having been educated with their manufacturing process at the Kimchi conference, I tried all the samples displayed. They were really tasty and crispy. I picked up a few packages of different types of kimchi to bring home, including one of my favorite types of kimchi - gat (mustard leaves) kimchi.
The place was street food paradise and smoke-filled from delicious Korean BBQ. The smell was incredible, and made me really hungry! For our dinner, we picked up some galbi jjim (braised short ribs), spicy pork belly and octopus dishes prepared by culinary students from Incheon, Korea. They were amazing!
The 3-day event was full of entertainment, featuring K-pop singers, talent shows, martial arts demonstration, and traditional music and dancing. My favorite was the performance by the members of The National Gugak Center (The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts). They showcased some of the most vibrant and artistic genres and repertoires of Korean traditional performing arts. The beautiful performance was simply unbelievable! And, the best part was having this highly praised performance right in my back yard (well, almost).
Of course, there was plenty of singing and dancing "Gangnam Style" as well.