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Michelin star chef harmonizes French cuisine with Korean flair

By Kim Hae-yeon

Published : July 1, 2023 - 16:02

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Chef Pascal Barbot (second from right) prepares for a gala dinner at JW Marriott Hotel Seoul's the Margaux Grill, Wednesday. (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald) Chef Pascal Barbot (second from right) prepares for a gala dinner at JW Marriott Hotel Seoul's the Margaux Grill, Wednesday. (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)

A series of gala dinner events offering guests a unique opportunity to savor French modern cuisine by a three-Michelin-starred chef from France are being held through Saturday at JW Marriott hotels in Seoul and Jeju Island.

Led by chef Pascal Barbot and his two sous chefs, the culinary experience promises a creative journey featuring a seven-course menu complemented by five wine pairings.

Barbot opened his restaurant Astrance in Paris in July 2000. Within a remarkably short span of less than a decade, Astrance received its third Michelin star in 2007, solidifying its position as a leading culinary force in the Parisian restaurant scene.

In 2005, Barbot was honored with the prestigious Best Cook in France award. Astrance held the esteemed Michelin three-star rating for 12 years until 2019, highlighting its exceptional status.

Barbot, who grew up in a small town in central France called Auvergne, has fond memories of a childhood spent observing his parents preparing traditional regional cuisine and harvesting vegetables from his father's garden.

During a visit to Korea in 2011 as a guest chef, Barbot's curiosity was piqued when he discovered the ingredients and culinary creations by Buddhist monks at temples in South Gyeongsang and Gangwon provinces.

"I was raised in a tranquil town in France, and this upbringing instilled in me a philosophy that has guided me throughout my culinary journey: The foundation of any exceptional dish lies in acquiring the finest, freshest ingredients," Barbot told The Korea Herald prior to the gala dinner held Wednesday at JW Marriott Hotel Seoul.

Keeping this philosophy in mind, Barbot endeavors to maintain consistency in the dishes he prepares. He collaborates with a network of 120 farmers and producers who communicate with him every morning to provide updates on their produce.

Green asparagus with vin jaune sauce created by chef Pascal Barbot (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald) Green asparagus with vin jaune sauce created by chef Pascal Barbot (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)

Among the gala dinner offerings in Korea is a dish that holds a special place in Barbot's heart, although he was concerned that Korean guests might not share the same affinity for it: green asparagus with vin jaune sauce.

"Prior to coming to Korea, I had extensive email exchanges with the chefs at JW Marriott and learned that while asparagus is available here, it is not commonly featured as a standalone dish," Barbot shared.

Vin jaune, literally "yellow wine," is a dry white wine originating from the Jura region of eastern France, and became the foundation for Barbot's French-inspired sauce. To add a Korean twist, he incorporated a hint of soy sauce using traditional French techniques.

"I have always been captivated by the rich culture of pastes and sauces in Korea, such as doenjang and ganjang, as well as ssam. It was my love for these sauces that inspired me to reimagine a traditional French sauce into a Korean variation," Barbot explained.

Another standout main dish is the hanwoo pepper steak served with stuffed onion filled with shiitake mushrooms and shrimp. Barbot's tenderloin steak is served at the precise moment when the fat melts to perfection on the grill.

Upon cutting open the grilled onion, a delightful aroma of caramelized shiitake mushrooms fills the air, while the minced shrimp adds a chewy and refreshing texture, creating a harmonious and joyful combination.

Hanwoo pepper steak served with stuffed onion created by chef Pascal Barbot (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald) Hanwoo pepper steak served with stuffed onion created by chef Pascal Barbot (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)

Collaborating with chefs at a gala event from different corners of the world and maximizing the potential of the team in a limited amount of time has always presented Barbot with a challenge that he deeply appreciates.

"I can observe the tremendous dedication of young chefs in promoting Korean cuisine with confidence, and I have encountered many talented chefs who are currently based in France," Barbot said.

The chef emphasized that there is no hierarchy in the pursuit of learning. Each time a new chef arrives from another country, they inspire and teach valuable skills and wisdom acquired from their own culinary heritage.

"I am constantly learning from my fellow chefs. What I truly respect and admire about Korea is the rich and extensive ancestral techniques employed in food preservation and preparation," the chef said. He shared photographs from his visits to Korean farms and encounters with jang masters -- experts in Korean pastes -- last year, where he was generously granted access to a 400-year-old cookbook that had been passed down through generations in a Korean family.

"Gaining an understanding of different regions and identifying the produce that thrives best in specific weather and soil conditions is an ongoing work for me. Every visit to Korea becomes an invaluable learning experience. I have so much more to discover and absorb."

Chef Pascal Barbot (Pascal Barbot) Chef Pascal Barbot (Pascal Barbot)