When South Korean chef, Jinwook Kim, heard wild garlic could be picked freely in rural parts of Derry, he decided to jump in his car and drive all the way here from London.
Jinwook is from Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and moved to London after working in a Michelin star restaurant in Paris in 1999.
“I own the only Korean pub in the whole of the United Kingdom - it’s called Old Justice and it’s near London Bridge,” claimed Jinwook.
“A lot of the food we cook in Korea and in my pub requires ingredients that are available for free in Northern Ireland so when I heard about all the free produce here that no one was using I decided to come over and see for myself. I can’t believe no one is using all of these free plants.”
Jinwook first heard about Derry through one of his regular customers, Ian McPherson, who is from the Waterside.
“Ian told me all about the place and all of the nice things it had to offer and then I heard a gardener by the name of Gareth Austin on the Mark Patterson Show.
“I contacted Gareth and told him I was interested in coming to Derry to forage for bracken, Ground Elder and Shepherd’s Purse and the rest is history,” smiled Jinwook.
“Derry is such a nice place. The Guinness is definitely better here than it is London - but the Guinness in my pub is not too bad if I don’t say so myself,” said Jinwook coyly.
Jinwook and his business partner Sung Bin Ryoo arrived in Derry on Tuesday morning and for the duration of their visit they stayed with Ian McPherson’s father, Sam.
“The people of Derry have been really welcoming. It’s nice to be able to come here and stay in a friend’s house. Everywhere we have went so far, everyone has been talking to us and asking us what we are doing here. Derry is full of lovely people,” smiled Jinwook.
Despite the heavy rain on Tuesday afternoon, Jinwook and Sung Bin braved the typical Irish elements and joined local horticulturist Gareth Austin on a foraging expedition around Derry and its hinterland of Donegal.
Gareth said he was delighted to welcome the two chefs to the city and added the most exciting part of their visit was the fact they were able to see a use for plants that local people regarded as inanimate.
“It’s wonderful to meet new and exciting chefs like Jinwook and Sung Bin.
“They are able to see value in plants that grow here in abundance whilst the vast majority of us are not aware that we are able to cook with such plants.
“I always thought of bracken as being poisonous, so I’m fascinated by the fact that they are able to use it in their cuisine.
“Chef Jinwook was game for tasting anything and everything, he loved the wood sorrel and wild rose petals,” smiled Gareth.
Jinwook explained the way in which Korean chefs used bracken is by harvesting the plant before the leafs uncurl.
The bracken is then blanched in a pot and left to dry. When the chef is ready to cook with it again, he soaks the dried bracken in water again and then cooks it in a pan before adding it to meat or fish.
“It really is quite lovely,” smiled Jinwook.
“I’ve been doing this type of cooking for a while now but in the next few weeks I will be serving up dishes in my Korean pub using ingredients from Derry and Donegal.”
One of the main reasons Jinwook and Sung Bin came to Derry to forage for wild ingredients was because bracken, wild garlic and Shepherd’s Purse can be terribly expensive in London.
“Wild garlic grows all over Korea but there is an island called Ulleung-Do where the wild garlic tastes amazing. Ulleung-Do is a volcanic island which gives the garlic that extra intense taste but the wild garlic I have found in Derry is not too far off.
“Wild garlic can cost me £30 per kilo and it’s a common ingredient in Korean cooking so you can understand why I would be keen to take advantage of wild garlic that’s going for free,” he laughed.
“Wild garlic is such an amazing ingredient - it can be used to make a lovely pesto and it’s great when used with pasta,” explain Jinwook.
Gareth, who is an expert when it comes to foraging for local ingredients, said he had his eyes opened to Korean cuisine and even hinted he might visit Jinwook’s pub, Old Justice, the next time he is in London.
“I’ve learned so much about Korean cuisine and the customs after spending a few days with Jinwook and Sung Bin,” said Gareth.
“Foraging tours like this could be added to the new Legenderry food tours. There are so many edible plants in the local areas and Donegal just waiting to be discovered by the local people.
“Just think how nice it would be to go out picking wild herbs and plants and then returning home to cook a really tasty meal.
“I’m sure that when chef Jinwook is walking around the parks in London he’ll have one eye on all the wild plants around him from now on,” he laughed.