BY Joan MacDonald | Nov 23, 2015 07:28 AM EST
If you see a mouthwatering dish in a k-drama or movie, odds are Kim Soo Jin prepared and styled the food expressly to make it look that delicious.
Kim has worked on such productions as "That Winter The Wind Blows," "Kimchi Family," "Warm and Cozy" and both "Le Grand Chef" dramas. She's currently working on "Six Flying Dragons," starring Yoo Ah In and Shin Se Kyung.
Her food is featured in films such as "A Frozen Flower," Portrait of a Beauty," "I Am A King" and "King and the Clown." She's currently prepping food for "Marital Harmony," starring Lee Seung Gi and Shim Eun Kyung.
Kim spoke at a recent Korea Society event in New York City, moderated and translated by Chef Shin Kim of Banchan Story. At the event Kim Soo Jin said she never expressly set out to become a food director. Her love of cooking first led her to open a restaurant. Her travels around the world, exploring other cuisines, inspired a desire to present Korean food in the best and most beautiful light. And the growing interest in Korean culture, thanks to the Hallyu, is making it easier for her to share Korean food with the whole world. Kim does so through the Food and Culture Academy in Seoul, a school where you can learn Korean culinary culture.
Her first film food styling happened when she was invited by the director of "The King and the Clown" to create food for his film. Before that directors often used fake or model food in films but this director wanted scenes that would make viewers' hungry.
One scene in particular stood out. It's the scene where the king invites the poor performing artists to a feast so lavish they can hardly believe their eyes. It's so beautiful and artfully arranged that viewers can identify with the performers who must wait patiently before diving in. Kam Woo Sung, who plays the troop's leader, is the first to eat, ripping a cooked chicken apart. Lee Jun Ki follows and then everyone indulges.
But, while the film's beautifully styled food looked delicious, the actors never actually got to eat more than a few bites. Because of the required retakes, Kim Soo Jin had to cook 20 chickens just so Kam Woo Sung could rip them apart to the director's satisfaction.
"The food looked so good that the actors on the set asked if they could eat it, but after all the different takes and the food sitting in the hot lighting, it all had to be thrown out. It was painful for me to see," said Kim.
Preparing food for a historic drama or film involves different challenges than cooking for modern day dramas. Research is required.
"I start by talking to the director about the background," said Kim. "I ask when is the story set. What season does it take place in? Is it before or after Koreans started using red pepper flakes. In the past some ingredients were not available. Some directors don't care about historical accuracy and then it's easy. They just want it to be beautiful, eye-opening, splendid."
And yet there are other challenges involved in preparing food for modern-day films and dramas. For example, for "Kimchi Family," Kim had to prepare 24 different kinds of kimchi, along with stories for each one.
The "Le Grand Chef" dramas were based on the film "Gourmet" which Kim also styled. The 24 episodes were filmed over the course of a year and required three sets. So, they needed dishes that were specific to each season and they also required the exact same dish for each of the sets.
"The kitchen for the drama was a set, the restaurant was a different place and the serving cart rolling out was in another, so they required each dish to be made three times," said Kim.
But drama and film cooking and styling are not all hard work. Not only does Kim still love to cook, she finds that her work provides her with an opportunity that many women would die for.
She often has to show actors how to prepare food, how to chop, sauté and stir. That means she has to take them by the hand.
"I've probably touched the hands of more beautiful actors than anyone else," said Kim with a smile. "And sometimes I have to stand behind them and show them how things are done, it's almost a back hug.
Her latest project, "Marital Harmony" is a historical film about a marriage diviner played by Lee Seung Gi. What can we expect in the way of food during this film?
"There are weddings because he is a marriage diviner," said Kim. "So there will be feasts."
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