Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Home, Sweet Home - A One Pyeong Theater, A Pop-up Restaurant

Nowadays, cultural social networking events can occupy whole streets, and over the past 5 years Seoul has experienced its share of flash mobs (for instance last year in Insadong). But the concept doesn't necessarily involve Twitter and anonymous crowds. Believe it or not, social networking existed long before the internet, and inviting people for dinner (IRL, like with - OMG - not-even-facebook friends, and - R U Crious? - totally non-virtual food) can be considered a sort of Social Networking Service 1.0.

Now inviting complete strangers to your place, that's a statement about how you consider social interactions altogether.

Every major city (NYC, London, Paris) has stories of individuals who opened their doors to meet and share over a homecooked meal. For instance in Paris, where an American citizen has been, for decades, receiving once a week about twenty people from all over the world.

In parallel with 'home-like' restaurants where all patrons share the same table, menu, and dinner time, this concept hasn't evolved all the way from 'underground / alternative' to 'mainstream', but to a reasonably 'trendy' status, as people started looking either for sense in an overconnected world, or more trivially for new exciting experiences / exclusive moments. Still now, you can find both 'activist' and 'business' approaches.

"Pop-up restaurants" are the ideal tool to create a buzz or to test a new concept or menu: a one-shot event, an usual location, a happy few trendsetters, and there you go. It sounds a bit cynic, like a pre-launch focus group, but when you open a restaurant you can lose big, and that's a smart way to reassure or convince partners and investors, as well as to deliver the best to your customers. And cuisine-wise, chefs can be more daringly experimental, take a break from daily routine, have and give fun.

Until now, the concept didn't exist in Korea, except maybe for the dinners organized by Cho Tae-kwon at his place with top chefs. For years, this passionate advocate of Korean food has been waging a top-down cultural revolution: from the finest restaurant (my beloved
The Gaon) to high end soju (Hwajo), and of course luxury ceramic ware (Cho Tae-kwon being first KwangJuYo's CEO, and second a wise businessman).

A real pop-up restaurant in Seoul? Fellow food lovers Joe McPherson's
ZenKimchi.com and Sarah Lee's Seoulinthecity.com decided to take up the gauntlet: with "Back Kitchen-Seoul", they intend "to take Korean ingredients and dishes and re-imagine them - the emphasis is on freshness, flavor, and fun. There is no official charge for the family-style dinner, just a W30,000 suggested donation for ingredients, time and effort. Drinks are extra.*" The venue, a cafe near Anguk-dong (Cafe Gondry, Gye-dong 140-23), is not exactly a private home but the cooks will have a better environment to concentrate on what really matters. No wonder the event is almost already booked up.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Sejongno, someone decided to turn his own apartment into the tiniest stage. Actor SIM Cheol-jong promised to prepare some eggs for the audience to snack during his performance in his improvised "One Pyeong Theater" (1 pyeong = about 3.3 square meters - now that's Home Theater 1.0!). To accomodate visitors, he actually needs 10 pyeong of his 23 pyeong officetel***. Not much, but that's a cathedral compared to "
Bien Etre".

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* "Korea's first pop-up restaurant"
** "
광화문 한복판에 '한평극장' 관객에 계란도 삶아주겠다"
*** In Byeoksan Gwanghwamun Sidae (광화문시대), that's in Naesu-dong, and after Government buildings and the Jongno Church when you come from Sejongno.

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