As I’ve said in an earlier post , I got interested in K-dramas( Korean TV dramas) when I started watching “My Lovely Sam Soon “. I’m also something of a foodie . Thus , when I stumbled across ” Grand Chef ” on Netflix, I was at once intrigued . However, for some inexplicable reason , Netflix only carries Episodes 12 to 24 ; the first 12 episodes are still not available . All 24 episodes are available on hulutv.com where they are entitled ” Gourmet “. After watching them in the course of a week , I’ve no hesitation in recommending them to viewers in search of something different , particularly if they are interested in food and travel.
Gourmet is the story of the luxe restaurant , Uh Nam Jung , run by Chef Oh, a descendent of the Royal Chefs who used to serve Korean royalty at the turn of the last century . Chef Oh has two sons . His natural son , Bong Joo , is an ambitious type who wants to make Uh Nam Jung famous internationally. His adopted son , Lee Sung Chan , on the other hand , is more interested in cooking itself , in perfecting traditional dishes and creating new ones. When Chef Oh decides to retire , rather than hand the restaurant over to Bong Joo, he decides to organize a cooking competition , the winner of which will be his successor. The competition is open to all chefs working in the restaurant and the main competitors are Bong Joo , Sung Chan and the villanous Min Woo. Until then , the two brothers have been close but Bong Joo is upset at having to compete for what he believes is his birthright . He gets even angrier when he discovers the secret of Sung Chan’s birth. Adding spice to the situation are the beautiful Joo Hee , the restaurant manager , and the pert Kim Jin Soo , an aspiring reporter and food columnist . Everyone expects that Joo Hee and Bong Joo will tie the knot but Joo Hee herself is torn between the two brothers. The cooking competition gets under way but matters come to a head after Sung Chan wins the early rounds. After an angry confrontation with Bong Joo he takes off and travels all over Korea in his truck selling vegetables and seafood to make a living .
The rest of the story involves infighting over the future of Uh Nam Jung , Chef Oh’s back story , romantic pairings , misunderstandings and breakups , an unscrupulous magazine editor ,corporate treachery , a hostile takeover attempt and not one but three different food contests. There are also highly interesting side stories as Sung Chan runs into some colorful characters in the course of his peregrinations . For instance , there is the crazy old woman who ,when her grown son died, made her daughter-in-law’s life miserable and forced her out of the house . What were the old lady’s motives ? Was she just being mean or .. ? Then there is the artisan who makes knives but his drinking himself to death because of the guilt he feels over his harsh treatment of his son . And “Warrior” Kang , whose butchering skills Sung Chan has need of; where has he disappeared to ?
Most TV dramas are shot on sets indoors or in the big cities. In Gourmet , we get to see more of the real Korea as we follow Sung Chan on his travels. We also get to see how food is grown , prepared and marketed. For instance we accompany Sung Chan when he visits an abalone farm and see how abalones are cultivated . We see how crabs are graded , how charcoal is made and ,of course, how dishes are prepared at a high-end restaurant. The cooking scenes are a delight and I came away with a new respect for the chefs who put together such gorgeous dishes in such a short time . The explanations of the thinking behind the contestant’s dishes will also be highly interesting to anyone interested in food .
Gourmet is not without faults . Most upsetting to me was the way in which even the “villains” repent of their sins, are forgiven and allowed another chance even after repeated treacheries. For instance ,there is the dastardly magazine publisher who hacks into Jin Soo’s computer and publishes an article under her name , nearly destroying Uh Nam Jung and derailing Jin Soo’s budding romance with Sung Chan . Nothing bad happens to him and after a while Jin Soo returns to work for him . Huh ? The feelings that Joo Hee has for Sung Chan are puzzling ; is she really attracted to him or is she merely trying to effect a reconciliation between him and his brother ? And how can she stand the arrogant Bong Joo ? BTW , I found Joo Hee much more attractive than Jin Soo and found myself wishing that she & Sung Chan would hit it off . The actress who plays Jin Soo suffers from a case of terminal cuteness that set my teeth on edge . At least , later on when her character runs into trouble , she sheds her cuteness and becomes more likable. The ending of the series is unnecessarily ambiguous. I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Still and all , “Gourmet ” has many more plusses than minuses and I enjoyed watching it . You will too if you don’t try to compare it to American or domestic TV . The slow pace and the character driven plot offers a welcome change from the action packed cop shows and courtroom dramas that have become our staple fare.
P.S. One problem with watching Gourmet on Hulu is that after Episode 17 , the english sub-titles suddenly are not available . You can switch to crunchyroll.com, another free site , which has all the 24 episodes with English captions . Crunchy roll , by the way , has a large selection of K-dramas available for viewing , though it has very few Japanese or Chinese shows . If you know of any similar sites where I can watch TV shows from countries other than Korea, I’d appreciate a heads -up. Thanks .