During the filming of PBS's The Kimchi Chronicles, renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his wife, Marja, visited one of the several O-Il Jang (5 Day Market) on Jeju-do, the provincial island off of the southern coast of the Korean peninsula. According to the producer of The Kimchi Chronicles Eric Rhee, Vongerichten was so inspired by the market that he halted the shooting schedule, bought everything in sight, commandeered the kitchen of a local hotel, and cooked an impromptu multi-course meal for the film crew and hotel staff.
For generations, the O-Il Jang on Jeju-do have kept the local larders and refrigerators stocked with fresh produce, seafood, and grains. They've kept the kitchens equipped with knives and utensils, ensured that people are entertained with bootlegged CDs and DVDs, and filled bellies with plenty of snack and drink stands. These markets are an aggregation of Jeju's natural and farmed bounty as the entire island bustles with food production.
Jeju-do's rich but finicky volcanic soil supports a bounty of agriculture. In the spring the island is transformed into a shimmering golden sea as acres of brilliantly yellow rapeseed flowers push forth and face the sun. The summers are lush with thriving tea plantations, giant leaves of squash and gourds, fields of pulses, and wild kkaennip (perilla) stalks that can grow as tall as a man. In the fall and winter, orchards across the island are fat with bright orange globes of hallabong, Jeju-do's famous local breed of tangerines.
Drive along the sea, and you'll spot dunes of seaweed and bracken drying along the roadside for later use in soups and stews. At night, the ocean is a bright parking lot of squid boats, which use ultra high intensity light bulbs to attract shoals of squid to the awaiting nets.
It's impossible to drive a kilometer without seeing an angler casting for fish off from the rocky banks, or noticing an old lady trudging along the shore with a plastic bucket, foraging for sea cucumbers, crabs, abalone, clams and other shellfish.
With food this local, this seasonal and this fresh, it's easy to understand what drove Vongerichten to cook with spontaneity and passion. You would certainly do the same (even if you don't have a TV show).
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