[Herald Interview] Food items found through documentarian’s eyes


Lee Wook-jung, documentary producer and CEO of Thoughts at Play: Food items Odyssey, poses in his office environment in Seoul during an job interview with The Korea Herald on Friday (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

Conceptualizing and categorizing food items when filming a foodstuff documentary collection is the tactic driving documentary producer-turned CEO Lee Wook-jung’s 30-calendar year career. Lee pulls all the things together at the conclusion of the present, emphasizing the overarching concept that all food connects.

Speaking with The Korea Herald on his to start with working day out of quarantine following a organization vacation to Argentina where by he went to capture the country’s distinctive pizza, Lee appeared thrilled and alternatively impatient to unveil his new series, “Food Chronicle.” The collection is set to be released this August on neighborhood streaming platform assistance TVing.

Lee commenced his career as a KBS Television set producer in 1994 and has developed a one of a kind design of documentaries on the matter of cuisine about the planet, linking them to culture and anthropology. His best-recognized operates incorporate “Noodle Highway (2008)” and “Wook’s Food items Odyssey (2014).” In 2020, he established up his possess manufacturing business, Intellect at Engage in: Food Odyssey.

“Noodle Street,” which was filmed in 10 international locations about a two-year period, won documentary awards at dwelling and overseas, which includes a Peabody Awards, the broadcasting market equal to a Pulitzer Prize, as perfectly as the ABU prize. The piece opened up a new path for Korean documentary directors functioning on the theme of foodstuff, which right before experienced been restricted to exhibiting Korean delicacies and well-known restaurants in town.

Lee films the making of a trout pizza in San Carlos De Bariloche, located in Argentina's Patagonia region, in February. (Lee Wook-jung’s Instagram)

Lee movies the producing of a trout pizza in San Carlos De Bariloche, found in Argentina’s Patagonia area, in February. (Lee Wook-jung’s Instagram)

“The real insights of my is effective arrived out not in standardized restaurants, kitchens and dining halls. I intentionally traveled to rural villages and followed by means of their own traditions, customs and cultural functions to learn, research, and produce the origins and cooking kinds of each cuisines,” Lee said, mentioning that his tactic is even a lot more pertinent nowadays, because viewers previously are common with and have attempted world-wide cuisines.

“When I began creating documentaries, half of the viewers had hardly ever tasted a taco before. These days, nearly everyone is aware what tacos search like and how they taste. A documentary has to dig deeper into a dish, and discover what it was right before it was exported and globalized,” Lee reported.

With his academic background in English literature and cultural anthropology and culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu London, Lee became a jack-of-all-trades in the industry of global cuisines. He has the skillsets to trace back and promptly recognize the underlying culture and background of a certain dish on the scene, never shying away from holding up the digital camera to food stuff on the table in destinations about the world.

His new documentary is predicted to existing nine different cuisines, which are divided into three crucial classes — flats, wraps and levels. 

A chef making baklava in Istanbul, Turkey, in January. (Lee Wook-jung’s Instagram)

A chef creating baklava in Istanbul, Turkey, in January. (Lee Wook-jung’s Instagram)

“Any dish can match into a single of the a few,” Lee said, outlining pizza and jeon as flats, dumplings, tacos and ssam as wraps and sandwiches, cakes and sushi as layers.

Getting apart the ease, practicality and portability of every single menu, Lee emphasizes the aesthetically satisfying appearance of a dish as a pretty critical issue. “We see waves on sea shores, and geological stratums on rocks. Significantly of what we see and sense in character is utilized to cooking and planning food.”

For the duration of his the latest trip to Buenos Aires, Lee was invited to a spontaneous tango general performance although striving out pizza. In a town with the biggest number of pizzerias for each capita in the world, Lee felt the movements of tango connected to the unhappiness and adversities that doing work class immigrants knowledgeable in Argentina. The immigrants’ intake of pizza as their everyday food and the restrained but lively tango dance was captured in Lee’s documentary on the location.

Poster for “Wook’s Food Odyssey,” KBS’ international foods documentary directed and generated by Lee in 2014. (KBS)

“Things go in an sudden way and that is the appeal of being a documentary producer. You get invited to spots not on your filming itinerary. That’s Alright, as extensive as you have the eyesight to join the dots with your topic, which for me, has been and will usually be, the origins of food stuff.” 

The documentary producer also had ideas on how many individuals see food items on their screens these times. “I usually see men and women of my era criticizing and devaluing mukbang. But I consider it demonstrates the core of what it signifies for people ‘to take in.’ We share and talk more than food items on our desk, and in a digitized entire world, we can do so by creating these kinds of reside information with global neighbors.”

Other than filming documentaries, a large aspect of the perform of Lee’s business is executing social good to communities by foodstuff. Owning teamed up with significant firms and dining places all-around Seoul, Lee provides lunch bins to inadequate neighborhoods on a typical foundation, although also developing a sustainable natural environment for impartial cafe proprietors.

The director’s new nine-component collection will be unveiled exclusively on Tving in mid-August.

By Kim Hae-yeon ([email protected])

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