Interview: Matt Rodbard (Koreatown: A Cookbook)

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Cookbook Authors

Photo by Gauri Sairn

Seasoned New York journalist Matt Rodbard, most recently a Food Republic editor, teamed with Chef Deuki Hong (Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong) to co-author Koreatown: A Cookbook, an exploration of the food that’s driving vibrant Korean-American communities in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta. BUY THE BOOK NOW and learn more from Rodbard.

How did you and Deuki meet, and when did you realize that co-writing a Korean cookbook made sense?

We met in 2012, working on a guidebook project that attempted to name the 30 best Korean restaurants in New York City (we succeeded!). During this process we talked a lot about Korean food — where it was heading, what we wanted to see in media (articles, cookbooks). And it was then that we realized we could do something really cool and original together. And with that we’ve written what we think is the first cookbook reported and penned from the point of view of Koreatown. Koreatown: A Cookbook is not a YouTube star writing about their home cooking exploits, or a celebrity on a grand tour of Korea. This is a real book, about real food and real stories. And back in 2012 we were willing and able to start on our adventure.

What’s one Korean restaurant in L.A. that would play especially well in New York, and why?

One? Dude, that’s tough. I’ll give you three. If somebody could bring the dongchimi guksu and bulgogi from The Corner Place to 32nd Street in Manhattan, there would be lines all day. While I didn’t love everything I had during my one lunch at Baroo, I really love what Kwang Uh is doing with pickling and fermentation. Put that in Brooklyn or downtown and there would be lines. Big things happening with that dude. And I gotta give big shout out to Seoul Sausage. I love their food, and their vibe and ability to drink incredible amounts of soju even more. NYC is a tubesteak town, and their vibe would work great. We’re having our launch party with them in April. Watch out!

What’s one Korean restaurant in New York that would play especially well in L.A., and why?

Ha, um, Hanjan for sure. Hooni Kim is such a talent. But, honestly and as I write in the book, Los Angeles is the beating heart of Korean food and culture in the United States. It’s where, to wax Bourdainian, you find the “good stuff.”

What’s one restaurant in Korea that would surprise Korean food aficionados in the U.S.? What does that restaurant do that’s novel?

Mingles. It’s so great, and finally getting some deserved recognition (was named in the top 50 for World’s 50 Best Asian restaurants recently). The vibe is pretty relaxed, and chef Mingoo Kang is a real talent at blending traditional flavors with flawless European technique.

Korean Cookbook
If somebody’s never tried Korean food before, which recipe in Koreatown: A Cookbook would best convince that person to delve deeper into Korean food? Why that recipe?

DEF the kalbi jjim — it’s a braised short rib cooked in a crock pot. The meat is slow-cooked with soy sauce, mirin, sake, shitake mushrooms, root vegetables and rice cakes. I love it as an example of how Korean soups and braises are always “funky” and “spicy” but can be sweet and soy. And soup is so important to understand the food traditions. Koreans are, after all, the soup masters of Asia.

Korean BBQ is clearly the best-known style of Korean food in the U.S. What are some other Korean dishes that you see headed for more widespread appeal?

Def the soups, as mentioned. I love a stew called gamjatang — it’s make with pork neck bones, pork stock, black pepper, wild sesame seeds and it’s just the best. I love dakbokkeumtang, which is a spicy chicken soup sweetened with honey powder. It’s wonderful. Also, just doing a Korean-style fried rice — ours is with bacon. It’s really simple and the best way to do fried rice.

If you could only subsist on one Korean dish for the rest of your days, what would that dish be and why?

Matt: Gamjatang!

Deuki: Doenjang jjigae!


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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