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"Gourmet" sets off on new culinary journey

2008/06/16 | Permalink | Source

The comic-book series was a hit. The movie version topped national charts. Will the "Gourmet" ("Sikgaek") drama get high viewer ratings?

Set to air this Tuesday night on SBS, this 24-episode drama is based on Huh Young-man's bestselling comic series of the same name. While the film version of the series, titled "Le Grand Chef", topped national charts last year, that doesn't guarantee the upcoming drama a free ride to the top.

With SBS melodramas "All In" (2003) and "Love Story in Harvard" (2004-2005) screenwriter Choi Wan-gyoo orchestrating the plot of the TV version, what originally started out as a soulful exploration of the regional flavors of Korean cuisine in Huh Young-man's series may morph into a sappy and highly dramatic romance on the small screen.

Judging from the 40-minute preview screening last week, SBS' "Gourmet" ("Sikgaek") promises to bring classic drama-making elements to audiences nationwide. Rivalry, love triangles and heritage all factor into this miniseries. Glossy shots of Korean palace food, the rival chefs Seong-chan and Oh Bong-ju - played by Kim Rae-won and Kwon Oh-jung respectively - and the beautiful woman whom they long for, played by actress Kim So-yeon, hinted at the potential soap opera to come.

But sequences featuring vast persimmon farms, cattle, and a crying child eating stew promised a different story, one that involved the heart of Korean cuisine: the story of the land itself and the people who harvested it.

While the original comic series revolved around a high-stakes competition between two rival chefs, its true focus was on Seong-chan, a top chef turned peddler.

Played by the heartthrob Kim Rae-won in the drama, he abandons the competition in the heat of the game, letting his rival, Bong-ju, beat him. The culinary genius who had come so close to winning throws it all away for life as a produce peddler. Scouring the countryside in search of the roots of Korean cuisine, Seong-chan comes to terms with himself and his talent.

And it was this journey through the heartland of Korea that made Huh Young-man's comic so appealing. One can only hope that the drama will take us on that delicious journey once again - this time, in living color.

Based on Kim Rae-won's comments at the press conference last week, it looks like the miniseries plans to focus on Seong-chan's life as a produce vendor.

"I like driving around in a truck", said Kim, 27, referring to his experiences playing Seong-chan. "I think it is really fun".

Nam Sang-mi, 24, who plays a feisty journalist in the drama, added, "The whole experience, traveling around Korea, feels like a photo album".

Indeed, watching the co-stars Nam and Kim in the preview as they rough it out in the back of his truck, chowing down on ramen, makes the filming experience look like one great cross-country road trip.

But the real journey begins when "Gourmet" ("Sikgaek") airs on Tuesday night.

A special on the filming of "Gourmet" ("Sikgaek") airs tonight on SBS at 9:55 p.m. The first two episodes of the miniseries will play back- to-back tomorrow night at 9:55 p.m.

By Jean Oh

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