By Shin Kim
NEW YORK, March 23 (Yonhap) -- It didn't take long for the line to start forming when a Korean street food pop-up kitchen opened at 11 a.m. on a sunny Saturday in March outside Take 31. Young New Yorkers in their early 20s, many still in college, gathered to taste the food on a quiet block next to the heart of Koreatown in Manhattan, and among those patiently waiting in line were chef-owner Hooni Kim of Danji and Hanjan, and the executive pastry chef Jonghun Won of Jungsik.
The Korean Association of New York Art Schools (KANA), the organizer of the event, is a young group that celebrated its first anniversary just this month. This non-profit organization was first formed by Korean students in five art schools in New York: Pratt Institute (Pratt), The School of Visual Arts (SVA), the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Parsons The New School for Design (Parsons) and The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) -- to promote networking among young artists in New York and realize their artistic potential through various community events. When asked about the unusual partnership with a culinary school in an art school organization, Ye-in Kwak, a founding member and the current vice president of the KANA, enthusiastically answered, "Cooking is another expression of creativity. We're excited to exchange ideas and learn from one another in different art fields."
Members of the Korean Association of New York Art Schools (KANA) (Courtesy of KANA)
Soon after forming the KANA in March 2012, its members started planning an inaugural exhibition in October. When students went back to Korea for their summer break, they worked to promote their newly found organization, looked for sponsorship and found judges for the exhibition contest through their respective school alumni networks in Korea. With the help of Seokwon Andy Kim, the judge for Project Runway Korea and an alum of Pratt, and Sangjun Lee, the character designer and concept artist for feature animation films in Hollywood, 25 of the students' submissions, ranging from photography, fashion, digital art, illustration to architecture, were selected for the exhibition.
The unique potential of this group's artistic diversity was first shown at the exhibition "The Beginning" held at the headquarters of the Korean American Association in Manhattan in October. The culinary students from the CIA participated by presenting their own food in a performance format and catering the opening reception. Pictures that were taken at the reception were displayed along with other artworks during the exhibition period. The cooperation among art students even extended to the musical performance by the students from the Manhattan School of Music at the reception.
Then, in January this year, Elly Soyoun Kim, a student at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), proposed the pop-up kitchen idea to the culinary team. She wanted culinary students to have "an experience of running a restaurant even just for a day" with their own food. Besides, as a Korean culinary student in New York, she considered the "globalization of Korean food" was as personal as introducing delicious Korean food to other New Yorker friends, and not just limited to the governmental campaigns of recent years.
Hasung Lee, KANA's culinary team leader, and the rest of the team quickly picked up on the idea and moved forward with the street food theme, something that would provoke nostalgia among Korean students, pique curiosity among non-Koreans, and keep the preparation fun and relatively simple. A detailed event proposal submitted by the culinary team received an enthusiastic approval by the rest of the KANA. As it was with the first exhibition in October, artistic teams of various strengths divided their responsibilities and created promotional materials. Soon the event posters were up and advance tickets for the event were sold at five member schools. The KANA's Facebook page was regularly updated with photo and video teasers showing the preparation in progress.
In the meantime, members of the culinary team focused on their take on Korean street food. Some were more familiar items such as chicken skewers (dakkochi), scallion pancakes (pajeon) and squash lattes (danhobak latte) while others were more fusion items such as KANAcolada (a combination of makgeolli and pina colada) and butter-baked sweet potatoes with kimchi stuffing.
Pre-sale of tickets at the member schools totaled 150, and the KANA team was ready to serve 300 people at the event. On the day of the event, the culinary team prepared food in the kitchen while KANA members from other art schools took care of the front-of-the-house responsibilities, from taking orders, keeping the waiting line in check and answering questions from the guests. Soon after 1 p.m., scallion pancakes was the first item to be sold out. At 2 p.m., everything was gone and the event was over, an hour before the originally planned closing.
Justin Schwartz, a food blogger and cookbook editor based in New York City, came to the pop-up kitchen after hearing about it from a friend. He arrived before noon and was able to order ddukbokgi (spicy rice cake), sweet potatoes with kimchi and rice balls. He liked all of them, "especially ddukbokgi and thought the combination of sweet potato and kimchi was interesting." He also thought the event was great with a "relaxed vibe inside."
Beyond the obvious success of this pop-up kitchen event, it was also a tangible example of what could be achieved from a collaboration of students in various art fields, even under a tight time frame and with limited resources. After celebrating the successful pop-up kitchen event and taking a well-deserved spring break, the members of KANA will go back to planning the next projects on the agenda, including a community service event to hold free art classes for children in Harlem.