Who is Cho Hee-sook? Meet Asia’s Best Female Chef of 2020 and Owner of Michelin-Starred Hansikgonggan
It’s safe to say the world is obsessed with South Korean culture, from its music (who hasn’t heard of BTS?) and television dramas to the recent historic performance of its critically-acclaimed movie Parasite at the Oscars and Bafta Awards.
It’s also been making waves in the culinary world, most recently with South Korean chef Cho Hee-sook—chef-owner of Hansikgonggan in Seoul—being honoured with the Asia’s Best Female Chef 2020 title. The award is part of the annual Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants’ celebration that recognises women who have risen to the top of the gastronomic world.
“The Best Female Chef award celebrates female chefs whose dedication, skills and creativity set new standards in gastronomic excellence,” shares William Drew, director of content at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. He adds: "Cho Hee-sook epitomises the spirit of this award with her lifelong commitment to advancing Korean cuisine through training, education and mentorship."
It is indeed Cho's lifelong mission to promote Korean cuisine that resonates most powerfully with her peers. Affectionally know as the Godmother of Korean cuisine, she has made sure that the country’s culinary traditions and recipes are passed on to future generations by mentoring chefs.
Renowned chef Mingoo Kang of Mingles restaurant, one of her former protégés, describes Cho as one of her most influential mentors, “who spent her life developing Korean cuisine”.
At her Michelin-starred establishment, Hansikgonggan, Cho specialises in royal court cuisine and her eight-course menu comprises time-honoured dishes once served as far back as the Joseon dynasty (1392 to 1897).
(Related: First Indian Woman To Receive Michelin Star Is Also The Best Female Chef In Asia)
Honouring traditional cooking techniques is important, but Cho also understands that she needs to reinterpret these historic recipes through the fine dining lens, with modern ingredients and artful presentation. A case in point is her version of the humble pine nut porridge, beautified with meaty chunks of abalone, shrimp and scallops.
Similarly, with this prestigious award under her belt, the veteran chef hopes that her latest achievement will inspire other female chefs to “follow their passions, be ambitious and share their knowledge with others”.
Cho will receive the award on March 24 at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020 awards ceremony in the Saga Prefecture, Japan.