He is born into poverty, though, and lives in the forest with his humble appahji, who collects wild herbs and sells them for a way to take care of adorably chubby, little Sung chan.
The current owner/proprietor of the famous restaurant attends teenaged Sung chan's father's funeral and then offers to take in the orphaned boy, luring him effortlessly with the promise of a hyung in the bargain.
Years pass and the restaurant still thrives, with high-rollers from around the world stopping in for world-class yet authentic, Korean fare.
The old man and his two, good buddies decide its time for Sung chan to realize his destiny, so they announce to the kitchen staff that a contest will be held to decide the rightful heir to the throne, and Sung chan, his older step-brother, (Kwon Oh joong as Oh Bong joo), and a miscreant of a sous chef, (Won Ki joon as Min woo) end up as the three finalists.
They are expected to participate in and win 3 challenges made up by the current owner of the restaurant, their appahji and mentor, and the last one standing gains the coveted 'ownership' prize.
From start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Gourmet, and though I wished I hadn't first watched Le Grand Chef (the movie version of this drama), it didn't detract from the show or my viewing pleasure at all.
In fact, I completely forgot a majority of the movie and learned much, more about Lee Sung chan than I ever did from the movie.
NOT that Le Grand Chef was bad or a waste of time, of course, because I remember enjoying that movie - I just wish I had watched this first, but now it doesn't, really matter.
Another surprising aspect about this drama was that I liked BOTH, female leads and thought that they were gorgeous in their own, appealing way, too.
Nam Sang mi as Kim Jin soo, the feisty reporter who ends up working at the world-class restaurant and becoming romantically entangled with our handsome Sung chan-shi, and Kim So yun as Yoon Joo hee, the restaurant's manager who is expected to be in love with and eventually marry Bong ju.
Sang mi has that girl-next-door appeal without being too snooty about her supposed virginity while the polar opposite, So yun, is every white man's dream of a mail-order bride.
Jin su walked around in the hooker apparel while Ju hee wore stylish and painted-on garments befitting her high-brow position in uppity, Asian society (not to sound gay or anything, but she's got a really nice ass - envy, I suppose).
Still, I laughed every time they showed one or both females traipsing about a sandy beach or through the rugged woods in spike heels.
I mean, c'mon now ... it's virtually impossible to walk straight in the sand bare feet or sandals, much less high heels - and you can SO forget about hiking through the woods in them, too.
Get real for once in the continuity department, PLEASE!
115,036 total views at aznv.tv, and a majority of the comments were favorable, with most agreeing that the food was what drew them in and kept them watching for the duration while I, as always, had to disagree.
For the first half of this drama, it grossed me out completely to have to watch Sung chan consume copious amounts of RAW BEEF ...
While it seemed, to me, like the main theme of this story was to present and then promote Korean 'cuisine' to the rest of the world, I can tell you right now they went about it all wrong, and using Japanese sushi as an excuse won't fly, either.
E.coli is a particularly harmful bacterial found in some raw beef; salmonella poisoning is a danger in raw fish and in raw eggs.
Intestinal parasites, in other words.
Sure, it was a high-brow establishment with, no-doubt, the country's best meat selection at their fingertips - but, it really doesn't matter when you take into account the number of fingers touching the food, the air quality, transportation, and so-on.
YUCK plain and simple, and no-thanks, but I'll pass on the Korean version of fine dining, thank you very much.
I love my steaks medium-rare, but not my burgers, and while sushi ranks high on my list of must-eats at least once a week, I stick with tuna or salmon unless I'm eating at an authentic, Japanese restaurant where ordering eel, squid, and other raw materials don't scare me or make me sick.
Putting a raw egg on top of raw, ground beef - to me - is the epitome of courting disaster, and I, for one, won't take such a chance regardless of the adventure-seeker in me goading me to at least give it a try.
The sea food and veggies are enough to satisfy me, and the way they prepare the mother-earth ingredients blows my mind - but again, why must they boil the crap out of it?
Every, single Korean drama or movie I've ever watched that had even the slightest amount of food in it has always been a heaping, stone pot of bubbling over stew of some sort that sounded oh, so delicious until the final presentation, when it's bubbling like a witches brew, and then it turns me off completely.
While everyone else is enjoying their meal, I'd return a half-hour later to consume what was left (if anything) - at a more palatable room temperature, thank you very much.
Grilled meat on a hibachi attached to your table is BEYOND cool and something I know would take off like wildfire here in the states, and every time I watch the actors wrap that slice of bacon or rib in leafy greens, it makes my mouth water.
Dipping rice in that red hot sauce, too - YUM!
Bulgogi has GOT to taste as ab-fab as it looks, and their version of curry rice has its appeal as well.
See, there are plenty of menu items from that country that would appeal to our 'so-called' uppity palate, yet this drama failed to fully return to its roots, so to speak, in the form of natural, basic, and what we might deem to be 'poor man's' or peasant food.
Gotta take the heads, legs, and 'whisker' like things off the animals, too - sorry.
No one loves shrimp as much as me, but I'd be hard-pressed to dine on them like potato chips if I had to first pick off the whiskers and decapitate every one of them, though.
Americans were never proponents of having their meal stare back at them, I guess.
This drama brought to mind the shameful and unnecessary behavior of tourists to that part of the world, who are thoughtless enough to voice their opinions in the direction of those trying to cater to their needs.
I can't imagine anyone in their right mind making a sour face at or actually spitting out food presented to them by a street vendor, but it has happened enough to the point where most Asian vendors won't, even serve the white man their offerings anymore.
There was a poignant yet humiliating scene in an episode of No Reservations on The Travel Channel where Anthony Bordain (the show's host) went to Hong Kong with a native buddy of his, and Anthony had to stand away from the street vendors cart or the proprietor wouldn't serve even the native Hong Konger any food.
Makes the rest of us look bad, more's the pity.
In another episode, he traveled to South Korea with an intern from the show, and for a majority of the episode, he complained about not wanting to be there since he wasn't sure that Korea had anything to offer in the way of interesting, if not palatable, native fare.
I thought he behaved a tad, too smug, but then at the end of the show, she took him to the coolest, cave-like place that served real, home-grown, ancient recipe stuff that made him take back everything he had previously said about Korean food.
I hesitate to use the word cuisine, because, to me, this stands for high-class, high-price, minimal portion food not even a sparrow would fill up on - with presentation being 99% of the meal's actual worth - and that DOESN'T spell Korean food in any way, shape, or form - nor should it, if you ask me.
BACK TO THE SHOW
So, this is about a young man whose lineage is pretty high-class, though he isn't aware right away of his birth-right: the keys to the kingdom - until the old man lets the cat out of the bag and suddenly things begin to spiral out of control until all hell breaks loose, words that can't be taken back are fired off one after the other, friend turns against friend, hyung against bro, and son against father.
Sung chan walks away from it all, roaming the countryside in a pick-up truck designed to house a host of delicious, fresh-picked veggies, fresh and dried fish, and the like, which he sells on street corners to all the gushing ajummas who want him to meet their eligible daughters.
Since hyung is the most important person in the world to him, Sung chan thinks he's doing the right thing by walking away from his rightful position as head chef and owner of the ancient restaurant.
Bong ju resents the fact that he's been kept in the dark all this time, and since he knows for sure his father wants Sung chan to succeed, he sets out to take over the restaurant and change everything on the menu - but, his ultimate goal is to bring Korean fare to the world market.
He's also pretty certain that Sung chan has a thing for his girl, and that she is in love with Sung chan and not him, which only adds fuel to the fire.
Another thing about this drama that I found refreshing as well as delightful was the fact that the supporting actors did as much to help this succeed as did the key players.
Everyone from the mysterious butcher, his angry daughter and her abiding fiance, the goofy lady in charge of all the crocks of soy sauce, pastes, and hot sauce at the restaurant, the editor of the magazine where Jin su worked, her friend at the magazine, the angry meat man who had a decidedly European-looking face, to the gay-or-was-he replacement and silly but loyal Rock Head all did terrific, convincing, and memorable jobs as supporting players.
The two, old men and the ornery, old lady chef who makes a mean fish stew had as much appeal for me as did Sung chan and Bong ju combined.
Every story within a story was entertaining, thought-provoking, tear-jerking, and believable.
Their appahji (Choi Bool am as Oh Seung geun) brought tears to my eyes even when he wasn't being attacked by his son, forced out of business, or even when he was dying.
He's got that lovable, likable, and adorable face that makes you want to reach out and pinch his chubby cheeks - with a laugh that can't help but be returned measure for measure.
How dare anyone think to upset a guy like him!
Bong ju needed a spank, or at least a good punch in the face to wake him from his delusional state of mind, and I was ready to deliver at least twice an episode, too.
The history of Kimchi proved fascinating as well - having always known it was simple peasant food concocted to stave off hunger during the long dead of winter, but the tradition of making it for others was an amazing discovery and one that I hope never goes out of style.
See, even that old, senile lady was adorable and memorable.
It also brings to mind a characteristic of Kim Rae won, the man, and not so much his character, Sung chan.
She insisted he not refer to her as halmoni, so chuckling, he called her noona, and with a bright, beaming smile on her still pretty face, she said yes, that's who she was, and he is her hyung.
The way he chuckled during that encounter says a lot about his personality, and I can only imagine the fun they had while making that drama together.
He seems genuine, considerate of others, yet laid-back enough to know he's as human as the rest of us and no, big deal except that he's got a great face, a nice bod, and mega-talent in the acting department.
Ah, and as for continuity ... well, y'all know how I am about things like this, and I wish I had written down the episodes for you, but there were 3, different scenes when you can clearly see the 'crew' working behind the scenes - but in front of the camera.
One is in the kitchen, one is while Sung chan is driving along a road, and another is during one of many forest scenes.
You'll see a boom operator, a cameraman, and a female staff member standing where they shouldn't be standing.
Speaking of driving scenes ... ever notice how Koreans tend NOT to pay attention to the road; even when it's a winding mountain pass, raining like hell, or on a bridge a couple, hundred feet above the water?
I know - they're sitting inside a vehicle propped way, too high above the road being towed on a flat-bed ... I KNOW!
Still ... continuity and common sense would dictate that ... well, that the person behind the wheel keep his eyes facing forward regardless of the conversation taking place in the vehicle, or the exposed leg of some gorgeous female at his side, or whatever.
Always a nail-biting experience for me to have to watch an inattentive hot dude driving a car in a Korean drama or movie.
Kim Rae won impressed me with this one, and now I'm anxious to see more of what he has to offer, even if it will be going back in time to do so - I don't care.