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(Yonhap Interview) Good food rises above politics, says Korean 'food preacher'

All News 14:13 March 02, 2016

SEOUL, March 2 (Yonhap) -- There is nothing like food to thaw frozen relations, a Korean food activist has said.

"Politically, the relationship between South Korea and Japan is ice-cold as if in a glacial period, with fewer Japanese visiting Korean towns and hate speech growing among the Japanese against Korea. But in real life, it is a different story. When you look at dinner tables, the two countries can't be closer," said Cho Sun-ok in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Monday.

Cho, director of the Japan-South Korea Culinary Culture Association, has many different titles on her resume. Among them, her most prized role is to train Japanese chefs who are dedicated to making Korean food.

"I feel so proud when my students appear on Japanese TV, introducing Korean dishes," said the 48-year-old. She firmly believes the more Korean restaurants in Japan, the better relations between the two neighbors would be.

So far around 1,000 Japanese chefs have learned how to make Korean food from Cho, who is also a TV personality and a lecturer. Originally from Gimje, a small city southwest of Seoul, she married a Japanese man and has lived in Japan since 1992.

Her interest in skincare therapy ultimately led her to the culinary world, she said, which she concluded was more important than skincare itself for maintaining good health, and flawless and firm skin. Beginning with Korean traditional and royal cuisines, she soon began taking Japanese, French and Chinese cooking classes, as she believed it would help her bring in new elements to the food scene of her native country.

To appeal to Japanese with sweet tooths, she opened a cafe in Tokyo specializing in Korean rice cakes -- the first of its kind in the country -- and wrote several books on Korean food so that more Japanese could become accustomed to Korean cuisine. Now she is working with a Japanese food company to develop instant Korean meals that can be easily consumed at the numerous convenient stores across the island nation. Within the first half of this year, she plans to open a branch of the association in Korea in order to bring more Korean regional food specialties to Japan.

Taking the dozens of different kinds of kimchi on the shelves of Japanese supermarkets as an example, Cho said, "Enjoying food doesn't require a political reason ... The fact that Japanese enjoy kimchi and Koreans love Japanese food demonstrates the two countries are indeed very close despite all the political bickering."


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