People 5 minutes 02 December 2020

MICHELIN Green Star Restaurants: Food for a better tomorrow

Recipients of the new MICHELIN Green star in the MICHELIN Guide Seoul 2021, A Flower Blossom on the Rice and Hwanggeum Kongbat, share their sustainability ethos.

sustainability Seoul Michelin Guide

A brand-new distinction has been introduced in the MICHELIN Guide Seoul 2021 edition: The MICHELIN Green Star highlights the efforts of those operating at the forefront of their field with sustainable gastronomy practices and plays a role in bringing their vision to everyone by preserving natural resources, protecting ecological diversity, implementing sustainable gastronomy with a calling for the application of local food ingredients and reducing food waste.

Two Seoulite establishments, A Flower Blossom on the Rice and Hwanggeum Kongbat have been awarded the Green Star for the first time. These restaurants in the new Sustainable Gastronomy selection are marked with a green star icon.

Each of these places delivered the beauty and warmth of a good meal through refined takes on dishes like tofu and bibimbap, which are the most simple and sincere foods in Korean cuisine. Beyond good food, these establishments also promote an ethos of sustainability, from championing local producers with eco-friendly farming methods to repurposing food waste as fodder. They then deliver both their food and philosophy to the guest table to enrich people’s lives. Although there might be no fancy praise, the food is alive with flavour, warmth and respect for nature, and diners have been won over by its sincerity.

Here, restaurateurs Song Jung-eun of A Flower Blossom on the Rice and Yoon Tae-hyun of Hwanggeum Kongbat share their joy in receiving the MICHELIN Green Star recognition.

Two restaurants awarded a MICHELIN Green Star during the live broadcast of the MICHELIN Guide Seoul 2021 MICHELIN Star Revelation Ceremony on November 19
Two restaurants awarded a MICHELIN Green Star during the live broadcast of the MICHELIN Guide Seoul 2021 MICHELIN Star Revelation Ceremony on November 19

A Flower Blossom on the Rice 

Bib Gourmand, MICHELIN Guide Seoul 2021 

What our inspectors say:
Located in a quiet alley away from the touristy bustle of Insa-dong, A Flower Blossom on the Rice is a restaurant that caters to the health-conscious diner, serving wholesome home-cooked fare using only certified organic ingredients sourced straight from the farm. The signature dish at this restaurant is the Bojagi Bibimbap — a log of cooked rice topped with five different sautéed vegetables in their multi-colored glory, encased in a crépe-thin egg omelet resembling a gift, tied with a seaweed ribbon and presented with a single flower on top.

What gives you the most joy in running this restaurant?
Above all, it's the moment we meet our guests. They visit our place in anticipation of eating good food. We are very happy to see each and every one of them smile and talk while eating the food we prepared. Our restaurant is a place where environmentalists have gathered for a long time. I am grateful to fill the restaurant with the energy of serving healthy food, the dream of a healthy society, and to cultivate a healthy nature.

What is your mission in running this restaurant?
The best thing I could do for my kid suffering from an atopic allergy was to prepare healthy food. I think it was this personal desperation that opened my eyes to eco-friendly food and expanded my love for children into society. Thinking about healthy Earth and a healthy future, I decided that food can be one of the most important environmental movements that can be practiced in everyday life. My mission is to find good producers, cook with their ingredients, and return the benefits to customers for health and to producers for economic profit.

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What is your food philosophy?
I think about food not just as a meal, but as a holistic experience. It should be beautiful on the eyes, delicious and fragrant in the mouth and nose, and comforting in the stomach. At our restaurant, it is a culmination of the effort from every specialist: chefs, designers, farmers, nutritionists and even photographers have become one to develop a holistic experience. They all bring something important to the table: the ability to reliably distribute eco-friendly ingredients, the presentation to express Korean food beautifully, and even the way to prepare traditional fermented soy sauce. To this end, our team is faithful to the basics. Seeding healthy seeds and growing the roots firmly into the ground make the Flower Blossom on the Rice.
Everyone knows that good ingredients make good food, but in reality it's not easy to implement. Healthy eco-friendly ingredients are not produced in factories. The earth should be healthy and seasonal sunshine, wind, and rain are required to bear fruit. It requires the care and sweat of the producers. I want to be a restaurant that connects this healthy cycle well and prove that sustainable gastronomy is possible in reality.

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What are your plans after receiving the first MICHELIN Green Star?
I was pleased to hear that we were selected as a MICHELIN Green Star recipient. The news of Michelin's selection has always been our energy. The sustainable practices in a restaurant cannot be easily seen outside, but I'm grateful that the MICHELIN Guide has recognized and supported out efforts. It is a motivation for us to keep to our mission.

We are planning to create various channels that deliver food in response to changes in the environment. We are planning to run a market that sells eco-friendly food ingredients and a specialty take-out store. The philosophy of protecting the beauty of food itself remains the same. I also want to deliver the value of Korean food beautifully to foreigners. I will try to influence a better tomorrow by practicing sustainable gastronomy today.

Hwanggeum Kongbat

Bib Gourmand, MICHELIN Guide Seoul 2021 
What our inspectors say:
“Tucked away in Ahyeon-dong, this hidden gem specializes in rustic homemade bean curd. The unctuously creamy bean curd is made from scratch, daily, at the crack of dawn. The secret to the elevated nuttiness of local soybeans that shine through in Hwanggeum Kongbat’s bean curd is the extra thick soymilk and reduced levels of the coagulant. With a desire to share healthy food with other people, the proprietor also makes and sells homemade rich soybean paste stew and unrefined rice wine.

What gives you the most joy in running this restaurant?
There is no overwhelming emotion or thrill. However, when a customer enjoys the food I worked hard on and leaves a word of thanks, I feel a calm joy. I source for good producers who cultivate eco-friendly ingredients our days begin before dawn when we make tofu. I remember once, an elderly couple ate our tofu and said: "It was the most delicious tofu in our life." I felt relieved, rather than excited. Many years ago, I went to Japan and China as well as around South Korea to learn how to make delicious tofu. Now I feel that the study is not in vain, and we can just focus on making good tofu with all our heart. If the elderly or those who have digestive issues can say that the food here is very comforting and delicious, I feel thankful.

What is your mission in running this restaurant?
Eating is the most basic function in human life. Because your life is precious, other people's lives are also precious. My mission is to make better food and to challenge myself to make new discoveries rather than to accumulate money. Studying the process of making tofu led me to learning how to bake naturally fermented bread. Also, as I understood flour, I could develop noodles that do not contain any additives. The challenge itself gave me freedom in my life, which is firmly rooted in reality.

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What is your food philosophy?
I want to make food that supports people’s lives, both my guests and the producers I source from, because the sweat of the producer and the joy of the diner are all precious to me. I usually go to the farm at Sobaeksan Mountain to get the ingredients, meet fishermen who run anchovy farms and visit eco-friendly pig farms in Jeju. I'm trying to put all the hard work and sincerity of these people into my food. Especially since Sobaeksan Mountain has a great terroir; the soybeans are very delicious due to its good water drainage and large daily temperature range. If you add a lot of water and salt in making tofu, it becomes easier but I keep water to a minimum in order not to ruin the subtle aroma that beans have, reflecting its terroir. Depending on the condition of soybeans and the climate of the season, we also have to tweak about 10% of our recipe with every batch. This way, we can keep our consistency and yet adjust the recipe holistically. We select only the best of yesterday's ingredients to make today's tofu and prepare tomorrow's tofu by supplementing deficiency.

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What are your plans after receiving the first MICHELIN Green Star?
On the day of the award, I was making tofu until I received the notification about the Green star award. As our restaurant’s practices has been strictly verified by Michelin, we will continue to make authentic food beneficial to the human body so that we can live up to this honor. Specifically, we are trying to utilize the charm of fermentation and aging. We brew our own makgeolli and bake bread using a natural fermentation process. We’re going to showcase fermented soy sauce, pickles, vinegar and so on to the broader public. Also, we will continue to uphold traditional practices. For example, I was taught by my father how to tie rope around meju (a block of fermented soybean before making soy sauce) — it is a very difficult task without experience.
Many celebrities visit our restaurants, but I have one heart for all my guests, from children to the elderly. I would like them all to find a good taste experience based on good ingredients.

This Article is translated in English by Julia Lee and sub-editied by Rachel Tan.
Illustration by @alice.vdw

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