Tuesday, October 19, 2010

First lady’s pet project: food diplomacy

First lady Kim Yoon-ok, right, serves kimchi to Miyuki Hatoyama, wife of former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, while making kimchi together at the Institute of Traditional Korean Food in Seoul in this 2009 file photo.
/ Korea Times

By Kang Hyun-kyung

World leaders, who will visit Seoul for the G20 summit to be held in November, are likely to receive a very special gift from the presidential office at the end of the two-day session.

A fancy book on Korean cuisine, tentatively titled “Nature of Korean Food by Kim Yoon-ok,” is part of the first lady’s pet project targeting foreign dignitaries that will be here.

The initiative to help Korean food go global is set in motion against the backdrop of the forthcoming G20 summit that experts say offers a huge opportunity for the nation to raise its profile on the global stage.

Pundits say the world event is a good chance to pitch Korean foods as well.

Staffers of the first lady’s office are now busy publishing a flawless hardcover book containing recipes for traditional food with colorful presentations in both Korean and English.

The book will reportedly be published on Nov. 5.

Governments have been eager to use global events, including the World Cup, to raise their profiles and standings in the world.

Germany, for example, launched the “Land of Ideas” campaign, where the public, private and civic sectors joined hands to promote themselves, before the 2006 World Cup there.

The Land of Ideas committee organized a welcome campaign for visitors, produced guide and fact books about the country in several languages.

Analysts said the German initiative was very effective.

Unlike her predecessors who identified their role as first lady with social initiatives, the incumbent first lady, Kim Yoon-ok, defined her primary role as in the Korean cuisine pitch.

Since May 2009 when she was called upon to join a project to help Korean food go global as honorary president, first lady Kim has been engaging in an energetic campaign to raise global awareness of the cuisine.

During her latest trip to Belgium in early October along with President Lee Myung-bak who took part in the Asia-Europe Meeting, Kim named Sang-hoon Degeimbre, a well-known chef there, as a goodwill ambassador for Korean cuisine.

The 40-year-old chef, who was born in Korea and adopted by a Belgian family when he was four, is the owner of the restaurant L’air du Temps there.

Last year, Kim’s food diplomacy drew a media frenzy because of her demonstration of making kimchi before then Japanese first lady Miyuki Hatoyama, who was known to be a big fan of Korean cuisine, when she accompanied the Japanese prime minister when he visited Seoul.

The first lady also invited CNN to the presidential residence for a demonstration of the cooking one of her favorite dishes in Cheong Wa Dae’s Ever Spring building, which was aired on Oct. 19, 2009.

Kim helped CNN’s Kristie Lu Stout taste a range of Korean food at the time.

In a speech last year, Kim noted that the globalization of Korean food was a crucial job for the government, given its profound impact on people’s perception of the country’s culture and image in the world.

“Cuisine not only reflects the level of culture of a nation but also represents its brand value. Considering that an increasing number of people across the world are enthusiastic about eating good food, I think the prospects of Korean food going global are pretty promising,” she said.

She made the comments about a year after the government announced an ambitious plan to position Korean food as one of the world’s top five cuisines with a set of supportive measures.

Professor Hahm Sung-deuk of Korea University said Kim’s definition of her role in the push of food diplomacy was unique.

“Previously, Korean first ladies focused on social services for underprivileged people, including childcare or other social initiatives for working-class families,” the presidential leadership expert told The Korea Times.

Although the role of first ladies is not defined in a clear manner, Hahm said the impact of their roles on state affairs is immense.

“Because of their influence, first ladies tend to take care of crucial jobs that their spouses cannot cover due to their busy schedule,” he said.

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