...when the screen takes over...

Kang’s Kitchen, First Episode

A new adventure for the ‘New Journey To The West’ squad begins. Kang’s Kitchen is finally open.

It’s the usual setting of ‘Journey’ squad vs. Na PD in an unusual atmosphere of doom. At one end, Na PD reads their sins (the poor revenue/returns and in-fighting), reprimanding. At another end, the members sit in silence and discomfort, exchanging awkward glances.

A Trial?

After a while, someone finally speaks. “Are we really that bad? Really bad?” Lee Soo-Geun comments.

Let’s see for ourselves then…

‘What Have We Got Ourselves Into ?’

Three months before, in a get-together with the production team, Kang Ho-Dong, the supposed owner of this upcoming restaurant, lodges compains and poses a problem. He can’t cook for goodness sake! But Na PD appeals against withdrawing for they’ve gone too far in preparation to turn around now. “Fine, then! Let’s do it!” Kang Ho-Dong takes up the challenge (or takes the bait for a trap?). But what is this non-sense about ‘New Journey To The West’ spin-off/extra/supplementary story (신서유기 외전) Kang’s Kitchen?! He isn’t aware of it apparently while the others know, of course. In the next get-together with the rest of the ‘Journey’ members, ie. Kang’s Kitchen’s employees, they explain it to Kang Ho-Dong.

Now that Kang’s Kitchen is going to happen — the restaurant business licence has been issued, bearing the line ‘Kang’s Kitchen Where The Boss Eats More…’ — they need to prepare themselves. They have to decide the menu and assign roles and responsibilities. The discussion takes interesting twists and turns, meandering far and wide for some time, before they settle with a family friendly super-sized donkatsu called Kang Ho-Dong-katsu and omurice. Kang Ho-Dong will be the main cook despite having zero experience. Ahn Jae-Hyeon, the only one who can cook and has got cooking job experience, assumes the role of kitchen help. Song Min-Ho, the resident artist, takes care of the menu-writing and other art-related ventures, will get barista certification to help with beverages. Eun Ji-Won, approaching his tasks like usual missions, will be responsible for orders and serving, and take the general manager post. And Lee Soo-Geun, the Ace, will be in charge of everything else: heating, dessert, reservation, driving, dish-washing, shopping, shoes arrangement, PR and marketing, and be the Boss’s mental support — either he’s a miracle worker or a slave.

After going through medical check-up and tests (a requirement for anyone involved in restaurant business), and Min-Ho and Ji-Won learning the art of coffee-making, on November 3rd, the Kang’s Kitchen team arrive on Jeju Island. The place they will be staying in is a nice house with outdoor jacuzzi and cozy interior that easily wins everyone’s approval.

Enduring a talk…

They all sit for a meal in dining room. Ho-Dong gives the rest an earful of a combination of lecture, complain, and pep-talk on kitchen management that seems to go on forever. When he finally stops, the others go on a lite discussion on the merit and value of doing these spin-offs (the cost rumoured to be around $3M++) instead of paying each the value of a Lamborghini and a Porsche (that would be $650K × 6, referring to ‘New Journey To The West 4’ unexpected events). In the end, Jae-Hyeon and Min-Ho conclude that even so, compared to what they do in ‘New Journey To The West’, this spin-off feels like work because this will indeed be a real work, a real job.

This is real so the arguments among them are real too, as is demonstrated in a series of arguments on various topics such as the sensible amount of tangsuyuk serving and Kang’s Kitchen operational policy. They easily reach a truce on the former, but not so on the latter. Ho-Dong argues that since they still lack the skill, they should limit operation to lunch time only. Jae-Hyeon favours opening business for dinner as well. Soo-Geun brings up the preparation nightmare that might entail. Ji-Won suggests serving the donkatsu buffet-style instead of per order. But then, that should effect the pricing.

A spin-off idea for this spin-off?

Voices rise. Ho-dong plays the peacemaker and reminds everyone, “let’s be happy and not get angry.”

Yes, they find peace only to fire up again with laughter and continue arguing. “400 gr. of donkatsu for mere $20” just doesn’t make sense to Soo-geun. “Maybe we should do squid instead? Easy preparation and high yield guaranteed!”

But there is no room for regretting menu selection in less than 24 hours to opening business. “Even if we get it wrong,” Ho-Dong says, “but wait….” he registers something, “who should be responsible if something goes wrong?” All agree, of course, that Kang Ho-Dong should, to which Ho-Dong objects. They shall shoulder the blame together.

By this time, at another location, Kang’s Kitchen is seen bearing the ferocious harsh wind ominously.

They all go to Kang’s Kitchen for the first time, worrying whether they’re ready for tomorrow’s opening day. On the way, Soo-Geun remarks on a bright spot by the beach, which is indeed their restaurant.

A Dress Rehearsal

The restaurant is beautiful. What’s more, you can hear the ocean. Everyone loves it. The Kang’s Kitchen sign, designed by Min-Ho, stands proudly and colourfully.

Instagrammable spot, yet ominous hashtags…

Inside (take off your shoes first, Mesdames et Messieurs!), everything is set and ready. Although small, it feels warm and cozy. They can’t help but praise while inspecting and pointing the details. The kitchen is huge (to accommodate the huge chef), the coffee machine looks polished, the cash register, the indoor and outdoor serving area, the lightings, the menu all mean business. They now only need to open the door and welcome people.

Or, do they? Let’s find out. Let’s rehearse. Na PD places order for one Vienna Coffee.

As Ji-Won ad Min-Ho get busy with the coffee machine, Soo-Geun notices and draws their attention to a pair of Beings of Power. Ji-Won scolds the duo for these yellow beings have no business following them to their restaurant. “This is not ‘New Journey To The West’!”

Awesome and Mysterious Powers’ Memorabilia

But this is a ‘New Journey To The West’ spin-off/extra/supplementary story so they show up, of course. And they are everywhere.

Sightings and traces of ‘Awesome Power’ & ‘Mysterious Power’ (신묘한 힘 & 기묘한 힘)

If I felt like playing ‘Where’s Wally?’ in ‘Winner’s Youth Over Flower’, trying to spot these yellow beings throughout the programme, they can’t be missed in ‘Kang’s Kitchen’. Here, their presence is on a whole new level. They even have their own introduction and their prints on various surfaces.

Their scenes also provide some visual comedy, props to the writers and directors. I could not but laugh when, say, this “Hanging Out To Dry With The Squids” was shown that I picked it as the ‘shot of the day’.

Shot of The Day: “Hanging Out To Dry With The Squids”

The kitchen also gets busy. After putting on their gears, a red hood for Ho-Dong and a black one for Jae-Hyeon, they get familiarised with the kitchen. They plan to do a Donkatsu preparation ‘simulation’.

Ho-Dong is seen consulting a bundle of papers that he’s been carrying every time. It contains instructions and notes from cooking lessons he and Jae-Hyeon had received from the famous chef Baek Jong-Won. The most important part is beating a thick 400 gr meat into a vast sheet (of roughly 40ish×30ish centimeters), which is then coated in flour, dipped into beaten eggs, coated in breadcrumb, and fried.

Na PD fires more orders, a kang-ho-dong-katsu, an omurice, and two more Vienna Coffees. Jae-Hyeon calmly asks him to wait for two hours. They need to prepare broth and sauce, which takes at least an hour.

The precious cheat-sheet.

The kitchen gets hot not only from the fire but also from Ho-Dong enthusiastically imparting cooking knowledge and wisdom to anyone within earshot. When, after some time, Ji-Won points out that the kitchen hasn’t made the crucial donkatsu, Ho-Dong goes on explaining the omurice souce he’s making. “Then shouldn’t we cook rice too?” Soo-Geun asks. Sadly, that bit has been left out of Ho-Dong’s education.

He’s still learning and thus needs Soo-Geun to help turning the pages and reading him the instructions. Although he still cannot tell which bottle is the mayonaise or the names of herbs and spices, he now can do a few cool moves with the frying pan. Soon everyone gathers around to watch Ho-Dong cooks, tease him for his dependence on the cheat-sheet, and point at his weird microphone pouches that look like hand grenades on his back. Adding the red hood effect on Ho-Dong, by any chance, “has ‘Rambo’ taken over the kitchen?”

The serving divison has their own quirks. Soo-Geun serves an aromatic candle to the waiting staff. Ji-Won, on spotting a pack of buns meant for customers, eats one, which costs ¢5, and gives one to Min-Ho, which is another minus ¢5. Then there’s kitchen order for drinks, each costs $3.5. Their generosity also extends to their VJs, each gets a $3 drink. Just hours before the opening, Kang’s Kitchen is already in the red, – $38.5.

Kang’s Kitchen Where The Boss and Employees Eat More?

Finally, they get to make the main menu, the elusive Kang-Ho-Dong-Katsu. Ho-Dong shows and explains the process to the others, using mallet to get that thin sheet of meat. They are expected to have 30 sheets every day. That is a daunting news indeed.

Their rehearsal starts. A couple of mock customers come in. A mock order of a Kang-Ho-Dong-Katsu and an omurice reaches the kitchen.

Chaos ensues. Ho-Dong demands Jae-Hyeon’s attention and help for donkatsu, Soo-Geun gets the soup on a plate but Jae-Hyeon warns him that it’s not yet ready. But when Na PD demands anything (whether it’s soup or bread) so customers have something while waiting, the soup gets served. The customers react to the soup being too salty even though they eat it up. The soup needs a re-touch. But there’s so much to do in the kitchen. “They did eat it all up, didn’t they?” Soo-Geun says, “then it’s all right.” But, Min-Ho insists on serving better soup, others suggest buns. Ho-Dong’s voice gets louder, reaching the customers, telling off the servers. Ji-Won’s voice too gets louder and joins in the arguments. Yup, fighting starts just 10 minutes after customers sit in, the caption says.

It’s chaos in the kitchen, as is elsewhere. Min-Ho panics for the coffee machine doesn’t start. Ji-Won is startled when suddenly some decor ornaments fall down and their framed business registration paper breaks down as he greets the mock customers. “Does that mean we should close?” Ji-Won seriously asks them, drawing laughter from the staffs and crews.

The first Kang-Ho-Dong-katsu is on the way. Ho-Dong repeatedly calls Soo-Geun every step of the process from coating to frying it, plating it, garnishing it. Ji-Won occasionally interrupts the kitchen, asking how much longer it should take or whether the omurice is ready, at first almost whispering and in the end just hurrying them loudly. “Why is it so long to just get one out?” Ji-Won asks, “and what if it’s 3 or 4 orders at once?” And when Kang-Ho-Dong-Katsu is ready, Ji-Won insists on more generous amount of sauce. Ji-Won finally gets to serve a Kang-Ho-Dong-Katsu and an omurice for the first time.

The first Kang-Ho-Dong-Katsu and Omurice

The problem is that it takes them 30 minutes to serve an order. It should be within 10 minutes.

But first, let’s eat the first Kang-Ho-Dong-Katsu, which gets unanimous praise.

A Night of A Thousand Beats

That is meat beating with mallet. Since they have to prepare at least 30 sheets of meat a day, they better do it now, tonight. But there are only three wooden boards so the older members get to do it while younger ones prepare the meat bags. Ho-Dong, Soo-Geun, and Ji-Won start off energetically, encouraging each other and exchanging tips and tricks on meat beating and spreading.

After twenty minutes, there is still no sheet yet. They slow down and quiet down. Complaints begin to surface. “Can’t I skip serving customers tomorrow?” Ji-Won begins as he thinks his arms may tremble. Ho-Dong too quietly stretches his arm in fatigue. Soo-Geun though declines staff’s help. Ho-Dong stresses that they simply need to get a certain size and shape. And Na PD pounces that getting that size and shape has become a burden. “What kind of entertainment show is this?” Soo-Geun fires up, dreading the bleak future of beating meat every night.

But a fast forward to tomorrow night shows everyone dilligently does the chore, with Soo-Geun especially on top of his form. So do the nights after tomorrow, to the point of them rivaling a meat factory’s conveyor belt. At one particular night, Ho-Dong even jokingly worries whether these scenes may look like a repeat broadcast for they do the same thing, at the same place, and the same time. Perhaps the genre should change to ‘talent show’ since they have mastered the art of meat beating and spreading. They adapt and improve. The future is bright.

Hammering… until dawn.

But tonight, they must do what they have got to do even though meat beating is so damn tiring. After they’ve finished cutting the vinyl bags, Jae-Hyeon and Min-Ho join the meat-beating game. They even rope in Na PD. Ho-Dong finally gets their first sheet of meat. Soon, the others too see the fruit of their labour. Soo-Geun manages to get eurasia-shaped sheet, its width and length (48cm) goes beyond the requirement. But the record is broken by Min-Ho who spreads the meat sheet to 51cm.

At one point, Ho-Dong draws their attention to the clock, which shows 3:05 AM. But the sound of the hammering mallets goes on for some time.


D-Day, The Opening Day

They still manage to get some sleep and get up in a windy morning.

On the way to the restaurant, Jae-Hyeon reminds Ho-Dong that they still need to buy stuff and fill the fridge. Soo-Geun also mentions buying more meat for reserve, in case they need more. The mention of meat prompts Ho-Dong’s arm to lurch in reflex. He agrees, however, about being prepared and ready is the way forwards, with confidence.

The countdown has started. They have three and a half hours before opening time. Soo-Geun does shopping for grocery and appliances and returns to a busy kitchen. Two hours to opening time, Ji-Won is tasked with cracking 100 eggs. Min-Ho goes outside to take care of the signage, which gets confusing at one point (‘closed ~ 3PM’? Remove the tilde sign, lad!), and the menu board. The kitchen prepares 45 servings of donkatsu sauce (done in 3 batches), salad, and garnishes. An hour to opening time, they put final touches in the kitchen and the hall area. Ho-Dong is visibly nervous that Ji-Won offers calming words. Two minutes to opening time, tension rises. Ho-Dong shouts some time-keeping and programme-defining words. Soo-Geun grumbles about Ho-Dong talking gibberish. Ji-Won complains about Ho-Dong being noisy.

“We’re Open! Welcome!”

And then Kang’s Kitchen officially opens. The first customers arrive — Soo-Geun and Ji-Won welcome them — followed by the second and the third. More customers are coming and they need to rearrange the seatings. Peeking from the kitchen, Ho-Dong keeps calling for Soo-Geun to get back to the kitchen.

In the kitchen, Ho-Dong and Jae-Hyeon hug. Ho-Dong, who is obviously tense, advises Jae-Hyeon, who seems calm and relaxed, to relax. They then bow to each other, getting ready for the war.

Ji-Won explains the menu (“yes, there are only two…”) to the first table customers, takes their order, and passes it on to the kitchen. With Soo-Geun back in the kitchen to help, Ho-Dong cooks confidently. Then the first order of Kang-Ho-Dong-katsu is served. The size shocks everyone — Ji-Won later tells them that Ho-Dong will eat any leftover if they can’t finish it — and the taste draws praises. The praises soon reach the kitchen, delighting the cook and his aides. To the first table customers, Min-Ho shares the secret to the great taste: around 500 times hammering the meat.

The first table’s order is finished — but wait, they forgot the side dishes for omurice: jalapeño and radishes — and the remaining orders await. The house is already full, all four tables are occupied. Beverages come out. The servers, worrying that no food comes out from the kitchen, check every now and then and nag.

“Why donkatsu for the second table came out without soup?” Ji-Won asks. They begin bantering. Ho-Dong reminds them that they can work this out. The left-out soup is sent along with the omurice order. The Second table customers like the omurice’s soft flavour, wondering if the egg is steamed. Their boy is coaxed to try for there is no vegetable (the veggies get drowned in the sauce, boy!) and praises the omurice.

For the remaining orders, fourth table family finally gets their Kang-Ho-Dong-katsu and the third table couple, who have been waiting the longest, get the soups first.

Checks and ballances?

In the kitchen, Ji-Won assesses the situation, reviews the orders, and finds an omurice is missing. “Why no one saw this?” He asks. But the kitchen staffs think all omurice orders have been met. While preparing another donkatsu, Ho-Dong, once more, reminds them to not fight and to work out the problem. But then, he wrongly announces the donkatsu as omurice. Everyone laughs.

Ji-Won sends the next Kang-Ho-Dong-katsu to the third table. He observes the hall and then recalls that, indeed, there is one omurice missing. The fourth table has asked for omurice with the sauce on a separate bowl. He gets back to tell the kitchen.

Yes, we did order omurice.

That tension-rising background music intensifies. Then the screen goes blank. A dramatic song from a makjang drama comes along with the ending credits and equally dramatic montages… Haha!


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