Thursday, March 15, 2012

Food adventure: Korea

The Ready for the World Cafe, UT's international lunch series, is gaining a fantastic reputation in the Knoxville community and this makes me giddy.
I think I've found kindred spirits. Today's foodies were a mix of returning folks like me and new explorers. The newbies were mostly folks who are unrelated to the university (some of them high-profile). But more about them in a bit.

First, the food. I have to say, I think this week was my favorite one yet. It was quite authentic, thanks to the helping hand of Dr. Youn-Kyung Kim, a professor in retail and consumer sciences and a native of Korea. She worked with the students cooks today.

The first course was Japchae, a noodle dish with beef, spinach, garlic, onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, mushrooms, carrot, and green onions. Can someone say, "Mercy!"? I was shoveling this so fast into my mouth I didn't even bother with the chopsticks. It wasn't getting enough in there quickly so I switched to my fork and we were in business.

The second course was Hobakjuk, a butternut squash soup with pine nuts.

There was a surprise lurking inside the soup. I dipped my spoon in and found this: a little rice ball (two of them, actually.) One table mate called them the Korean version of matzo balls. Tee hee. The soup itself was tasty. The rice balls weren't the table's favorite but at least we tried them.

The entree was bulgogi, a marinated beef dish. It came with bokkeum, a potato and carrot side, and gaji namul, a steamed eggplant with lots of yummy spices including red pepper flakes. I loved the spiciness of the eggplant but I suspect there were lots of burning tongues and sweating bald spots in the room.

Just when I think I'm full, I find that I can make a little more room for dessert, you know, to fill in the cracks. I'm glad I did. The final course included ginger cookies, a fried wonton-like snack covered with nuts. It was served with strawberries and tangerines.

Ok, I've tantalized you enough. Now, I'll tell you about the people who were part of this afternoon's adventure. I totally enjoy the food every week but the company makes it even better. The cafe has been a neat way to spend time with co-workers and friends during the work day and meet new people.

Lately, the cafe has been drawing some high-profile guests like this guy who came today.

He's Anthony Wise, the new president of Pellissippi State Community College. Funny enough, when I was an education reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel, I chatted with him over the phone for stories on several occasions. At the time, he was over student affairs or academic affairs or something of that sort. Now, he runs the place.

I also ran into Oliver "Buzz" Thomas, executive director of the Great Schools Partnership. He and I got to know each other well during the five years I covered education.
My lunch table included familiar and new faces. That gorgeous chica staring at you is my friend Megan. (We've turned the cafe into our lunch date.) The four people to her left were all new. I loved that!!

On this side of the table was Julia, our office intern; Amy, the assistant director of the department and my media relations sensei; next to her is her husband Bob who works for the FBI (he likes to say he works with calculators not guns.) The lady showing bunny ears behind him is Donetta Poisson,  the interim director of the UT Culinary Institute. She runs the student lab class of which the cafe is a part.

This fine lady is Dr. Kim, the professor who helped with authenticating the meal.

Oh, Megan happened to bring the UT Torchbearer article about my U.S. citizenship. I love that my friends are also celebrating this awesome part of my life journey.

UT's spring break is next week so the cafe will be closed. It resumes March 27 with Italy. By the way, it is open to the public. Get a ticket by calling 865-974-6645. It'll be worth every penny of the $12 (or $10.20 if you're a UT employee.)

Remaining countries are France (April 3), Liberia (April 10), Persia (April 17) and Germany (April 26).

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