While researching “Koreatown: A Cookbook” (Potter, $30), chef Deuki Hong of Kang Ho Dong Baekjong in Manhattan and Brooklyn-based food writer Matt Rodbard spent two years eating at Korean-American restaurants all across the United States. Along the way, they visited communities from Los Angeles to Minneapolis to New York to Atlanta and more.
The result is a lively primer brimming with recipes, stories, photos, interviews and the dishes they both love — Korean crispy fried chicken, barbecue, soups, stews and, of course, kimchi and banchan dishes.
On June 27, Hong and Rodbard will return to Atlanta for a book release and tasting event at Chai Pani in Decatur. They will be joined by Meherwan Irani, chef/founder of the Chai Pani Restaurant Group, Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor, chef/owners of Atlanta’s Heirloom Market BBQ, and several more area chefs, who will create a five-course Korean-American dinner feast.
Rodbard recently chatted by telephone about “Koreatown” and its Atlanta inspirations.
Q. Where did this book come from?
A. Deuki and I met when we were writing a guidebook. We were asked to find the 30 best Korean restaurants in New York City, which sent us on this journey where we went to 75 restaurants. That was kind of insanity. But I wasn’t sick of eating or writing about Korean food, yet, and Deuki wanted to do a book with recipes, so we wrote a proposal and sold the book about three years ago.
Q. Beyond all the research and interviews, what did you learn by testing the recipes?
Q. I’d eaten all this food, and I understood the vocabulary, but I’d never made Korean food myself. When we started developing the recipes it just changed the way I looked at Korean food. Once you start making it at home, you realize how much labor goes into it, and what’s good and maybe what’s not so good. It takes a lot to make a spread of four to six banchan dishes. It gave me a higher respect for these culinary traditions from Korea.
Q. Atlanta’s own Koreatown figures prominently in the book, which may surprise some people who don’t live here, right?
A. I can’t stress enough how important Atlanta is to this book. We traveled around the country many times over. We went to Los Angeles five or six times reporting and photographing. LA is the biggest Koreatown and really important to the story. And we’re based in New York, so of course we know the restaurants here. But when it came to a third city, Atlanta was it.
Q. And you found good contacts here, didn’t you?
A. We met Jiyeon and Cody and they did a demo with us one year at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival and they took us out to Buford Highway, as well. On this book tour we’ve been talking a lot about how Duluth is a center of Korean-American culture and people are always surprised. But Atlanta is my favorite city in the South for food.
Q. So is Korean-American food having its moment?
A. Yes. But I hate to use the word trend because that goes against what we write about in “Koreatown.” This food has been here since the ’70s. That said, there is media coverage and new restaurants opening. What we’ve seen in the last few years is that Korean-American chefs of various backgrounds have left the fine dining world and decided to go home. They are cooking the food they grew up eating using their fine dining chops. That is this a great moment. It’s super exciting. And Deuki is really at the center of it, though he’s too humble to say it.