surf globally, eat locally
May 2013

Marja Vongerichten Explores Her Roots Through Korean Cooking
Marja Vongerichten may be married to Jean-Georges Vongerichten --a Michelin-star winning chef -- but her cooking is a little more down home.

Vongerichten was born in South Korea, then adopted and raised in northern Virginia – so she has a penchant for cooking soul food, and Seoul food.

"I actually call Korean food the soul food of Asia," Vongerichten told’s Kitchen Superstars. "It’s cheaper cuts of meat, it’s hard vegetables that you need to cook a long time. It’s very simple peasant food and ingredients, which is soul food for me." Vongerichten was adopted at age 3 and spent many years tracking down her birth mother. When the two were reunited, they bonded by cooking Korean food together.

"When I first met my birth mother, who lives in Brooklyn, the first thing she did was cook for me," Vongerichten told’s Kitchen Superstars. "I had this flood of memories come back to my taste buds."

Vongerichten also co-hosted PBS TV series "Kimchi Chronicles" with husband Jean-Georges,which followed Marja as she explored her Korean roots. Part travelogue, part documentary she and Jean-Georges would travel to Asia where they would taste food of different regions and then come back to the U.S. and recreate them. Her journeys was also chronicled in a cookbook to accompany the series.

"It kind of incorporates my story, being born in Korea, adopted and raised without Korean food for so long and then reconnecting with my birth mother," Vongerichten said.

But even with a cookbook and food show in the bag, Marja still doesn’t see herself joining her husband running his global restaurant empire business, which includes Jean-Georges Steakhouse in Las Vegas, Portico in the new Le Meridien Atlanta and the Spice Market in London.

"Anyone who’s married to a chef knows the kind of hours that it takes and it’s a really huge commitment," Vongerichten said. "That’s the other woman in my life."

Regardless, her culinary skills have impressed her chef husband. Though she says she didn’t cook for him for a "long time," when she finally did cook she earned his stamp of approval. He even put her Mac and Cheese recipe on the menu at Mercer Kitchen in New York. Going forward, Marja says she wants to continue exploring her Korean roots through food.

"There are lots of recipes I haven't tackled yet and I'm still learning as I go, but I have a general understanding of Korean flavors and I know what things taste like."

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