It's been quite some time since "meokbang," a Korean popular cultural phenomenon of people broadcasting themselves preparing food and eating, penetrated mainstream television. An average South Korean hardly has difficulty in seeing a TV celebrity indulging in some epicurean delicacy in front of a national audience every week.
Yet apparently, the TV market segment on food still has room to grow. Director Na Yeong-seok, who has virtually brought the meokbang genre to mainstream TV via tvN's two hit reality series "Three Meals a Day" and "Grandpas Over Flowers," is preparing to launch a new food series this week.
"Youn's Restaurant" is a new tvN Friday-Saturday reality show series which focuses on a group of South Korean celebrities operating a small Korean cuisine restaurant on a small island near Bali, Indonesia.
"It's something that is unlikely to happen in real life (for normal people) but I thought of perhaps delivering an indirect experience," Na said on Monday at a media event for his new TV series held at Times Square mall in western Seoul.
Veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung is the store owner and lead chef and is accompanied by a diverse cast, including veteran actor Shin Goo, Na's long-time collaborator actor Lee Seo-jin and actress Jung Yu-mi.
While the cast is tasked with actually operating a business, the show's focus isn't aimed at a monetary goal or expansion of the business -- rather it's oriented at delivering viewers a sense of relaxation and healing through "the special daily lives of the cast who open a small Korean restaurant in a paradise-like place."
Na is one of South Korea's top entertainment TV directors to date who has churned out consecutive hit shows without relying on star power. He intends to emulate his string of successes through another experimental-yet unique cast combination.
"I'm now an older actress. I determined from one day that I should enjoy my work," actress Youn said.
"I'm a fan of Na Yeong-seok, therefore I followed when Na asked me to do this work. I'll even do 'We Got Married' if Na asks," Yoon said jokingly.
Shin Goo, who starred in Na's past work "Grandpas Over Flowers," said he served as the restaurant's waiter.
"I could say 'hello, please sit here,' in English. But whenever we ran into a vegetarian customer, I turned the serving job over to Lee Seo-jin," said Shin, citing a communication barrier when a customer orders food that wasn't included in the restaurant's normal menu.
Lee Seo-jin, also a longtime collaborator of Na, said he was a lot more comfortable compared to his previous works with the director.
"It was much more comfortable than the 'Grandpas Over Flowers' series. Since the weather and scenery was good, I was able to enjoy after-work activities. It was pleasurable and I had fun filming," Lee said.
For actress Jung Yu-mi, the show marked her first television outing outside of acting.
"I was curious about the show on running a small Korean restaurant and also thought that it was a good opportunity to interact with senior actors that I admired," Jung said.
Jung added that she was actually busy running the place and never felt as though the process was a TV production.
"I even enjoyed the busy part. I liked the fact that I actually worked and even thought that I could spend a couple more days there," the actress said.