For some Koreans, spending time at a cafe might be a way to take an emotional refuge or relieve stress from a hectic life. But for many others, a cup of coffee or dessert at a cafe is merely a means to secure a place to work or study.
Hoping to showcase the true French dessert culture, including quality time with friends with tea and traditional French nibbles, renowned chef Kim Na-rae presents the “French Gouter” program at the Park Hyatt Seoul in Gangnam, southern Seoul.
Gouter, referring to France's afternoon tea time, is a time to relax with snacks.
Shortly after taking a seat at the hotel’s top-floor restaurant, The Lounge, guests are offered a wide range of tea and coffee selections before savory dishes arrive.
Ranging from flavored black tea to herbal, fruit and white tea, a total of nine different tea fragrances and their vibrant colors reflected in a crystal clear glass teapot enchant guests.
The snacks and desserts are served in three courses -- chef Jung Sang-hyup’s savory pieces, an ice cream-themed pre-dessert and chef Kim Na-rae’s assortment.
The savories that are presented first are a lobster roll, resembling a Korean-style corn dog, a chewy truffle croque monsieur and crispy jambon beurre.
This small serving of food is not sweet, but piques curiosity of what is to come next.
Though epicureans can cleanse the palate with Champagne or tea, a better option may be to wait for the cold pre-dessert.
A small scoop of vanilla ice cream surrounded by citrus, fennel, pollen and honeycomb-shaped thin crumb signals the coming spring with its pleasantly sour yet sweet flavor.
Chef Kim Na-rae, a Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome chef who last year became the first non-French woman to be named best pastry chef of the year by Gault & Milan -- an esteemed French restaurant guide -- presents five different sweet selections, including marble cake, cookies, choux noisettes, chocolate brioche and tarte brioche, at last.
Feeling that some popular desserts in Korea are either too sweet or have too strong a taste, Kim shared her concerns over visitors puzzling over her sweet selections that have a rather light taste.
“Guests might be surprised to know some of the desserts are not heavier. I hope many visitors will be able to experience the classic French desserts. The selected delicacies, to French people, are like what ‘tteokbokki’ is to Koreans. They are not special, but ordinary snacks in France,” Kim told The Korea Herald on Jan. 16.
Tteokbokki is a popular Korean snack of chewy cylindrical rice cakes slathered in a spicy sauce made primarily with red pepper paste.
“French people love to spend quality time with food, sharing their feelings and thoughts about the dishes, relish the leisure and joy that sweet treats bring to our lives. That is what I hoped for guests to experience through ‘French Gouter’ as well,” Kim said.
Kim, whose career has taken her to Guam, Vietnam and France, believes the world of dessert can be expanded from simple adjectives like “beautiful” or “delicious” or taking pictures for Instagram.
“Unlike the already famous British tea culture, referring to a pot of tea served with scones, clotted cream and jam, and Korea, where sweets are made early and allowed to cool, French-style desserts are made and kept as warm as possible until they arrive at the guests’ table,” added Lee Ji-myung, Park Hyatt Seoul's executive chef.
The "French Gouter" program, due to run from March 11 to April 21, is to be served from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 5:30 p.m. on weekends. It is priced at 68,000 won per person.
For reservations, call either The Lounge at (02) 2016-1235 or Park Hyatt Seoul at (02) 2016-1234.