Robin Ha was at Archestratus to present a comic slideshow about her new book, Cook Korean!, as well as to give the store’s first cooking demo.
It was a departure of sorts for the author and artist, as, growing up, she saw herself as neither a public speaker or a cook. As a child she wanted badly to be a graphic novelist, then all the rage in Seoul, and thought, “once I become a cartoonist, I’ll never have to speak to anyone again! That was a mistake.”
Cooking was a much more involved journey. She thought of cooking as a job for her mother, something that could end badly if not done well. A teenage exchange in Italy changed her mind, and she slowly began learning to cook there. She also learned that “art can be as dangerous as undercooked meat.”
After college she moved to New York City and began eating in earnest, although not cooking much at first. “I find that in New York it’s always very extreme – either you cook all the time or you never cook.”
But once she realized that much of Korean cooking follows a pretty simple formula, just putting a mix of things into one pot and letting it cook, she began looking forward to it. It became an outlet for when she was frustrated with drawing, and eventually it became just as interesting as art. I think anyone in a creative field can relate to the idea that you need a new, different outlet, once you start taking on paying work and clients in your first discipline. You need something that’s just for yourself! “I felt like someone who got married young to my childhood sweetheart, only to be attracted to someone else later.”
Her years of art practice made her fearless in the kitchen, trying new combinations and ingredients, often to good results (but not always!) But the parallels to her first love persisted. Eventually she brought them together in her zine, Banchan, and finally to Cook Korean!, out from Ten Speed Press this month. The book’s recipes are frequently inspired by her mother’s cooking as well as her own experiments, and it covers classics like kimchi and bulgogi as well as porridges, cocktails, and Korean fusion ideas. The book has a lot of details and drawings meant to make newer cooks feel comfortable, as well as more experienced people who are trying Korean for the first time. It's also just really fun and colorful, as is to be expected from someone with her background.
“Creativity is a single source of energy, but people develop it differently. Failing doesn’t mean that you aren’t meant to be creative, you’ll get better with practice. And comparing yourself to others doesn’t work – you have to let go of your ideas of what good art is to let yourself create.”
Cooking demo: kimchi fried rice
One tip from Robin: try Spam! “Koreans love Spam, it’s our comfort food. Americans have a misconception about it, but it’s really like any other processed meat.” Also, “kimchi and pork in general is the best combination.”