Banchan is the name for the assortment of side dishes served alongside cooked rice that helps define Korean cuisine. These small plates are intended to be shared by everyone at the table (and replenished as needed) contributing to a true family-style dining experience.
Chef Ryan Hernandez and the kitchen team recently spent a day learning the authentic ingredients and methods involved in cooking these dishes, while also encountering the more ineffable qualities intrinsic to the culture of Korean food, under the tutelage of “Momma Rhee.”
Momma Rhee is the mother of another Foundation employee who had been talking to Ryan about the joys of celebrating the varieties and intricacies of ethnic cuisines. It didn’t take long for the two of them to start hatching a plan to bring Momma Rhee out to the Laity Lodge kitchen from her home in Vancouver, B.C., to share her first-hand wisdom in the ways of traditional Korean cooking.
Arriving in San Antonio, Momma Rhee’s first stop was a Korean grocery store where she filled several carts with carefully selected ingredients (she was especially exacting when it came to fresh produce!). Once she and the foodstuffs were at the Lodge, the education began. It was a completely immersive experience with Momma Rhee again demonstrating a comprehensive precision in her approach.
The ingredients and the process were handled with a reverence that suffused the kitchen. There was a right way to do this work, and Momma Rhee embodied that way. The Lodge team tried to absorb as much as they could. As sous chef David Withrow recounts, “It was more than just training, learning techniques. It was all-encompassing and deep … like she was imparting something of herself into the Lodge.” Chef Ryan agrees, “Everybody in the kitchen got better that day,” the word “better” seeming to stretch to implications beyond immediately tangible impacts like knife skills.
The day culminated with the meal: japchae (vermicelli rice noodles), bulgogi (beef barbeque), tongbaechu-kimchi (traditional fermented cabbage), kkakdugi (radish kimchi), and yachaejeon (savory vegetable pancakes). Small plates, representing so much more than the sum of their parts. It’s now a meal the kitchen is proud to offer at occasional retreats. Regardless of the menu when you’re next at the Lodge, the day with Momma Rhee will impact your dining experience. From ingredients, to preparation, to plating, to posture—Momma Rhee’s influence can now be detected in everything coming out of the kitchen.