Chef Mun Pairs East & West at Bodega Casarena
Once a big-city chef navigating the hustle of Buenos Aires, Chef Mun Kim came to Mendoza to offer a unique food & wine experience based on the fusion of flavors from the East & West. Today Chef Mun, along with his business partner Cary Gilbert, manage Mun Restaurant at Casarena Winery, a culinary fusion of Asian & Argentine food & wine. Along with a delicious wine-paired lunch, Chef Mun shared his story with me:
How would you describe the Asian flavor profile that you work with? And how do you incorporate more traditional Argentine aspects?
Chef Mun: I work mainly with Korean, Japanese and Chinese flavors, which have some common flavors like soy sauce and miso. These flavors are easy to work with and can be combined with non-Asian flavors. For example, I combine soy sauce and Malbec for my filet mignon sauce. And lately, I have been cooking chicken with chimichuri sauce, which then is added to salads. The dressing has soy sauce and sesame oil. So, I combine chimichuri with typical Asian flavors.
Tourists make it to Mendoza in massive numbers, but Asian ingredients haven´t quite found their way here. What has it been like sourcing the ingredients you need?
CM: It’s difficult. There are some items in Mercado Central, but they are really expensive. I can’t afford to pay those prices. So I try to make a Buenos Aires trip once a month to buy all the ingredients I need. Anything imported is about 4x more expensive in Buenos Aires compared to the US. So I am always on the lookout to find local producers. For example, my miso is made by a 75-year old Korean woman in Buenos Aires, which is much cheaper. I bought 50 kg of miso last time I went to BA, which should will last for some time.
After great success with your closed-door BsAs restaurant, Casa Mun, you left the city and literally headed for the hills. What has most surprised you about the Mendoza way of life since you´ve moved here?
CM: The seriousness of siesta. By the time I am ready in the morning, everything is closed for siesta. I feel like I am losing a big part of my day. Then again, I love driving around during siesta.
Part of what makes your meals stand out are the wine pairings that accompany each course. In general, how does Korean cuisine & flavor profile interact with Argentine wine?
CM: I think the Argentine wines are great with anything Asian. Malbec is a perfect pair with Korean BBQ and anything spicy, and cabernet sauvignon is also great with Chinese food with oyster and / or hoisin sauce.
When you´re tasked with creating a new food and wine pairing, which comes first – the wine or the food? What does your culinary creative process look like?
CM: The great thing about having a restaurant at a winery is that I have direct access to the wine makers. And, we work together to come up with what we consider perfect pairings – the wine maker tweaks his wine and I, my recipe. Which comes first depends….for example, our Rama Negra Reserva Pinot Noir was developed as the perfect complement for my sushi.
Land-locked and beef-centric, Mendoza seems an unlikely sushi hotspot, but your latest project is a cooking class where visitors “learn to cook local ingredients with an Asian flair.” How have the local & international communities responded to your unique culinary fare?
CM: Learning the art of making sushi takes a long time. So I and the “students” don’t expect to master it during a single class. However, non-Argentine “students”, many of whom eat sushi on a regular basis, enhance their appreciation of sushi. There are lots of “ahhhhs” during the classes. Lots of students say that although they would most likely not make sushi at home, they appreciate their new ability and confidence to order, eat and talk about sushi.
Within your cooking class and beyond, what is the one tip (or truth) you would like to share with people about the way you cook?
CM: I serve what I’d like to eat. So cook and eat what you like.
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