Please introduce yourself.
My name is Ji Hoon Ryu and I come from Seoul (South Korea). I am 29, married to a Croatian and we have a 4-year-old daughter. I’ve been living in Split for the last 5 years, I am a student of Gastronomy at ASPIRA in my 2nd year now.
Can you compare your life in Korea to life in Croatia?
Moving from Seoul to Split was quite a change! Seoul is one of the largest metropolitan cities on Earth, with around 25 million people living there, which is half of the whole South Korean population. Even if the city has a long history, most of its buildings and surroundings are modern and new. Our country is the same way – even if we respect and venerate our tradition, we are open to new ideas and technology. Korean economy is very developed, GDP is relatively high, industrial production is 5th in the world – and all of these factors impact the style and quality of living.
Level of pollution is quite bad though. Another thing is the mentality. The work environment
is very competitive, and people are obsessed with work, speed, and efficiency.
A Korean girl like me is expected to complete a respected high school, enter one of 3 best universities, graduate and marry on time, find a job in a good company and spend the rest of her life
working from 9 to 19, saving the rest of her time for household duties, kids, husband and of course, husband’s family.
Life in Croatia is much more relaxed and there is no such pressure. It is also a very beautiful country,
and I am not surprised that so many Koreans come here as tourists. As my husband is working hard and also doing a lot of household chores, I really have a feeling that I am on very long vacation here.
I liked Split from the first time I set my foot here and I feel more comfortable with Dalmatian mentality which is completely free from Korean ‘bali bali’ approach. Here in a slow pace you can finish your business, meet friends, go for a coffee, enjoy a glass of wine or a dish in local restaurant…
Why did you choose the study of Gastronomy?
Korean people are very interested in food because that is a big part of our mentality! Eating is actually a kind of ceremony or a ritual for us, no matter if it’s Korean food or some new or unknown dish from another country… We like talking about food, taking photos of food, and doing all things related to food. On Korean TV channels there are many programs about food. We even have popular live stream internet sites where you can watch people who are just eating.
Our cuisine is quite unique though, and not at all similar to Chinese or Japanese way of cooking.
It is considered very healthy so it is slowly becoming popular and fashionable abroad – but I am not sure how far it can go because tastes are very specific and some dishes are really hot and spicy. Even my husband, who is very open and experienced in tasting different cuisines, finds some of our food too difficult to swallow – but of course he must eat and praise everything or he will have a big problem with his wife!
I like to cook at home. These can be Korean or other Asian dishes, as well as European or even Mexican food. I am also experimenting with local dishes and my husband says that I am preparing steamed mussels (pedochi) or fish stew (brodet) like a real Dalmatian housewife!
Like all Korean girls, I also like to eat out, so my husband and I are following up gastro news and reviews in Croatian media, thinking and planing about the places to eat. We enjoyed many good restaurants and we hope to visit some more, if our home budget allows it.
So the next logical thing that happened is that I opened my own gastro blog. The first aim was to give advice to Korean tourists where they should eat or drink and what they should do and see, but to my surprise I have a few followers from other countries too.
You could’ve already guessed that food is my passion, so I guess it’s only natural that I am studying Gastronomy. But there are other, practical reasons for it, too. Split and Croatia in general are very dependent on tourism which is here the most profitable industry. It is also the sector of economy where it’s relatively easy to find a job. As cooking is an international art, all the knowledge and skills I get here would be valued and respected in other countries, too. As a highly educated gastro-expert, I should easily find a job back in Korea or in any developed country of the West.
How would you describe your study experience at Aspira?
I love the fact that Aspira study program is focused more on polishing practical skills than getting theoretical knowledge. I also appreciate that Aspira is very well-connected with major players on Croatian gastro and wine scene. We have many useful subjects like International Gastronomy Management, Computer Science, Business Communication, Italian Language, and more specialised classes like International Tourism, International Marketing and English for Tourism. But my favourite classes are workshops and cooking classes with best Croatian or international chefs, and I was happy to collaborate at events like ‘Tuna, Sushi & Wine Festival’ in Zadar with chef Hrvoje Zirojević, and ‘Adriatic Gastroshow’ in Split with chef Braco Sanjin. I was also a cook – assistant at ‘Chef Stage’ event held in Šibenik and later I contributed to Galla Dinner at ‘Pellegrini’ restaurant, which is one of the top restaurants in Croatia.
When I was only a 1st year student, Aspira has already introduce me to top Croatian chefs like Rudolf Štefan (from ‘Pellegrini’), Saša Began (from ‘Foša’ in Zadar) , Goran Kocsis (‘Noel’, Zagreb), ex ‘Paradigma’ chef Ante Udovičic, Marco Gayski from ‘Lešić Dimitri Palace’, and famous confectioner Tea Mamut. Hopefully, I will have a chance to do internship or even work in their restaurants, once I graduate from Aspira.
Oh yes, I should also mention the excellent ‘Wine VIP event’ held in Split and similar festivals
(like ‘Vinistra’) which introduced me to the exciting world of Croatian wines! The highlight of my 1st year of study at Aspira was our gastro study trip to Istria, where we enjoyed visiting interesting restaurants and wine cellars.
As our professors are really trying hard to show us how things look in ‘real life’, at our workshops we often visit places like craft breweries, fish markets, kitchens of famous restaurants, hotels etc.
Since the 2nd semester student at Aspira is expected to do a 2-week internship in a restaurant or a hotel, I have chosen the restaurant ‘Sensus’ at Dubrovnik Excelsior Hotel, which was a really good decision, as I’ve learnt a lot and everyone there treated me nicely. And of course, Dubrovnik is probably the most beautiful place in Croatia! At that excellent restaurant with inspired chefs and modern equipment I’ve learned a lot and for the first time in my life had a glimpse of how it feels like spending a day as a professional cook. Few months later I joined ‘Radisson’ hotel in Split to check how it looks like to be a part of their staff and how ‘foods&beverage department’ in big hotels is actually functioning! I learnt a lot while serving breakfast, lunch, and a wedding dinner there.
All the practical experience that I’ve mentioned would be impossible to get without Aspira’s practical learning concept and know-how, so I am deeply grateful for that.
What are your future plans?
My family from Korea often asks me what I am going to do after completing my studies, but I am telling them to slow down, as I just finished the first year! There are still many things to be learnt, but I think under guidance of my professors and guest lecturers I can really became competent in this art and even develop my own cooking style!
Maybe some day I will work in another country or open my own restaurant – but this may be distant future, as I still need to complete my studies here. I am also thinking about a postgraduate course in Switzerland at Aspira’s partner college, Hotel Institute Montreux. It would be nice to travel around the Mediterranean and study its regional kitchens and restaurants, and I think with this profession it may be possible. I also plan to enrol in Erasmus+ program of student exchange, so I can get to some really exciting places abroad!
All in all, I think studying at Aspira was the right thing to do for myself, certainly a good start … And I feel, if I work hard, in future many interesting possibilities might open up for me.