Cho Hee-sook, a respected authority on traditional Korean cuisine and chef-owner of Hansikgonggan in Seoul, has been named Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2020. Chef Cho will be presented with her award at the ceremony for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, on Tuesday 24th March in Saga Prefecture, Japan.
The award forms part of the 50 Best organisation’s mission to honour role models who have made a positive impact on Asia’s restaurant scene. William Drew, Director of Content at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, says: “The Best Female Chef award celebrates female chefs whose dedication, skills and creativity set new standards in gastronomic excellence. Cho Hee-sook epitomises the spirit of this award with her lifelong commitment to advancing Korean cuisine through training, education and mentorship.”
Described as the godmother of Korean cuisine, Chef Cho has spent most of her career sharing her in-depth knowledge of Korean cooking with young chefs, ensuring her country’s unique culinary traditions and recipes are passed on to future generations. Celebrated chef Mingoo Kang of Mingles restaurant in Seoul credits Chef Cho as one of his most influential mentors, adding she has “spent her life developing Korean cuisine”.
Cho developed her cooking skills working in the kitchens of Seoul’s premium hotels before being appointed executive chef at the South Korean embassy in Washington DC, USA. Returning home in 2006, Cho focused on culinary research, exploring local ingredients and nurturing young talent. She inspired many gastronomy students as a professor at Woosong University.
In 2019, Cho’s career took a new direction when she became chef-owner of Hansikgonggan, an intimate Michelin-starred Korean restaurant located next to Seoul’s Changdeok Palace. Specialising in royal court cuisine, Hansikgonggan celebrates centuries-old dishes that date back to the Joseon dynasty. While Cho honours traditional Korean cooking techniques, she has reinterpreted the historic recipes through modern ingredients, fine-dining elements and stylish plating. Refined yet accessible, the eight-course dinner menu is respectful of Korea’s culinary heritage but is designed to appeal to a new generation of diners. Hansikgonggan illustrates Chef Cho’s combination of expertise and creative vision to move her national cuisine forward through dishes such as her interpretation of Korea’s traditional pine nut porridge, enriched with abalone, shrimp and scallops.
Accepting the prestigious award, Cho says: “Having mentored many young chefs throughout my career, I hope this award serves as an inspiration for other Asian female chefs to follow their passions, be ambitious and share their knowledge with others.”