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Ex-'Top Chef' Host Rolls Out Korean New Year's Feast

By DNAinfo Staff on February 1, 2011 11:25am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — Korean food is about much more than BBQ.

That’s the message from Kelly Choi, the former host of 'Top Chef Masters' and a long-time foodie, as she eagerly awaits the Lunar New Year.

Choi prepared for the traditional holiday celebration, which kicks off on Thursday, with a smorgasbord of Korea's favorite traditional New Year’s dishes courtesy of Bann, a Zagat-rated Korean fusion restaurant in Midtown West.

Like a traditional American Thanksgiving, Choi said that New Year's in Korea revolves around one thing: what’s on the table.

"Everything is about food in Korean culture," said Choi, as waiters delivered bowls of steaming soup and colorful plates of noodles.

The most important dish on a Korean New Year’s table, Choi said, is Tteokguk, a savory soup made with beef broth simmered with garlic, scallions and sliced, unsweetened white rice cakes with the texture of dumplings.

As part of the tradition, Koreans must eat the dish in order to get a year older — so everyone gains a year together on that day, Choi said.

Next comes Japchae, a traditional noodle dish made with clear, sweet potato starch noodles and colorful vegetables of every type that is also popular all year-long.

Then comes the meat dish, a fall-off-the bone plate of short ribs served in a sweet garlic, sugar and soy sauce, and brimming with bright orange butternut squash.

"It’s like big, hunky meat," said Choi, was born in Seoul and worked at her parents' supermarket, stocking shelves, marking prices and slicing bologna.

The main dishes are traditionally served with a selection of popular sides, including Kimchi, made of fermented, spicy cabbage; the three-colored vegetable dish Namul, made from balloon flower roots; bracken and green leafy spinach; and fish, zucchini and mushroom fritters.

A traditional table would also be brimming with seasonal fruits, including juicy Fuji apples, pears, chestnuts, jujubes, persimmons, and multicolored rice cakes stained pink and green stuffed with mung beans and black sesame seeds, Choi said.

Choi said that unlike the traditional American New Year, where partygoers ring in midnight on January 1st in a drunken daze, for Koreans, New Year’s is all about family.

"It’s very much about being together," said Choi, who typically travels to Ft. Lee, New Jersey to be with her family early the morning to begin the celebration, which can last as long as three days.

The festivities typically ends with the traditional Korean New Year’s greeting: "Lots of luck, lots of blessings for the New Year."