In the Kitchen with Marja Vongerichten
By Fabiana Santana
The host of public television’s Kimchi Chronicles and the author of The Kimchi Chronicles companion cookbook, Marja Vongerichten is eager to share her passion for Korean cuisine and its approachability, health benefits and the familial spirit of the Korean table.
Being married to a celebrity chef is story enough, but for Marja Vongerichten, that is just one interesting fact in her remarkable life story. Born to Korean parents in Uijeongbu, South Korea, Marja was adopted at the age of three and raised in northern Virginia by African-American parents.
Marja reunited with her birth mother at 19, and with that came a reconnection to her Korean family, their culture and especially their food. Her journey of rediscovery offers Kimchi Chronicles - her cooking show on PBS - a distinct, personal and authentic lens.
She married world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in 2004 after their daughter Chloe was born in 2000. Food is absolutely the center of their home and continues to be the greatest bridge between Marja’s Korean identity and her life in America. An avid home cook, Marja regularly makes her own kimchi and frequently experiments with ways to simplify and share Korean food with Chloe the rest of the Vongerichten’s family and friends.
A former model and actress, Marja has appeared in films such as Ladder 49. Additionally, she is an aspiring interior designer who is responsible for the complete design of her family’s home in Waccabuc, New York—the setting for all of the cooking on Kimchi Chronicles.
What is your first food memory?
When I was a child in Korea, I was walking and eating a common childhood snack called Bundaegi (silkworm larvae).
When did you first experience Korean cuisine?
From the day I was born.
What inspired the Kimchi Chronicles?
My producer is Korean American and he’d always wanted to do a show on Korea. He and I met through my husband by happenstance. He was having a meeting about getting the show funding. When we met, I spoke with him about my background and the next day he called me to come on board of the project.
How important is it to incorporate Korean recipes/culture into your holiday traditions?
It’s a must. We always have kimchi on the table no matter what we are eating, even mac and cheese.
What is the one dish that you always make during the holidays?
Mac and cheese – my soul food roots come out.
How often do you cook together with your husband?
We try not to cook together. I’m the messy cook and he’s the neatest cook imaginable. I also don’t like him to tell me what to do and vice versa.
What have you taught Jean-Georges in the kitchen?
How to use Korean ingredients and kitchen scissors.
What has he taught you?
The importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season.
If you weren’t a cookbook author and show host, you would be…
An interior designer, which I am.