It was predicted to become one of the food trends of 2012. And if an appearance on the menus of family-style international eateries and celebrity-backed restaurant openings are anything to go by, all indications are that Korean cuisine is poised to become as ubiquitous around the world as Thai and Vietnamese fare.
After gazing into their crystal ball last year, food consultants Baum + Whiteman predicted that the punchy, robust flavors of Korean cuisine would emerge as an influential global food trend, even going so far as calling kimchi the food ingredient of 2012.
In an effort to push Korean cuisine into the international spotlight, the South Korean tourism office likewise invited thousands of chefs from around the world to the city of Daejeon, where they're gathered for the 35th annual World Association of Chefs Societies this week.
The promotional move is riding high on the momentum of popular Korean-American chefs who have gained cult-like followings among foodie fans, an impact that has also succeeded in penetrating the mainstream food scene.
Just last month, T.G.I. Friday's, an international family-style restaurant chain with 900 outposts in 60 countries, announced the menu addition of Korean Steak Tacos -- a product that's conspicuously similar to Kogi BBQ's signature dish in Los Angeles. Entrepreneur Roy Choi's fusion Korean-Mexican food truck Kogi BBQ is widely credited for launching the food truck craze in the US and for spotlighting the flavors of Korean foods to a wider consumer base.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, New York chef David Chang has elevated Korean cuisine to a Michelin-starred level with his Momofuku empire, which has expanded to Australia and also lands in Toronto this summer.
In New York this spring, South Korean record label JYP Entertainment, the engine behind the country's powerful K-Pop or Korean pop industry, opened the doors to an upscale Korean barbecue restaurant Kristalbelli at the heart of Manhattan, reported the New York Daily News.
Music mogul J.Y. Park is hoping to do with Kristalbelli what "Mr. Chow did for Chinese food," he told the newspaper. His restaurant venture has already secured the backing of US rapper Lil Wayne's business manager Horace Madison. JYP Entertainment is behind the Wonder Girls, who toured with the Jonas Brothers in 2009 in the hope of breaking into the US market.
Kristalbelli is the newest addition to the fine dining Korean scene in New York. Seoul transplant Jung Sik became the first gourmet ‘modernist' Korean restaurant to take up residence in the Big Apple last year.
And Michelin-starred French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his half-Korean wife Marja spread the culinary gospel of Korean cuisine in their PBS series the Kimchi Chronicles last year, narrated by Aussie actor Hugh Jackman.