Nestled in a quiet block amidst the busy streets of central Seoul, the Western European restaurant Gastro Tong is bustling even after lunch hours. Gastro Tong gets its name from the words “gastronomy,” the study of food and culture, and “tong,” the Korean word for communication. The charming 1930’s Japanese-style exterior combined with the European-influenced interior manifest the essence of Gastro Tong, which is founded on the belief that food is a medium for communicating culture. Owned by Swiss husband Roland Hinni, veteran chef with over 30 years of experience at local and overseas five-star hotels, and Korean wife Kim Young-sim, wine expert who worked at Korea’s largest wine importer companies, Gastro Tong offers guests a fine dining experience with creative selections of fresh, quality food and expert wine pairings.
Inside the restaurant, busy waiters move through the space carrying beautifully displayed plates that hold Gastro Tong’s specialty braised, or jjim, meats, fish, and vegetables. The menu at Gastro Tong is constantly changing and evolving, offering regular guests a new savory experience each time. Such creativity of owner and head chef Roland Hinni, who prepares the dishes himself, comes from years of honing his skills and inspiration from the ingredients that are available around him.
Chef-owner Roland Hinni’s passion in the culinary arts began at a very young age helping his mother in the kitchen. His fascination with other cities around the world further encouraged him to pursue a career in the culinary arts because cooking would enable him to see the world, other countries and people. From his apprenticeship at a hotel in Switzerland, Hinni has built a reputation and prestige from overseas and locally after moving to Korea in 1980. Since then, he moved above the ranks from sous-chef at the Westin Chosun Seoul to executive chef of Ritz-Carlton Seoul to owner of Gastro Tong.
At Gastro Tong, Hinni hand-picks the ingredients from local markets; his selections are based on what is fresh, seasonal, ripe, wholesome, and clean. Hence the menu, recipes, and presentation depend on the ingredients in the market, especially the vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices. Hinni stresses that one of the most important principles in cooking is to “have the right, best, freshest, safest ingredients to cook with.” It is these values that inspire the changing seasonal menus at Gastro Tong, and combined with Hinni’s technical skill gained from years of experience, bring many returning customers.
Hinni’s efforts to provide and promote fresh, safe food extends beyond the kitchen of Gastro Tong. In 1982, he, along with other chefs, established the Korean chapter of the professional chefs association, Les Toques Blanches. Les Toques Blanches (LTB), or “The White Hat,” is an association of professional chefs and associate members dedicated to the ongoing development of the culinary arts. LTB Korea seeks to improve the quality of food in Korea and abroad by setting standards for better food hygiene, well-balanced meals, and proper training for chefs. To this day, Hinni continues to support the culinary arts and promote safe food as an honorary chef member of LTB.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://10mag.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Adam-Kohlhaas_avatar_1409017701-96×96.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Adam Kohlhaas is a photographer and blogger from Chicago, Illinois who has studied at Yonsei University and has been living and working in Korea since 2012. He runs a blog about fountain pens at inklode.com.[/author_info] [/author]