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'Youn's Kitchen,' a fantasy workplace for hard-working Koreans

Yonhap News logo Yonhap News 13/2/2018

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Feb. 13 (Yonhap) -- The restaurant in "Youn's Kitchen" is not your ordinary restaurant. It doesn't have a set opening and closing time. Menus change depending on what's available in a local grocery or on customers' responses. The main chef and other staff are easily overwhelmed in dealing with a flurry of orders and frequently make mistakes.

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The main producer Na Young-seok says the amateurish attitude of the cast members running the Korean restaurant in a small Spanish town is what makes the reality show appeal to TV viewers.

"The program was designed to fulfill people's fantasy of running a mom-and-pop restaurant in a foreign country," Na said during a press conference in western Seoul on Tuesday.

"It has nothing to do with making a lot of money by working 12 hours. It is your own space to realize your fantasy," said the star producer of such hit programs as "2 Days & 1 Night," "Grandpas Over Flowers" and "Three Meals a Day."

"Furthermore, what we are trying to do is far from promoting Korean foods overseas. If that had been our goal, we should have hired professional chefs," he said.

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The reality show is one of the country's most popular entertainment programs. It is also an all-time popular show on the cable channel tvN: among the seven most-viewed episodes on the channel, six are from "Youn's Kitchen."

The episode aired on Feb. 2 recorded an average viewership rating of 16 percent, a record high for an entertainment show on the network. At one point, it hit 22.5 percent in the metropolitan area.

"To be honest, I am a bit overwhelmed with the high ratings. I think 12-13 percent would be manageable," Na said. "When it continues going up, the inevitable next step is to come down. But I try to be happy since it proves that many people love our show."

He attributed the higher-than-expected ratings to the casting of new member Park Seo-joon and, to some degree, the extremely cold weather, as people avoid going out in the cold and stay indoors, watching TV.

The show's popularity also attests to the reality that "Koreans are too busy to travel to a place that they want and at a time that is convenient for them."

"Because they can't realize it in reality, they instead turn to the show to get some satisfaction," he said.

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In season 2, four famous actors -- Youn Yuh-jung, Jung Yu-mi, Lee Seo-jin and Park Seo-joon -- run a restaurant in the small town of Garachico on Tenerife, the largest of Spain's Canary Islands.

Running a mom-and-pop restaurant isn't an easy task in a foreign country, not to mention in Korea to begin with. The cast members struggle to create new menus and attract foreign customers mostly unfamiliar with Korean food. A language barrier isn't helpful either.

On the other hand, viewers are thrilled and relieved to see customers enjoying Korean food as if they were the owners themselves. The breathtaking views of the town arrests viewers' attention.

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The nine-episode first season, shot in Gili Trawangan, northwest of Indonesia's Lombok, aired from March 24 to May 19, 2017. Becoming an instant hit, it helped spread a social trend among young Koreans of trying to break away from a lifestyle devoted to work and money and embracing the motto YOLO, which means "You Only Live Once."

In the second season, the cast members connected and built relationships with the locals, an aspect barely existent in the first season. The producer said the connections and relationships turned out to be very helpful in making the show successful.

"Near the end of the show, local people just show up, not to eat, but to chat with the members. The restaurant becomes like a community center. It feels very friendly and warm," he said.

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jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

(END)

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