Imogen Kwok

Once upon a Tteokguk






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I am a food designer who uses food as an artistic medium.




Location: London
IG: @imogenkwok
Website:  https://imogenkwok.com


Through unique culinary experiences, such as interactive dinners and edible installations, I encourage people to understand and learn in a way that uses all of their bodily senses. Before this, I studied art history, attended culinary school then cooked in restaurants and worked in the styling world for food photography what I do now is a perfect convergence of my degrees and foundation in practical cooking. I am based in London.


Food &
Story︎︎︎


A dish to your heart?

︎︎︎ Tteokguk (Korean Rice Cake Soup) with shredded beef brisket, eggs, kim and scallion toppings.


And the story behind?

︎︎︎ I was born in Sydney to Chinese — Korean parents but grew up in NYC. Most of my relatives still live in Australia, so I only see them once a year. My halmeoni (Korean grandmother) always cooks this dish to welcome me back home. It is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day but I love it all year around — it reminds me of sitting on the floor while eating at a low table, head dipped into a  deep soup bowl,  surrounded by the voices of my family. You usually use scissors to cut the kim (crispy toasted salted seaweed) into strips as garnish for the soup but my cousins and I love kim so much we would usually devour sheets of it throughout the afternoon. I remember clearly always having that briny taste in my mouth and fingertips covered in sesame oil and salt before dinner was served.





“It is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day but I love it all year around-it reminds me of sitting on the floor while eating at a low table, head dipped into a deep soup bowl,  surrounded by the voices of my family.”






Healing︎︎︎



Define a healing moment.

︎︎︎ I see quelling anxiety as a part of healing oneself. The activities that help calm me are very repetitive kitchen prep work — for example, shelling fresh peas from their pods or peeling and thinly slicing onions. I don’t find these tasks monotonous, quite the opposite: once your hands know exactly which movements are the most efficient and smooth, you fall into a perfect rhythm and it becomes very meditative. When I am stressed sometimes I have a craving for ‘prep therapy’ where my body can take over the process and my mind can totally relax.



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Inspiration︎︎︎


How do you see the relationship between food and art?

︎︎︎ This is a topic I am constantly wrestling with because I see food as an artistic medium — to me, it is a means of communication, a form of creative expression, a reflection of its environment (social, political, cultural) as well as nourishment. This approach relies on putting intent behind the cooking process — it is a step beyond simply eating for survival because it is one that requires both thoughtfulness and tactile skill.

There are many challenges of treating food in this manner because unlike other art forms you need to consider every bodily sense. When I am creating a dish I am always taking into account the aesthetics and presentation, the textures you feel both in your hand and in your mouth, what you smell when you approach it, the sound made when you’re taking a bite, and of course, the flavour. All these elements need to flow together while accurately representing the underlying concept — when I’ve reached that moment I know that the experience will be meaningful.

Where do you find inspirations?

︎︎︎ I am always wondering how to translate something through food, which includes the method of cooking and the ingredients. Just today I was reading this short New Yorker article about migratory birds and I thought, oh, wouldn’t it be cool to create a menu based around their mating dances, diets and feather patterns? I read often and look beyond just food-related content in order to think and create in a lateral way.

Usually though, being ‘in action’ often leads to the best ideas — this could be while exploring nature and touching / smelling plants,  testing a recipe or even right before an event when something goes wrong and you need to find a solution spontaneously. I am the most focused when I am physically engaged and present.



“When I am creating a dish I am always taking into account the aesthetics and presentation, the textures you feel both in your hand and in your mouth, what you smell when you approach it, the sound made when you’re taking a bite, and of course, the flavour. ”




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Past &
Future︎︎︎


An important figure / influencer in your career.

︎︎︎ I was very moved when I first came across Nobuyoshi Araki’s series Winter Journey (1991) and continue to keep these photographs in mind when I think about my own work. When Araki’s wife, Yoko Aoki, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, he began to document every meal they shared leading up to her death. These images are all shot super close up with flash — rendering them graphic, glistening and erotic. They’re beautiful and grotesque at the same time — I love this feeling of being almost repulsed but also captivated.

The series is incredibly moving because you can really feel Araki’s  intense sense of anticipating loss, empathy for his wife’s condition and the feeling that these images are exploring and exposing the inner human body that is being consumed by a disease — at times the dishes seem more like a tangle of intestines rather than ingredients.

I cook to express my love for others and I am drawn to beauty and freshness — but these photos reminded me that eating is so much more than just a pleasurable act — it is primal and has the capacity to convey powerful, unsettling emotions.


“I cook to express my love for others and I am drawn to beauty and freshness — but these photos reminded me that eating is so much more than just a pleasurable act — it is primal and has the capacity to convey powerful, unsettling emotions.“



On-going and upcoming projects?

︎︎︎ I am currently collaborating with a new virtual art platform, AORA. For their food programme, I create dishes inspired by each show, relating the ingredients and method to the thematic and visual elements of each artist’s work and practice. In a live event series, AORA members participate in a discussion with myself and the artist / gallery where they can cook and eat the dish or they simply join for the chat.
As in-person events have been put on hold due to COVID, it is giving me a moment to think about how to adapt to our new environment and how to continue my work even if we can’t meet in one place. I’m putting together a video project that will explore the relationship between food, sound and emotions that I’m excited about because that will be completely different from cooking for people. I am also hosting a workshop series with photographer Leen al Zaben that will start soon — keep an eye out for more details!


Images 
@imogenkwok