Wednesday, August 5, 2015

For Chan Ho Park and wife, fast pitching but slow cooking

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WHAT DOES IT take to fuel Phillies relief pitcher Chan Ho Park's 95-mph fastballs? A lot of octopus, according to his wife, Ri-Hye Park.

"He likes it stir-fried and spicy," said Park, 34, who married the South Korean baseball star in December 2005. A trained chef - she studied for 2 years at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N.Y. - Park is proficient in classic French and Italian techniques.

It took her marriage to Chan Ho to connect her with her culinary roots, which are at the heart of "Ri-Hye's Kitchen," a cookbook with 160 recipes published in Korean in her husband's home country. Park is donating all proceeds from the book to charity.

Although her heritage is Korean, she grew up in Japan, as did her parents and grandparents before her.

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"We only spoke Japanese at home," she said. "That was our culture."

The daughter of noted businessman Park Choong-Seo, ranked the 76th richest man in Japan, Park was exposed from an early age to Tokyo's vibrant restaurant scene. "I really liked eating well-prepared foods in restaurants with my parents," she said. "And from the age of about 14, I started baking at home."

She didn't eat much Korean food.

"At home, we ate really Japanese food, sometimes with a little bit of kimchi [the spicy fermented cabbage that is a staple in Korean cuisine]. I didn't know how to cook it at all," she said.

After graduating with a degree in English literature, Park, motivated by her love of food, applied to the CIA. Internships at a Michelin-starred restaurant in France and at Alice Waters' renowned Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif., followed. She then returned to Tokyo, where she taught private cooking classes.

Meeting Chan Ho - they were introduced by a mutual friend in 2004 and married less than a year later - turned her world, culinary and otherwise, upside down.

Now parents to two daughters, Elynne, 3, and Selynne, 1, the Parks live during the offseason in Marina Del Rey, Calif. Talking by telephone from her home with the sounds of her girls in the background ("We don't have a babysitter on Sunday"), Park acknowledged being nervous about her husband's first World Series.

"And I heard he had the flu. I worry about him."

She cooks Korean comfort food for him, with a little bit of Japanese and European dishes to round out the menu.

"My husband is very traditional," Park said. "And he really wanted traditional home cooking, the kind of food his mother makes. This was all new to me."

Thanks to her existing knowledge base, Park caught on quickly.

"Once I started to learn, my creativity got more expanded, and it went fast. And now I see that Korean food is very interesting, good food, and very healthy, too . . . "

Korean food isn't quite as mainstream in American culture as Chinese or Japanese, but once it is sampled, dishes such as bulgogi (marinated beef grilled tableside) or bibimbap (Korean fried rice flavored with fish, veggies and kimchi), become positively addictive.

In her cookbook, which hasn't been translated into English yet, Park included traditional dishes, as well as the Korean comfort food.

"Americans think that all Korean food is spicy, and it's not," she said. "And while many dishes include meat, seafood and vegetables are just as important. Chan Ho really loves seafood."

His favorite recipes include that stir-fried octopus and Korean miso soup.

"Our life, with my husband's schedule and our babies, is very crazy right now," Ri-Hye Park said. "So I'm not doing a lot with my cooking outside of entertaining at home. But in the future, I hope to expose more people to real Korean food, so they'll learn about it and love it like I do."

Try one of these restaurants to sample authentic Korean fare: Kim's Barbecue (5955 N. 5th St., 215-927-4550); and Everyday Good House (5501 N. Front St., 215-276-7942).

For the Daily News
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