MORE THAN JUST A MEAL: A DINNER WITH SAMUEL BAEK
Words by KING
To Anyone Hungry,
My mother, a fiscally reserve person, would never buy me the grandest of things. Although, if it was food she’d go to the edge of the earth to feed me. As I write this over four hundred miles away, I can hear her voice echoing, “Did you eat?” in a somehow menacing manner.
I had always wondered why she stressed food so heavily. Of course, her village background played a part, but I believe there was a deeper intention. It became apparent that offering food was my mother's [and many other parents’] love language. My fondest memories growing up were when my parents with no context, gave a bowl of fruit to my siblings and I. Having just transferred from Long Beach City College to the University of Berkeley, California, I feel I took those times for granted.
This train of thought eventually led me to the gesture of giving and sharing food as a whole. Thinking about my parents and how they never left me a minute hungry translating to this bigger picture of love and care puzzled me. How could something I consume every day suddenly become uncanny when it’s shared or given to me? To find out the overarching reason we have to go to The Source, quite literally.
Enter Samuel Baek, also known as Sam, also known as Califoodventure, and also known as BYEEEEEE. In early August we shared a dinner with the notorious Southern California food junkie to learn more about his inspirations, backstory, and take on food culture as a whole. Sam recommended we take our conversation to one of the best places I've EVER tried, [REDACTED].
Just kidding! We don’t gatekeep here. We set the scene at Misoolkwan at The Source located in Buena Park, Orange County. Before we got to cracking open the menu, we wanted to get to know more about the foodie before we got to the food.
Sam is a first-generation Korean-American who was born and raised in Southern California, specifically in Orange County. Being in a densely cultured spot where you have Los Angeles, K-Town, and several underground places to go through, a career of putting people onto places wasn’t too far out of reach. His mother was also an igniting factor in his foodie journey. Her home-cooked Korean fried chicken became the holy grail of all dishes to him. Her quite literal touch of perfectly glazing the chicken with soy sauce and sesame seeds elevated the dish to another level making it the comfiest of comfort foods for him.
However, the driving force of his exploration of food and the cultures involved stems from a rather somber moment in his life. Three years ago his dog, a sentimental part of his life passed. Taking place during COVID-19, a time when we all needed someone, he turned to the science of food as a distraction. Whether it was cooking himself or trying new spots, creating content about the intricacies of food became a filler in his life until the art form transformed into a creative outlet for him.
Having now traveled to the ends of Southern California experiencing the many different cultural experiences they have to offer, one sentiment that stuck with me is how much in love Sam was with Los Angeles. He says,
| “LA is a melting pot- It’s a test experiment of random cultures coming together and bonding to each other making the many fusion restaurants that they have today. It’s the only place where you could get something like Bulgolgi Birria Tacos.”
Los Angeles is what I also believe to be an epicenter of culinary excellence. It’s incomparable to anything the world has ever seen before, a place providing a collage of cultures focused within one single area.
Finally ordering, we were served four dishes: the Seafood Kimchi Pancake, Pork Belly with Khimchi, Fried Intestines, and a bottle of Jinro Chamsul Classic Soju. The slideshow below showcases the flavorful dishes we had that night.
Being Phillipino I instantly recognized the fried dish as Ukoy but in a different form of culture. Although the two dishes come in different textures, tastes, and ingredients, I’m a firm believer the two play off each other by the slight similarities they share. Strangely enough, I found some sort of comradery with my newly made foodie friend.
After digging in on the variety of plates in front of me, I took a break and surveyed the table from a third-person perspective. Coming from all different facets of cultures, the unifying piece between us all from being strangers is the dishes at the forefront of our delight. Coming out of the dinner I felt this surprising relatedness with someone I had only known for a couple of hours. Seeing a dish so similar to something I ate as a kid lit a fire in my heart. Food is one of the few places we find similarities in our differences.
Sharing a meal here meant more than just piggybacking off a free meal as a broke college student, but a chance to deepen relationships and welcome strangers. It’s those times you’re chopping it up with your friends, eating street tacos in the middle of the night over a beer that create countless memories. Talking to Sam was an enlightening experience, never taking the question, “Wanna go grab some food?” for granted ever again. Though, I guess you could say this whole article is just food for thought.
If you’re reading this you’re most likely searching for Sam’s contacts to find those underground food spots to tell your date, “Yeah, I know a spot.” If that’s the case you can reach Sam @califoodventure on Instagram or click on this Linktr.ee to find all his social media. Ending the first official Commentary published by Middle Child in a Sam-esque manner, Okiee BYEEEEEEE.
Written 6 September 2023