PORTLAND – A delegation of Korean seafood buyers came to the Food Innovation Center in Portland last week on a mission: to taste Oregon seafood products and other specialties made by Oregon State University chef Wayne Philen.
Philen served specially prepared dishes he developed for Korea's fast food corporations using premier Oregon salmon, shrimp and crab. The Korean visitors liked what they tasted and have returned home to consult with their country's fast food industry, said John Kratochvil, trade developer with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
"There were four major corporations from Seoul here, sampling products using Oregon seafood," Philen said. "There are 47 million people in Korea, in an area half the size of Oregon, so that's a big market for Oregon products."
Kratochvil said he expects the Korean delegation to "get back to the Food Innovation Center soon to work out final formulations of products using Oregon seafood."
Eventually, the Food Innovation Center hopes to develop and sell the rights to the final formulations for Korean products to Oregon food processors, who in turn will make the products in Oregon using Oregon seafood bound for Korea, said Kratochvil.
The Oregon-Korea connection began this past summer when Philen and Oregon Department of Agriculture officials traveled to Korea to showcase Oregon food to potential Asian clients. From crab and shrimp-stuffed petroli sole to hazelnut marinara, Philen combined Oregon's finest – including Dungeness crab, sardines, berries, and pears – with flavors of the region to create innovative "Seoul" food.
Philen's cuisine and Oregon seafood impressed Korea's top chefs, hotel managers, food writers and restaurateurs tremendously. His cuisine provided the impetus for the Korean delegation's visit to Portland last week, where he prepared seafood patties and stuffed potatoes made with the Oregon seafood products.
Philen stresses that his trip and the Koreans' trip to Oregon last week provided him with great insight in being able to create foods that reflect Korean's taste preferences and lifestyles. Unlike many Americans' super-sized burger-and-fries meal, Korea's answer to fast food is cold noodle soup. He must take that – as well as local flavors and spices – into account when creating potential products.
"Flavors define a culture," Philen said. "It's very important to travel to countries in order to see how items are flavored and prepared, so that you can develop products that fit into their cuisine."
Pacific Rim countries, including Korea, are prime markets for Oregon's products for several reasons. Consummate seafood connoisseurs, their demand for seafood currently outstrips the production capability in Korea.
Koreans have a similar environmental ethic as Oregonians and are interested in healthy, organic and sustainably produced foods. The culinary arts are extremely important in the region. Therefore, it's not surprising that Oregon's premium seafood tops their list of imports.
The opportunities are not only overseas, stressed Philen. Any food service group or manufacturer, large or small, can contact him with their needs.
"Many restaurant groups are not large enough for their own research and development chef," Philen said. "That's where the Food Innovation Center comes in. We're doing all we can to increase the value of Oregon's agricultural and seafood products and create jobs."
Philen has been creating novel items for two decades and sees it as his way to support local farmers while helping to grow Oregon's economy. The Portland-based Food Innovation Center is a research partnership between Oregon State University's Agricultural Experiment Station and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.