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Authentic Italian Cuisuine in Yeonnam-dong, Seoul
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Tell us about yourself
Chef Ko:
Hello. I'm Donghwan Ko, the owner-chef of the Italian restaurant Lirico located in Mapo-gu, Seoul. I was taught by Chef Sang-Min Kim to learn Italian cuisine. Afterwards, I went to Italy and studied and researched local cuisine myself for 10 years.
Chef Ko with his fellow chefs at pizzeria. Courtesy Chef Ko
Tell us about Lirico
Chef Ko:
Lirico is a restaurant that stands for authentic Italian cuisine. All of the dishes are based on the Italian cuisine I learned from Chef Sangmin Kim. Plus, I strive to provide my guests with authentic local cuisine that I learned and felt in my own way back when I was in Italy. What I believe is important is giving the customers the “taste of Italy” by preparing dishes such as carbonara, amatriciana, and ossobuco in traditional way as much as possible. To enable this, I make guanciale, prosciutto, salsiccia, etc. myself as those are the main ingredients that play a vital role in making food taste great.
Chef Ko made fresh guanciale. Courtesy Chef Ko
You studied in Italy for 10 years? Could you tell us more about this?
Chef Ko:
At first, I started with only one thought that I wanted to simply go to Rome to taste authentic carbonara and other dishes, learn their know-how, and make really delicious pasta. However, when I arrived in Italy, there were diverse food, cultures, and individualities between cities, and it came as a surprise. It was so big of a culinary paradise with distinctive features that vary depending on regions that staying just in Rome and focusing on central cuisine in Italy was not going to be enough for me. I had to get out there, visit more places, experience more and broaden my perspective!
So, I decided to travel around Italy and study the characteristics, culture, and cuisine of each region. By living in various cities like Rome, Naples, Genoa, Bologna, Milan, Florence, and Sicily, I was able to do so. Now as I am back to Korea and running my own restaurant, I am unraveling what I have learned in Lirico one by one.
As you mentioned, culture, food, perspective, lifestyle, pretty everything about Italy is different from Korea. Could you share a memorable episode you had in Italy?
Chef Ko:
One of the most impressive things about living in Italy was that they take great pride in their local cuisine. I was surprised and somewhat envious of the fact that, due to the history and geography of the region, the ingredients representing each region were produced locally, and that the special products were used to create world-class regional dishes.

A great example would be Neapolitan Pizza. Margherita made with piennolo tomatoes grown in Naples' volcanic Vesuvius was so good I still think about it from time to time.
After 10 years in Italy, you came back to Seoul and opened your own restaurant, Lirico. Are there any particular reasons to this?
Chef Ko:
I would have to say, COVID-19. I had plans for more exciting journeys to small towns in the South to try their food and culture but was not able to do so due to the pandemic.
As soon as I returned to Korea, I prepared to open a restaurant. While I was contemplating whether to open either a restaurant or a pizzeria, I decided to go for the former one as I thought that there might be restrictions on the cooking method or ingredients when running a pizzeria.
Overall, looking back now, it was a great choice. However, as I also had passion for pizzas and my greed for pizzeria was still there, so about a year and a half after opening Lirico, with the help of one of its royal customers, I was able to open an authentic Roman pizzeria called “Pinsaro” in Hyang-dong, Deokyang-gu, Goyang-si. Currently, “Pinsaro” is also in business with great success.
Inside of Lirico, beautifully decorated with plants and furnitures. Courtesy Chef Ko
What is the most fun you have had running Lirico?
Chef Ko:
There was a time when customers who came just in time for opening enjoyed the food and wine and stayed until the closing time. What was special about them is that I got to be friends with them and enjoy a glass of wine together. Maintaining a decent relationship with customers is very important to me. Even now, they are Lirico’s regulars that visit at least once a week. I also remember that Chef Sangmin Kim, I mentioned earlier secretly made a reservation under his wife's name and paid a surprise visit. The chef I respect the most, and the person I personally think is the best pasta cook in Korea, came to eat my pasta!
If you were to recommend one menu item to the readers, what would it be?
Chef Ko:
The menu I put most of my heart into is carbonara. In order to accurately reproduce the taste of what I had in Rome, I use guanciale (salted ham made from pork cheeks) which I made myself and cook in a traditional Italian way. Pecorino cheese and Porcini, known as high-end ingredients in Italy and France, are also added to the dish compliments the carbonara with our own unique taste and aroma. If I were to recommend one more menu besides carbonara, the ‘Napolitan Ragu Paccheri’ seems suitable. What Lirico provides is somewhat different as the ragu is cooked in a Neapolitan style, rather than the Bologna-style ragu sauce customers are familiar with.
The Bologna style is characterized by minced meat and vegetables, while the Napolitan style has beef and pork bones, Italian sausage salsicha, and tomato sauce simmered with basil. When cooking Napolitan-styled ragu it takes more than 5 hours to boil, and this makes it fragrant with a deep taste like beef bone.
Lirico's carbonara. Courtesy Chef Ko
Lirico offers not only food, but also a variety of alcoholic beverages, such as spritzes and the signature Venetian cocktail Bellini. Could you please explain more about this?
Chef Ko:
Alongside the authentic Italian cuisine, I figured alcoholic beverages should also be somethings that are beloved in Italy and go well with its cuisine. Therefore, Lirico only provides products made in Italy, not only for Spritz, Campari, and Bellini, but also for beer and wine.
Before we wrap up the interview, would you like to say anything to your future customers and ECCK Connect readers?
Chef Ko:
Lirico is relatively new, and still has a lot to learn as it is in the process of being complete. But I am confident what is offered here in Lirico is prepared with honesty and traditional methods that bring the true Italy to customers. If you every get to hang out in Hongdae or somewhere near it, don't forget to visit Lirico. Please take care of yourselves amid this COVID-19 pandemic and hope you have a great rest of the year!
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