In February, three Americans from Pittsburgh walked through the streets of Havana and rang the doorbell at the North Korean embassy.
Later this month, the co-founders of Conflict Kitchen and their head chef will find themselves close to North Korean soil again. Proprietors Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski, along with culinary director Robert Sayre, will speak and cook with South Korean natives and North Korean refugees during a week-long research trip to South Korea. Their efforts will debut a new menu in late October at the Schenley Plaza take-out restaurant, where they serve food from countries with which the United States is in conflict.
"We want to get a sense of what [the refugees'] life was, what their life is, what they're feeling on what's going on inside their country," Mr. Rubin, 49, of Point Breeze, said.
Their trip is funded by the Anyang Public Art Project in South Korea. They'll begin their research by conducting interviews with native Koreans -- and then they'll begin chopping ingredients.
"We're going to be renting an apartment with a kitchen in it and meeting with different North Koreans," Mr. Rubin said.
Although the Conflict Kitchen team will travel toward one of the most controversial countries in American foreign policy, the restaurant promises its dishes do not come with a side of political bias or foreign policy agenda.
"It's important to bring some attention to the day-to-day life of the people actually in North Korea," Mr. Sayre, 33, of Stanton Heights, said. "The only images we see of North Korea are of the leadership of North Korea ... but the reality is something we don't hear much about."
When Mr. Sayre and his colleagues rang the doorbell at the North Korean embassy in Havana, the diplomat that emerged was much different than the military man he expected.
Gone was the stiff uniform, traded for flip-flops and a tropical shirt. While the official's animosity toward Americans was noticeable, Mr. Sayre said, he reminded the Conflict Kitchen team that Korea was one country -- not two -- for much longer than it has been divided, and cuisine across both nations reflects that unity.
So the menu that will emerge from this trip will reflect cuisine from both countries, even though some dishes will reflect the small regional differences between the mountainous North and the warmer South.
Just as the team cooked with chefs in Havana while preparing the Cuban menu currently featured at the restaurant, Mr. Sayre will again work with Korean people to learn those different regional preferences and techniques.
"I'm excited to get the chance, like we did with Cuba, ??? to actually cook in the native country with cooks from that area," Mr. Sayre said.
This trip will also establish connections to help the Kitchen do deeper cultural projects as it has in the past, such as sharing a meal via phone with individuals in another country or writing a speech based on interviews with native people.
Megan Doyle; email@example.com or 412-263-1953.
This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/