Director Kim Gumok of Kim Gumok’s Cooking School
My motto is ‘to hold my course until the end’
“I’m turning 63 years old this year. At first I was planning to run the academy until I was 50. Then one day, some students found out that I am a North Korean refugee, and said, “We had no idea we’d learn cooking from someone from North Korea. It makes us wonder what we’ve done up until now,” and really encouraged me. I think the pride I felt then kept me going and I forgot about the 50-years-old age cap.”
Kim Gumok came to South Korea in 2010. She made use of the 30-years’ experience she had cooking for her family and acquired a certificate from a cooking school. From then, she worked as an instructor at a cooking school for 2 years and opened up the Kim Gumok Cooking School in Cheongju, Chungcheongbuk Province in 2014.
We met up with the passionate Director Kim there again, where we had first met her 7 years ago. Stepping into the 3rd floor hallway, you can hear the sounds of the class and students’ laughter echoing through. There have been a lot of students who have graduated from the cooking school, and she shared that she often comes across her disciples throughout daily life at parks, movie theaters, etc., as they call out to her saying “Director”.
Never ceasing to learn
“I can tell that the knowledge that’s being piled up in my brain nowadays is a definite part of change. Classes are repeated everyday but there are parts that are a bit lacking. I research for new cooking methods by looking up information online and watching cooking shows at home. Since I never cease to learn and teach, the students’ ability to focus increases and I’m also earning high levels of trust and respect.”
Even Director Kim, who seems so warm and trustworthy at first impression, had her share of difficulties. During the long COVID-19 pandemic, she had to watch idly by at her empty classrooms. “The number of enrolled students decreased but the rent stayed the same so it was difficult, but I couldn’t turn away the few students who did show up. I saved on labor cost by teaching classes myself and used that money for rent.”
Director Kim was able to run the cooking school by herself, as she was a craftsman cook with a license for Korean food, Western food, Chinese food, Japanese food, and blowfish cuisine. While running the school, she made video lectures for disabled people on how to cook, and even sent packages of ingredients to them. Recently, things have been returning to pre-pandemic days. She teaches certification courses and also supports her students in getting employed by cooperating with related organizations.
Volunteering for North Korean refugees is the way to repay her home country
Director Kim is the President of ‘Chungbuk New Life People’s Association’, a corporation of North Korean refugees in Chungcheongbuk Province. There are about 840 North Korean refugee members. “The motivation for starting the group wasn’t grand. When you first settle in Korea, you can’t tell what is what. Our role is to be of at least a little help to North Korean refugees in the initial stage of settling down. I think that once your life settles down and becomes more stable, you have more ability to volunteer.”
Her life helping North Korean refugees around her to settle is a way for her to repay her home country, which accepted her as a South Korean citizen. Director Kim’s passionate life shows that even though she’s over 50, age is just a number.