It seems all the new French restaurants in Korea are hidden in alleys or side streets that make them overlooked by the majority of pedestrians, and Dal Mi Cocco is no exception. With a name meaning at my friend’s place in Italian, though, this is a friend indeed to anyone who finds it. It offers decent portions of salads, pasta, pizza, desserts and French dishes for medium prices, all handmade by the chef-proprietress, Yoon Jiae.
One of the new breed of Korean chefs who trained and worked in Europe, Jiae was born and raised in Gwangju, capital of Jeollanam-do, where as a youngster she came to love pizza and pasta. Instead of going to university like most Koreans, Jiae made the highly unusual move of spending five years at E. Maggia, the Italian national cooking school, located in the city of Stresa, near Milan. She found studying cooking and restaurant management too difficult at first because she struggled to learn Italian and often felt homesick with so few Koreans around. She was learning what interested her, however, and her enjoyment of the studies enabled her to finally become fluent and earn the diplomas that hang on her restaurant’s wall.
After graduating E. Maggia in 2009, Jiae sent her CV to the Saveurs de Flora restaurant on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, where she was a trainee for six months. She then spent another six months at a good restaurant in Orleans before being hired by the famous chef Dominique Boucher. She was with him six months as well. At these places, she perfected her French language and cooking skills. Overall, she says, Europe was a great experience.
Back in Gwangju on vacation in 2006, Jiae met an Alliance Francaise teacher named Guillaume Trotignon at a party thrown by his organization. They were married in 2010 when he got a job as a professor on PNU’s French Department. Besides her on-the-job training in France, Jiae learned much one-on-one from her mother-in-law, who taught her traditional French cooking secrets to make her food more natural and flavorful. This has made a special bond grow between them. Thus, Dal Mi Cocco was opened in August of 2012, and Guillaume, a Loire Valley native, is often found there helping Jiae run it. On the side, she teaches cooking classes at Centum City.
Jiae’s love of both France and Italy is apparent from her menu, which is available in English as well as Korean. A Nicoise salad that is almost a meal in itself costs only 9,000 won, and the Capri salad is 11,000. Jiae’s pizzas are small and oval with thin crusts, totally different from commercial pizzas in this country. The most unusual is the rosmarino, which is made with rosemary, although several other remarkable kinds are available for 9-13,000 won. Among the pastas, the olive nere at 13,000 won stands out for its rare black olive pesto flavor. The four French dishes are couscous, chicken with orange sauce, salmon and finally choucroute, the Alsatian mixture of cabbage, potatoes, bacon and sausage; they range from 12-18,000 won. Standard desserts like crÃ¨me brulee and panna cotta are 4,500 or 5,000 won. A small list of French and Italian wines is available, with most bottles for under 40,000 won. Jiae welcomes each guest with a cup of homestyle soup.
What really makes Dal Mi Cocco unique in PNU are its custom multi-course French feasts, which are available on demand to anyone giving Jiae time to prepare them. Diners can request dishes not on the regular menu, such as quiche, tartiflette, coq au vin, hachis-parmentier, etc. Dal Mi Cocco is also available for special events such as birthday parties, celebrations for people newly arrived to Korea or departing from it, or any other occasion.
Besides the food, Dal Mi Cocco’s charmingly simple décor makes a meal there enjoyable. There is ample natural light from the windows illuminating the bright white walls with yellow trim, and these are decorated with vintage travel posters and advertisements. French café songs provide musical accompaniment. Despite its obscure location, Dal Mi Cocco is popular with people in the know, and has become a successful business in a short time. It is worth checking out for anyone going to the PNU area.
Yoon Jiae’s mobile number is 010-3352-7545. Dal Mi Cocco’s address is 2F 419-24 Jangjeon-dong, and its hours are 1130-1500/1700-2130 Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday. Information in Korean is at blog.naver.com/dalmicocco. Take line 1 to PNU station, go out exit 3 and head to the one-way street before PNU’s main gate. Cross to the corner and turn left, then go south 30 meters to the alley by Drop Top Café. Turn right into the alley, and Dal Mi Cocco is ahead less than 10 meters on the right.