Immortal Classic had been in my Netflix “Recommended for You” section for a very long time, but I never really looked at it carefully. I put it on a whim, firmly intending to just watch the first episode to pass time and then never touch it again. But somehow, the first episode intrigued me, and the rest is history.
On its synopsis, Immortal Classic is described as a cooking competition between two culinary families over the position of best chef. However, I think that description is inaccurate. There is a cooking competition in the show, but it only really begins/ appears in the latter half of the show. Its mentioned in the background beginning quite early, but there’s only about 4-5 episodes out of 20 actually devoted to the competition. Furthermore, the cooking competition isn’t really between two culinary families. It does involves two culinary families, but the actual competition is between two cooks and one of them is not from a highly respected culinary family. If anything I’d describe this more as a drama with a culinary background. The main plotline of the show revolves about family drama/ romance but there’s quite a bit of focus on food.
The show mainly revolves around the Kim family. Basically, the Kim family has been around for generations and are in possession of a special cooking book, the Yoogyeong book — which contains secret recipes of various Kimchee and other dishes. The recipe book is special because it is said to have originated from the Joseon era — its recipes were used to treat the kings. The book is only passed down to the eldest daughter-in-law of the family, who is also tasked with filling the book with more recipes. It’s a secret because the Kim family refuses to release the recipes but does deliver/cater for events — hence people have tasted its recipes. When the show begins, we are introduced to the current holder of the book — Park Gye-Hyang (played by Go Doo-Shim), who was also formerly the eldest daughter-in-law of the family. However, she has her own story as well. Turns out, that when she married into the family, she was actually a single mother with a 1 yr old child. However, her mother-in-law (of the Kim family), refused to accept her as a daughter-in-law unless Gye-Hyang was willing to abandon her baby girl to be raised as an orphan in the same house. In other words, Gye-Hyang’s daughter would be raised as a servant/ orphan in the Kim household. Already pregnant with her husband, the Kim family heir’s child, Gye-Hyang reluctantly agrees and is bequeathed the Yoogyeong recipe book.
Over the years, her orphaned daughter, renamed Kang San-Hee, her Kim family son, Kim Hyun-Myung, and Hyun-Myung’s betrothed, a young girl named Choi Jin-Mi all grow up and live together at the Kim family home. Gye-Hyang, her husband and Hyun-Myung all adore San-Hee. However, Gye-Hyang’s mother-in-law and Jin-Mi abhor her — as a result, the mother-in-law treats San-Hee horribly — she bullies and abuses her. One day, Gye-Hyang’s husband falls ill after eating food apparently prepared by San-Hee and dies. Taking advantage of this fact, the mother-in-law endeavours to kick San-Hee out of the family home. While leaving the Kim family home, San-Hee also finds out the truth of Gye-Hyang being her biological mother. Not wanting her mother’s reputation to be affected, San-Hee resolves to leave and never come back to the Kim house. In order to aid San-Hee, Gye-Hyang gives her a book containing notes on the recipes in the Yoogyeong book. Meanwhile, the mother-in-law figures out that it was actually Jin-Mi who caused Hyun-Myung’s dad’s death, due to her jealously over how much they loved San-Hee, and changes her behaviour toward Jin-Mi. Formerly loving towards Jin-Mi, the mother-in-law begins treating her like San-Hee and goes behind Jin-Hi’s back to fix Hyun-Myung’s marriage with another woman — Jin-Mi and Hyun-Myung had been betrothed since they were 7 years old. When Jin-Mi finds out, she angrily leaves the Kim household as well –swearing revenge on them one day.
Years pass and everyone moves on. It turns out, that San-Hee (played by Im Ye-Jin as an adult) married a man named Hwang Young-Chul (played by Baek Yoon-Shik) and had a son, Hwang Geum-Ho (played by Shin Seung-Hwan) and daughter, Hwang Geum-Hee (played by Park Sun-Young). It turns out that Young-Chul is also descended from a culinary family — just not one as rich and reputable as the Kim family. Young Chul comes from a restaurant family known for their seolleongtang soup (bone broth soup). Hence, the Hwang family forms the second culinary family mentioned in the synopsis — while the Kim family forms the first one. Their restaurant goes back three generations and with San-Hee’s fantastic culinary skills and notes from the Yoogyeong book, the restaurant flourishes further. However, in order to protect her mother, San-Hee changed her name and now goes by Kim Mi-Ok. Only her husband knows her secret. Her daughter, Geum-Hee is actually the main character in the show. Geum-Hee is incredibly independent, unique and easy-going. She doesn’t know or care much about fashion, having a boyfriend, or anything. Her biggest passion is food — eating good food, cooking/knowing about healing food, and treating people using such food. Although not the best cook, she has a fantastic palate and can pick out even the smallest of ingredients in a dish. When the show begins, Geum-Hee is an eastern medicine doctor — specializing in acupuncture and healing food. Geum-Hee is one of the cooks who participates in the cooking competition — the one from a culinary background.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Hyun-Myung (played by Choi Jong-Hwan as an adult) and his wife separated. He works as the director of his family hospital — Yoogyeong Foundation hospital, alongside his son — the sole heir to the Kim family, Kim Sung-Joon (played by Han Jae-Suk) who is a neurosurgeon. Also in the Kim family, is Oh Gun-Woo (played by Go Yun-Hoo). Gun-woo was a poor friend of Sung-Joon’s. Seeing his family’s bad state and feeling bad for him, Sung-Joon convinced his family to adopt Gun-Woo as a son — so Gun-woo would have access to the same resources as Sung-Joon. While Hyun-Myung obliged and adopted Gun-woo, he never saw him in the same league as Sung-Joon. In other words, Hyun-Myung raised Gun-Woo, but was always hyper aware that Sung-Joon was his real son. Anyways, it turns out that Gun-woo is also an eastern medicine doctor and was actually class-mates and best friends with Geum-Hee. He’s had a crush on her for over 10 years but has been unable to confess to her.
In terms of Sung-Joon’s romantic life, he was in a relationship for 5 years with Seo Young-Joo (played by Honey Lee). Young-Joo is an academic in food and nutrition — holding an PhD and also owning her own kimchee producing factory. However, she only works at the factory, Chansol Foods, even though its owned by her father — the extremely rich but tacky Mr. Seo (played by Kim Byung-Gi). The director of Chansol Foods is actually Jin-Mi (played by Kim Sun-Kyung as an adult). It turns out that after leaving the Kim House, Jin-Mi met and befriended Young-Joo’s mother and gave Young-Joo cooking classes. Eventually over time, Chansol Foods was formed, with Jin-Mi being director and Young-Joo working there as a scientist. Going back to Young-Joo’s story, wanting his daughter to be married into a better, richer family, Mr. Seo fixes up Young-Joo’s marriage with another family. Young-Joo goes along with her father and brutally breaks up with Sung-Joon. However, Young-Joo’s marriage plans fall apart. Heartbroken but also still in love with Sung-Joon, his family’s prestige and their cooking book — Young-Joo is a chef who loves cooking– she goes back to try and rekindle her relationship with him. However, still heart-broken over their breakup, Sung-Joon refuses to get back with her. Young-Joo is actually one of the cooks who participates in the cooking competition — the one not from a culinary family.
Coming back to Jin-Mi, still as greedy as ever, Jin-Mi has two goals she wants to succeed in: (1) to marry Hyun-Myung like she was supposed to and get the Yoogyeong recipe book (2) have her company win a bidding war to have their kimchee be exported abroad. Speaking of which, Kimchee plays a large, and I mean LARGE role in this drama. There’s a lot of kimchee facts dispersed into the show, many segments devoted to showing how to prepare kimchee, discussion on the different types of kimchees and their various specific uses, and gratuitous shots of kimchee being prepared. It plays a central role in the show — in fact, the cooking competition is decided by kimchee — who has the better kimchee. Coming to the cooking competition, the competition is actually over the Yoogyeong recipe book. As mentioned, it was traditionally passed down through the eldest daughter-in-law of the family. However, as Hyun-Myung’s wife left him and as Sung-Joon is single, Gye-Hyang becomes concerned about the book’s future ownership — especially after she finds out that she has pancreatic cancer. Not wanting the book to die with her, she decides to hold a competition to find the next owner of the recipe book. Whoever wins the competition, win the cooking book.
Young-joo endeavours to participate in the competition because a) as a lover of cooking, she wants to see the Yoogyeong book and b) she hopes that she can rekindle her relationship with Sung-Joon. Geum-Hee, on the other hand, decides to participate for a number of reasons. It turns out that Geum-Hee is not the biological daughter of the Hwang family – she was adopted as an infant. Her parents were two strangers who loved cooking. Furthermore, Young-Chul gets diagnosed with a brain tumour and ultimately ends up succumbing to it. Devastated by the loss of her father, Geum-Hee also loses faith in her ability to heal people using eastern medicine/healing food and questions her career as a doctor. Additionally, she gets fired/leaves her doctor position after her brother makes a big fuss in her employer’s hospital over her father’s death. Finally, a big fan of Gye-Hyang and still a food lover, Geum-Hee is also very interested in seeing the insides of the Yogyeong cookbook. All these life events, that happen over the course of the drama, intersect and cause her to enter the competition.
That’s just the big background summary. There’s still a number of things that happen in the drama. For now, I’ll just discuss some things I liked/disliked about the show.
Firstly, I actually really like Geum-Hee as a character. She was super easy to root for. Kind, family-oriented, responsible, and happy go lucky, Geum-Hee is one of the most refreshing leads I’ve seen on television. She doesn’t have many friends, aside from Gun-Woo, but doesn’t care because her family is her world. She’s not the most fashionable person, but doesn’t care because she wears what she likes — although to be clear, her fashion sense isn’t that bad, just weird sometimes. She loves all types of food and is incredibly knowledgable about it as well. However, she’s also not afraid to show off her knowledge and takes pride in healing her patients. Maybe my k-drama history is lacking, but I just really liked her character. She was just so cute and great. I think my like of her also has to do with Park Sun-Young who played her. Sun-Young has such a sweet and innocent face, and her smile just lights it up. Geum-Hee was also smiley a lot of the time and I think it warmed me up to her instantly.
Speaking of her, I also liked the chemistry between Sun-Young and Han Jae-Suk as Geum-Hee and Sung-Joon. While the two were no doubt helped by the way their relationship formed over the course of the drama, I think the two actors had really good chemistry too. They looked really good together and it was super easy to support their relationship, which seemingly formed very organically. Geum-Hee and Sung-Joon met while hiking, she rescued and treated him, she got hired in the hospital owned by his family, she lowkey saved his career by helping a patient of his, the two worked together on a patient, and just kept on meeting by chance — whether on dates with other people, family celebrations, or even at work. Over time they grew fond of each other and it evolved into a relationship – that faced quite a bit of resistance from others, but never deterred them. If anything, I’d argue that the show could’ve done with more scenes of their relationship too. They were just that enjoyable to watch.
Similarly, I also liked the father-daughter relationships depicted in the show between Geum-Hee and Young-Chul and Young-Joo and Mr. Seo. Geum-Hee was a complete daddy’s girl — actually, it was his hiking trip she was accompanying him on where Sung-Joon first met them. Young-Chul was incredibly supportive of all of Geum-Hee’s choices too and she equally adored him. In fact, he also lowkey predicted Geum-Hee and Sung-Joon’s relationship from the beginning and attempted to assist them in his own way by revealing Geum-Hee’s parentage truth to her. Similarly, the relationship with Young-Joo and Mr. Seo was fantastic too. Despite being rich, Mr. Seo was looked down by most people due to his tacky nature — i.e. using his money to get anything done. However, Young-Joo never once acknowledged or even addressed the criticism against him. Instead, she supported her father in whatever he said — even helping him when necessary. For example, while not a fan of Jin-Mi, she knew her father liked her so she attempted to stop Jin-Mi from starting a relationship with Hyun-Myung. And the affection between the two was also mutual — Mr. Seo also doted on Young-Joo. While he openly disliked Sung-Joon and the Kim family too, he tolerated them for her and even tried to get their marriage fixed. Likewise, he 100% supported his daughter’s love of cooking and encouraged her. Seeing the two relationships were really wonderful.
Additionally, I also actually ended up liking Young-Joo’s character. When she was first introduced, Young-Joo came across as very unlikeable. In fact, her first scene is her slapping Geum-Hee when Geum-Hee bumps into her and causes her to drop her stuff. That literally tells you all you need to know about her character. However, as the show develops, her character grows too. She is petty and malicious about trying to get back Sung-Joon — to the point of almost bankrupting his family hospital. But even then, she sort of maintains a sense of decency. For example, she never touches Geum-Hee’s family’s restaurant or anything. And while she starts out as clever (she tries to woo back Sung-Joon by wooing his family, i.e. father/grandmother to love her), you realize that she’s not completely evil in her intentions. Like for example, she genuinely does love cooking and wants the Yoogyeong book for its recipe purposes — its not just for Sung-Joon she does it. Furthermore, when Gun-Woo is homeless, she willingly houses him for a while. Finally, when she realizes the depth of Sung-Joon and Geum-Hee’s feelings for each other and relationship, she does back out and stops pursuing Sung-Joon. Okay, reading what I’ve written, she doesn’t sound like the best character. But trust me, she’s actually lowkey pleasant to watch.
I think another reason she appears so great to me, is because the show sort-of contrasts her with Jin-Mi. Jin-Mi is almost basically evil to the T. For example, in order to win the Kimchee exporting abroad contract, she conspires to steal San-Hee’s kimchee from the Hwang restaurant (San-Hee is a fantastic cook and uses the Yoogyeong technique through the book Gye-Hyang gave her when departing — Jin-Mi never even got a look at it so she doesn’t know it and can’t make such delicious kimchee). When Jin-Mi is caught stealing, she still doesn’t let go and conspires to ruin the restaurant by spreading false rumours about it. Going back to Young-Joo, when she finds out about the stealing and rumours, she abruptly fires Jin-Mi and rebukes her. In fact, she also states that she’d never do something that terrible and wants to run her factory honestly. The comparison is also furthered by the fact that Jin-Mi decides to ruin the Kim family because of her marriage cancellation, while Young-Joo ends up abandoning her same idea because she realizes she’s in the wrong. In comparison, Young-Joo comes across as a lot better and is a better character.
Other great things: Young-Chul’s character in generally was so pleasant and sweet to watch, and the relationship between Young-Chul and San-Hee/ Mi-Ok was absolutely adorable. The acting was pretty solid for the most part, Go Doo-Shim was incredibly engaging on screen and super believable as an old lady. The small depictions of love and affection between family members – i.e. Gye-Hyang and her son+grandson, Geum-Hee with her family, the Hwang family + restaurant staff, etc. were super cute to witness.
That said, there was also a number of things I didn’t like about the drama. Firstly, I really disliked the ending — it was just too weird and unsatisfactory. The show ends with the various chefs distributing Yoogyeong recipe foods to various countries like France. Literally, that’s end. There’s no mention of Gye-Hyang’s cancer, no real closure on the family relationship/dynamic changes with San-Hee’s coming back, no wedding or final relationship scene between Geum-Hee and Sung-Joon. It was the weirdest ending ever. I was actually quite peeved. Some resolution would be nice. Speaking of which, I mentioned this earlier too, but the show could’ve done with more scenes between the leads — Geum-Hee and Sung-Joon. While their initial meet-cute and relationship beginnings were shown really well, it was lacking when it came to how the two would function as a couple. In other words, I would’ve liked to see more scenes of them together as a couple. There was more scenes of them as friends/ turning into a couple than there were of them actually being a couple. I just think it would’ve been nicer. I mean, the implication is that they got married, but there’s literally no mention of this or anything in the show. It just ends.
Another thing I disliked was the story-line, it wasn’t very consistent. Sometimes I felt like the drama couldn’t make up its mind — whether it wanted to be a culinary drama or a drama with a culinary feel. The distinction between the two is this: in the former, the culinary forms the crux of the story and the drama revolves around it, whereas in the latter, the drama is the crux of the story while the culinary remains a strong factor. At first I thought the show was a culinary drama because there was a huge emphasis on food — there were literally scenes devoted to talking about certain food combinations helping with health and cooking demonstrations. However, as the show went on, the culinary features got dispersed between the drama. For example, we got a scene of Gye-Hyang teaching a family how to make kimchee properly. While the family did end up playing a role, the cooking lesson was also so random? I feel like the show sort of lost its culinary crux as the show went on, but then ended as if culinary was the crux. In other words, it started out as a show about food with drama around it, then switched to a drama with food in the background, but then attempted to end/bring back the culinary focus and ended as if the food was the main point at all. I think maybe that’s why I found the ending so unsatisfactory too. In terms of the Yoogyeong/ food focus, it’s an okay end — it shows the book recipes being distributed. But in terms of the family drama, nothing is shown.
Speaking of which, I also really hated some characters/ storylines. Firstly, I HATED Geum-Ho so much. He was actually the worst character I’ve seen on tv in a while. Geum-Ho was a literal man-child who always saw himself as the victim and refused to ever realize his fault/mistakes. I found him INFURIATING. In my opinion, some of the shit he did was unredeemable, and yet, the show had his family forgiving him. Like WTF? For example, Geum-Ho literally steals all the kimchee from his family’s restaurant to sell for himself on tv. As kimchee is a vital part of Korean cuisine and he stole all of it, his family restaurant actually had to shut down temporarily so new kimchee could be made. Like, he almost ruined the livelihood of his family. Yet he came back and claimed that he was the victim. Similarly, Young-Chul’s tumour is disclosed after he is hit on the head by some goons. But these goons come and fight at the restaurant because of Geum-Ho — he made deals with them and couldn’t pay them back. In fact, even Geum-Hee has to save his ass earlier from the goons. On top of that, when Young-Chul’s brain tumour is revealed, Geum-Ho has the audacity to blame Geum-Hee for her lacking of healing him. Similarly, when his father dies, he creates a ruckus at the hospital — blaming them for his father’s death in the hopes that he’ll receive a payment. His actions are what cause Geum-Hee to lose her job. Additionally, he has the audacity to try and give away his mother’s secret kimchee recipe to Jin-Hi for money — thereby again attempting to destroy the livelihood of his family. AND YET AGAIN, HIS FAMILY KEEP HIM. LIKE WTF. I honestly thought he was the most unlikable character I’ve seen in a long time. I was so annoyed when nothing happened to him. There was a dialogue or two about him having matured, but to be honest, I don’t think it was effective. Geum-Ho was a horrible character and nothing happened to him. I really hated him.
Similarly, I didn’t like the whole Gun-Woo vs. Sung-Joon over Geum-Hee thing either. Basically, after realizing that Geum-Hee is the girl Gun-Woo’s been crushing on for years, Sung-Joon reluctantly pursues her anyway, after confirming that she doesn’t like Gun-Woo romantically. Furthermore, Gun-Woo even asks Geum-Hee out but she refuses. Gun-Woo is obviously hurt and feeling betrayed. He goes to Young-Joo and the two decide to destroy Yoogyeong Foundation hospital. Okay actually no, Gun-Woo’s actions sort of made sense. But at the same time, I just, didn’t like it? In essence, he basically made false incriminating statements about the hospital to some prosecutor which caused all the hospital investors to pull out, right when time to pay back bank loans arrived. As a result, the hospital was facing closure. In Gun-Woo’s defence, he only acted that way because a) he felt betrayed that Sung-Joon knowingly stole his girl (even though technically she was never his to begin with because she didn’t like him that way) and b) his feelings where hurt when he realized that Hyun-Myung didn’t see him as family (he overheard Hyun-Myung state that he only adopted Gun-Woo because of his loyalty to Sung-Joon and would never see him in the same way he saw Sung-Joon). So while it sort of made sense, it also didn’t make sense? But the conflict also didn’t necessarily pan out this way. Instead, it was made into a brother conflict where Sung-Joon believed in Gun-Woo and never gave up on him? Everyone kept on hating on Gun-Woo, but he was hiding in Young-Joo’s house so nothing really happened to him. All the while, Sung-Joon would silently be saying that he believed in Gun-Woo and Gun-Woo would do the right thing in the end and take back his false incriminating statement. It was just such a weird spin. I can see where the writers of the show were trying to go with this track — by redeeming Sung-Joon for taking Gun-Woo’s love — but at the same time, it didn’t make sense? Honestly, I just thought it was unnecessary and the show could’ve done without it.
But all in all, it was an entertaining drama, despite its predictable spins and overtures.
My rating: watch it to learn some kimchee facts and witness some cute relationship (family/love) scenes, but also be prepared to feel unsatisfied with the ending.