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Team Cook: A Korean Food Cart’s Fresh Take On Social Welfare

Insanely delicious Korean street food joint Team Cook just opened up at The GrEEK Campus. We squeezed through the long lines to chat to its founder Jay who spoke to us about experimenting with flavors whilst contributing to social welfare...

It was as of March 3rd that Jay, Chef Yang, and Shin embarked on the potentially challenging adventure of introducing Korean food to the lucky people of The GrEEK Campus. A small red stand located between the few food carts aligned along the side of the campus, Team Cook draws passersby with the fresh scents of its novel cuisine and stops them when they glance at the outlined menu’s incredibly affordable prices. But don’t let the ingredients cut freshly in front of you, the fusion of smells in the air, or the efficiency of the chefs, fool you into thinking that this is just another food stand, satisfying your stomach’s cravings with a rarely-enjoyed cuisine here in Cairo. Team Cook actually goes well beyond this simple ‘goal’ that most food service providers have.

Jay, one of the members of Team Cook, first came to Cairo several years ago as a volunteer, teaching Egyptian students computer skills in public schools. After acquiring a Bachelor’s degree from Korea in Telecommunications and Information Engineering, travelling around the Middle East, and completing his Master’s degree in International Development at the AUC, Jay was determined to embrace his passion for social welfare issues by pulling together this blossoming project.While in Cairo, Jay was planning on joining the UNDP office, and though he was interested in the organisation’s work, he realised that he loved being very active in his surroundings and that he never wanted to compromise that by tying himself to an office desk job.

Being an enthusiastic researcher of Middle Eastern economies, genuinely drawn to social welfare issues, as well as having a strong background in telecommunication skills were components that drove Jay to open up the little Korean food cart in The GrEEK Campus.

Chatting with him over a bite of something deliciously Korean, Jay told us that he did not want to be confined in a small area in Korea, and that he was impressed with the vibrancy of the city when he first visited Egypt, and wished to interact with the people in the street. “I really wanted to get to know the theory of development instead of focusing on pure economic systems like the US or the UK. That’s why I came back to Cairo,’ he says, adding that he wanted to merge human development with technology. “I want to devote myself for the people. This is how the idea of the food cart model came about.”Chef Yang, who used to work in the Korean Embassy in Cairo as a chef, cooking for diplomats of the embassy, and before that as a chef in a Korean restaurant in Korea, was interested in Jay’s project and suggested The GrEEK Campus as a starting location. Jay liked the idea and went about the necessary procedures, which we all know are a little easier said than done. “It’s generally a little difficult obtaining business licenses and permits to open restaurants here in Cairo,” Jay tells us. “Obtaining those documents through The GrEEK Campus was easier, though, since the place is open to new ideas and encourages diversity.” Luckily, Shin, who’s responsible for the management of the cart, was able to complete the necessary procedures and get this cart rolling.

As a budding project, still experimenting with dishes and flavours, Jay mentioned that the team will soon be utilising social welfare concepts with food service through their small cart. “In the near future, we will be organising and distributing food vouchers to the blue collar, low-income workers here on campus, such as housekeepers and plumbers. In turn, by providing food, those workers will have enough energy to be more productive in their work.”

Clearly their social welfare approach to food service is not only applicable to blue collar workers, but to customers in general - a meal of rice and chicken for only 20 LE definitely sounds like a bargain. We’re not complaining in the least. Jay adds that Team Cook plans on introducing combo meals so that you can get more for cheaper. Why would the team at Team Cook do all of this? It’s because they don’t believe in pure profit. “It’s not about profit, but the two main philosophies of our project: enjoy your life with food, and sharing is caring.’’ Suppressing a warm laugh Jay mentioned that, if you don’t share food with friends and foreigners then it counts for nothing, concluding the thought by throwing his hands in air at such an obvious but often overlooked concept.

When asked about the difficulty of introducing such a novel cuisine to Cairo, Jay replied that, “yes, some people are not used to trying new food, but trying new food is having an open mind to other cultures and developing yourself as a person by developing your taste and palate.” For this reason, Team Cook would randomly distribute food to passersby in the few days before their opening, and strive to mix authentic Korean cuisine with familiar tastes that will not shock the Egyptian taste buds. “We also would rather introduce our food in closed spaces like campuses, as this would make it easier for people to get accustomed to our food,” Jay notes.

“We want you guys to share our food,” Jay concluded with joy. “It’s the best combination of development and sharing, which is what we are most interested in.” We don’t disagree, Jay, although we’re likely not the best example when it comes to sharing such invigorating cuisine.

 


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