KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

a landing site for quick, completely biased, and totally snarky korean drama reviews


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pasta (2010)

(Jan – Mar 2010)

who’s in it
Gong HyoJin (Guns & Talk - film)
Lee SunGyun (Coffee Prince, Triple)
Lee HaNee/Lee Honey as (Partner)
Alex (Clazziquai – singer)
Kim TaeHo (Hometown Legends)
No MinWoo
Hyun Woo (Dream)

what’s it about
La Sfera, il ristorante italiano, has lost its way under the disorganized leadership of an imported Italian chef, so they give the boot to the ruddy-cheeked foreigner (thankfully sparing us from any more of his bad acting) and replace him with the next best thing, a Korean chef that has been formally trained in Italy—a finicky purist when it comes to Italian cuisine. Cue Lee SunGyun, who is witty and charming—when out of the kitchen. In it, he’s a raging tyrant. Gong HyoJin plays the diligent and well-liked aspiring chef in that kitchen. She’s just been promoted to pasta assistant after quietly suffering in the role of the maknae kitchen assistant for three long years. When this new chef comes barging in with his Italian creds and disrupts her quaint and comfortable universe, she’s both challenged and frightened (and fired).

This universe also includes handsome Alex, who plays a genial and cucumber-cool businessman who enjoys eating at La Sfera, and especially enjoys baiting Gong HyoJin, and by baiting, of course, I mean quasi-flirting, even if she’s clueless to it.

Last, we have Honey Lee who plays best friend to Alex and a celebrity chef (think Barefoot Contessa meets Rachel Ray) who isn’t fulfilled in her life or career despite her successes…it’s the absence of the right man that’s bringing her down. She’s still desperately in love with our leading man Lee SunGyun, despite their nasty breakup during their formative culinary training years in Italy…the bad news for her? Well, it seems neither of these two equally desirable men are interested her pasta anymore.

20 episodes


wildcard factor
It’s a dueling war of wickedly handsome men—of the mature variety, not the just-out-of-puberty type. Now, there is nothing wrong with young and sweet dessert wines, but certainly never underestimate the value of a nicely aged one either. These two opposites strutted their stuff to convince you they were the real deal and the one to make a pasta assistant (and you) swoon into a plate.

On the one delicious hand, you had the dashing Prince Charming played by Alex (wonderfully, by the way), guaranteed to make any girl giggle in delight with one of his ‘I have a secret and I’m not telling you’ grins. On the other equivalently tasty hand, you had the gruff but charismatic Beast, minus all the fur, hair, and fang. Well, maybe a little fang, he did have a bit of a bite, this one. The Beast…er, the head chef, played by Lee SunGyun, technically got more screen time than Alex but both men sparkled like new stainless steel appliances in their assigned roles and it was a tough decision as to who came off more palatable, if I may employ a foodie descriptive. The easy answer would be Alex with his puppy dog smiles and all around twinkling demeanor, but the more complex appeal was definitely played by Lee SunGyun. Truthfully, I’d never cared for him or his character in Coffee Prince, but here, he was pretty darn sexy. Maybe jerks are just sexier in general? In a tv show context, of course. It gives them more room to grow. By the end, I didn’t even care how the whole thing ended as long as both Alex and Chef Lee SunGyun were happy.

first impressions
The poster is a good representation of the drama: simple, classy and clearly visible. Clearly visible, you ask? What does that even mean? Well, it’s very bright and up front about who the characters were, in terms of personality, and what kind of development was needed for each of them. The obvious comparisons can be made to Beethoven Virus (nasty genius coming in to shake things up, firing and hiring, firing and hiring) and The Grand Chef (preparation of haute cuisine, although Italian not French, nor upgraded Korean like in Grand), but after a couple of episodes it became very clear that Pasta was nothing like either of the shows I’ve just mentioned despite the passing similarities. It actually reminded me a lot of another show, but more on that later. Pasta wanted to stay a romantic comedy until the very end and it succeeds in staying relatively angst-free and light-hearted without much of a plot, but as a mollifying incentive for those bothered by the zipless storyline, Pasta provided instead some very well-developed and intriguing characters.

After the initial episodes, I couldn’t decide if Lee SunGyun was charming or too slick and scathing for my liking. He definitely sided heavily toward the arsehole scale at first, especially his distaste for women in the kitchen. On the other hand, it was more than obvious something else going on here than a mere sexist desire to keep women in their place, which ironically, in this case was out of the kitchen. This man had been burned and not just by olive oil.

I will also note, Lee SunGyun and Gong HyoJin had one of the cutest first encounters I’d ever seen in a drama. One metaphor down, a million to go!

From the very start, you’d be hard pressed to find anything specifically wrong with this show, although you may be tempted to interpret your lack of excited hysteria for this drama as boredom which may lead to some quick channel switching (you know, the kind of hysteria you may feel for, say, a show like You’re Beautiful). For me, I encouraged myself to focus on the appealing characters—Gong HyoJin’s quiet determination, Lee SunGyun’s witty but explosive menace interjected with his characteristic crooked smile, Alex’s silky smoothness (man oh man was this guy dreamy in this role), Honey Lee’s courage in trying to undo a past mistake and win her man’s love back, and of course, the fun and frivolous staff that worked at La Sfera. This show really hooked me at around episode 3 and I couldn’t wait to enjoy all the people in it and see what happened when they started opening up and enjoying one another!

gave up

snoozer moments
The story arc following three of the [most irritating] female chefs who were fired from La Sfera was a total bore, not only because they were whiny and tittering as all hell and deserved to be fired, but because the whole line of thought was pointless and interrupted the real action that was happening in the La Sfera kitchen. Every scene with them felt like intermission breaks to distract us during the setup of the next stage. Yawn.

Coincidentally, also annoying was the former president of La Sfera, who I admit was necessary to create some conflict but I really wanted to shove a sock in his mouth every time he opened it.

Way too much delicious pasta eating instead…way too much! Honey Lee’s Triple-Taste Ravioli looked mighty deeelicious, as did all that seafood fare. I love seafood! And the idea of a Ginseng Pasta definitely got me curious...

what didn’t work
Lee SunGyun recruited three capable underlings he’d mentored in Italy to join him in the disastrous kitchen and these darlings could create their own spin off—Boys Before Pasta anyone? The problem? We didnt get enough of them! Too much time was wasted on the fired unnies and the sneaky, sniveling ex-president (see snoozer moments above). I would have preferred those precious minutes redistributed and doled out to incorporate more Idol Chef storylines! Check these hunks out:

AND, on another note, the question must be begged, what up with the pickles? Pasta and…pickles!? That’s downright bizarre! That’s like kimchee on your pizza, it’s just wacky. Isn’t it? Imagine having your fettuccine alfredo…with a side of kosher dill. How absolutely... awesome? I suppose the Italians are accustomed to other cultures bastardizing their food, just look at us Americans and our lattes, this compulsive need of ours to pour milk into espresso all hours of the day. Heheh. Oh, but I do love my lattes, too. ^^ My espresso machine is my baby. With that said, now I desperately want to go to an Italian restaurant in Korea and try some sweetly pickled cucumbers with my creamy linguine! I think it might be really good, that crunchy texture with the slick pasta. And did anyone else catch the bottles of Tabasco sauce on La Sfera’s tables? Now I love the Tabasco sauce, I’m obsessed with the stuff, especially on scrambled eggs, but what in the world could you possibly sprinkle Tabasco sauce on at an Italian restaurant? The Korean tastebud’s proclivity for spicy things is formidable.

Also, this is a business criticism for La Sfera, but Head Chef Choi, maybe your huge restaurant needs more than one kitchen assistant! Poor maknae, who by the way, was played by Choi JaeHwan and he’s quite adorable in this drama (Choi JaeHwan also played an aspiring chef in Kim RaeWon’s kitchen in The Grand Chef)! And sorry, dear Alex, you may be the worst restaurant manager ever, good thing you’re a hottie.

what did
I liked the back story given for Gong HyoJin’s character and why she was so determined to cook Italian food. Her nuclear family consisting of her Chinese restaurant chef father and med student bro was very sweet—in that completely dysfunctional and hilarious and frustrating way. There were clearly some family issues going on and that’s a good thing because that made Gong HyoJin’s aspiring chef character all the more layered. Family is often a great obstacle for everyone, in love and in hate, and therefore always a great emotional center for lead characters.

I also thought the always-mobile dynamic between Lee SunGyun and Gong HyoJin was so satisfying to watch, from their initial attraction, to their dislike, to mutual respect, to love. I especially loved how our good-natured pasta assistant managed to rile up Mr. Head Chef and frustrate him so much that he often found his composure disintegrate, not unlike the way Go MiNam often frustrated Hwang TaeKyung and caused the tightly wound idol to resort to the most ludicrous antics to accommodate her existence in his world (yet another shameless You’re Beautiful reference). This isn’t a lie, sometimes there were scenes where I thought to myself, “If Hwang TaeKyung and Go MiNam grew up and became chefs, this is how they would behave, no doubt.” In the same train of thought, Alex easily translated into the poor Cactus Guy, as Jung YongHwa was the poor Towel Guy.

And the way Lee SunGyun finally confessed his love...he’s one cool cat. No girl wouldn’t melt at that kind of a gesture!

what made me want to gouge my eyes out
Sometimes the food metaphors would pop up in random scenes, including arguments between the characters and they went on and on and on....at first they were cute but the longer a particular similitude was overbaked (heh, sorry, could not resist), the more they started to sound rather nonsensical. There was a lot of beating around the cooking bush (sorry again). These moments weren’t horrible but they weren’t dialogue highlights either. Like I said, sometimes they were charming and effective, other times, it was a bit like the Energizer bunny that wouldn’t stop metaphoring.

what kept me going

Gong HyoJin and Lee SunGyun’s cuteness. They should have been boring but they weren’t, they were tremendously watchable.

 For me, the most confounding thing of all was Gong HyoJin because, honestly, I alternately liked and disliked her character. I had some mixed emotions regarding her portrayal of this young woman. I didn’t think she was exceptional here but she was just enough of an interesting lead to stay engaging and the right amount of stubborn yet passive to match well with both Alex and Lee SunGyun.She didn’t wow me but she was capable. She was almost there merely as a platform to allow both men to sparkle, which worked because the men did sparkle so brightly, but a part of me wanted more growth for her as well.

The good points of her character: with Alex, the customer who had teased her for three years, she matched wits easily, like old friends, equal friends. Their bantering was fun and her [dis]comfort with him was a nice counter against her shy and distressed demeanor around her bossy boss. I mean, aren’t we all like that in a way? Really sharp and quick-witted around some people but completely tongue-tied and useless around others? It revealed a great deal about her, a duality to her personality that kept her from being too boring. If she had been the same with both men, it may have been harder to like her, but through her interactions with these different personalities, we were able to get a more rounded picture of her and see both her weaknesses and her strengths. Especially in the beginning, if we weren’t able to see that other side of her, the sassy part of her when she was with Alex, she may have come off as too meek and mousy as she was often caught in the glare of hero worship with Lee SunGyun.

Other factors:
predictability I’m sure every single viewer knew how this would end but the show managed to keep it surprising and not completely formulaic
engrish There were spurts of English, which weren’t bad. The I-talian, I dunno, perhaps…it’s very likely they were doing bad things to the poor language but I couldn’t accurately assess since my familiarity with Italian ends at food and football (or soccer, if you live in North America). Seemed passable enough from a completely non-speaker’s point of view.
originality Just like prickly head Chef Choi HyunWook, this drama didn’t want to just earn respect by being overly saccharine or catering to the whims of its customers (viewers), but through merit and belief that quality would shine through in the end. From the first interaction between the two leads to the varying dramatic and comedic notes the drama hit throughout, I would have to say this was a thoroughly fresh drama. The situational comedy was creative and it was difficult to see what direction the drama was going to take from moment to moment, turn after turn.
eye-candy The Idol Chefs brought an extra oomph to the screen. Delicious men with delicious hair cooking delicious Italian fare in delicious sauces…I mean, wasn’t food meant to be prepared this way? Me thinks yes.
hair and fashion The Idol Chefs…[wipe drool from mouth]. Their hair and their fashion were puuuurfect. I had a major crush on Kim TaeHo the whole way through, who I considered the Leader of the Idol Chefs:

I was, however, very disappointed when we were so rudely denied his bare-chested goodness when we were allowed access to all the other Idol Chef abs during their squat punishment.

It wasn’t very nice of the Idol Chef hyung to be half-punished when all the others fully committed! I’m just sayin,’ is all. Here’s some close-ups of the other two Idol Chef members:

Oh yeah, also, it must be said, Lee SunGyun had awesome scarves.

is it worth trying to find?

total disdain factor

total enjoyment factor 
I really debated if this was really a 9 instead of a 10 but decided in the end it earned the full points. This is way higher than I would have ever expected to give Pasta when I first heard who was in it and what it was about, but as I’ve finally come to learn, kdramas still manage to surprise even the most jaded watcher. This did respectfully in the ratings but didn’t get much fan furor, but I think that’s unfortunate because it was really good. While this was airing live, I was watching Chuno instead (like everyone else) and enjoying the slave hunting bloodfest, completely caught up in the Chuno-frenzy…*whispering* but after finishing Pasta, I have to say this little number is the drama I enjoyed more and recommend more heartily. I think shows like this fly under the radar, but they are special and deserve the rock star manic viewership they hope for but never achieve. 

why this review is completely biased
I like it when characters have a profession and purpose beyond simply trying to find love. I like the romance, it’s often my favorite part like everyone else, but I especially love it when they are doing something else, too. It makes everything else all the more richer.

could a non-kdrama fan like this
Actually, it’s fairly content-interesting.

First and foremost, I was impressed by the dialogue which was downright witty at times.

Second, it kinda had a Gordon Ramsay flavor I liked, as in Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares not his Hell’s Kitchen series. In Kitchen Nightmares, he goes to on-the-brink-of-bankruptcy restaurants and pretty much bullies the owners to do better and serve better food, all for their own good. He also always stresses fresh ingredients and simplicity in the cuisine. It was a kick to see that side of the story in Pasta and despite the fact that the show did have a tendency to be heavy-handed with the symbolism (goldfish, crosswalks, cactus, Ginseng Pasta, etc), thankfully, it wasn’t too off-putting.

Overall, it was a mellow show, the kind of show that was all about the characters. You can enjoy this one while sipping on a glass of red and chuckling esoterically. Ok, maybe not so much the chuckling esoterically part. All I know is, I never once felt the need to put this one aside and take a break. I wanted to run-run-run to the end.

Let me do a quick overview of the other two main leads besides our chef and pasta assistant:

1) I liked former Miss Korea Honey Lee’s portrayal of the woman who was willing to do all she could to make right with the man she had once loved, even though it was obvious (to us, anyway) she was never going to get the guy. Forgiveness she was likely to attain, but time was not going to turn back for her feelings. But you had to give her credit, she was going to go down swinging. She was perhaps one of the most complicated and better developed second leads ever. She wasn’t really in the show to mess with the main couple but to follow her own story thread, to come to terms with her own demons.

2) I thought Alex’s lurking and hovering tendencies were a little creepy but since this is Clazziquai’s sexy crooner Alex we’re talking about, who friggin’ cared if he was a little oddball? Good-looking people get away with all kinds of things, don’t they? Stalking even becomes adorable. Heh. He was so tasty in here I wanted to throw him in a wok and stir fry him up. <— That’s supposed to be cute, not cannibalistic. In the end, Alex was so good in here it’s remarkable he’s really a singer and not an experienced actor.

Final words:
I appreciated Pasta for being a well-executed show despite the slim plot and enjoyed it immensely. The lesson within the story was that a great chef needs to understand the basics before deviating from the recipe and that, in the end, integrity for one’s craft is never optional. Pasta followed the core principle of its own lessons and upheld the same standard. This felt like classic MBC, back in the mid-2000s when their dramas told a good story as well as cleverly packaged itself in a wrap of urbanity and stylized gloss.

This was the first drama in a long while that I actually felt MBC hit the same pleasing tones reminiscent of My Lovely Samsoon since…well, My Lovely Samsoon. Pasta had a similar shine and texture, the humor was only the underlying thread that weaved through a story about worries and concerns for characters who were just trying to live through their dreams. We were given a variety of people that were dislikable, but no one was beyond our understanding. Like them or not, their motives could not be deemed unsympathetic. They were the motivations of human beings with flaws. And just as making pretty desserts had never looked so tragic in Samsoon, there were scenes where eating pasta had never looked so devastating. Admittedly, there were definitely moments of foodie competition that reminded me of The Grand Chef, but in the end, Pasta felt more like a variant of My Lovely Samsoon’s story of female independence than Kim RaeWon’s coming-of-age successor story. Both very worthy dramas to be compared to, but the best part was Pasta’s successful ability to set itself apart from its predecessors. Side note, Pasta’s music was similarly flirty and cool as Samsoon’s. And of course, they both have a passing commonality in Alex, who is one-third of Clazziquai, the group that provided the cool for Samsoon’s soundtrack.

I am grateful to have visited La Sfera’s kitchen and been granted a look into their Korean-Italian fusion world—this world where battles were played out with al dente noodles and olive oil as the ammunition. This place where there was ridiculousness but was never ridiculous. Take a moment to visit La Sfera, an enjoyable dining viewing experience. Besides, I learned something about Korean Italian cuisine because of this drama...that it’s all about the pickles. A very interesting tidbit of knowledge I will treasure forever.

My parting thoughts are of my Idol Chefs, who were wonderful in everything they did, whether cooking or joking or scowling or even mimicking their boss. I’m going to end this review with a photospasm of the boys just chilling at a bar, enjoy! (I know I did!) Click on image to enlarge:



  1. hello there! finally, ive finished pasta.. it was not bad at all.. not going to end up in my top list but pleasant enough to breeze through.. and it did make me focus on some actors i didnt notice before. so yay!

  2. This was the first Korean Drama I watched..and I think my husband and I went around say ya chep (or was it shep?) for a week. I have watched quite a few since and I think Pasta is one of my favorites. Partly because the remorse and guilt...and those emotions seem to run wild in K-dramas, is kept in place. Coming from a family of Jews and Catholics, I thought we had the monopoly on romanticizing guilt,shame and remorse, but it appears that the Koreans may beat us by a hair.

    Anyway, all the young chefs in training were just adorable and Lee SunGyun is good at whatever he does. Even if the show isn't so great he seems to shine through.

  3. I LOVE LOVE LOVE PASTA (both the food and the show)!!! I just finished it today! To be honest, the story line is really unique and I appreciate the apparent maturity of both male leads and female leads. Although I love dramas with a cliche story lines, Watching Pasta's was kinda fresh, stimulating and exciting! It's kinda sad that a lot of people disregard it for the slow development between the leads. I, on the other hand loved it! It showed me the dynamics of why and how they fell for each other rather than meaninglessly rushing it! Anyways, I loved the ending! The Chef quoting "You've never dated right? Let’s not care what others think and let’s date'' was Daebak!!! Kudos to everyone who collaborated in this drama! It might very well be my number 1!


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