A successful spin-off from New Journey To The West, Kang’s Kitchen returned for a second season in May. Featuring the same cast as the most recent installment of New Journey To The West, this season saw the members opening a restaurant in the scenic city of Gyeong-ju.

Given the immense popularity of the show’s first season, there were high expectations for this sequel. Thankfully, PD Na Young-seok did not disappoint, and Kang’s Kitchen 2 was definitely a leg-up from the year before. Rigorous preparation was involved, both by the cast members and the staff. The intensive months of training the cast underwent to master dishes which they then served to their customers was an impressive display of dedication, especially considering how busy they individually are as entertainers.

4-vegetable fries on top of a plate of tteok-bokki

Kang Ho-dong, Ahn Jae-hyun and Block B‘s P.O were trained by Master Chef Baek Jong Won to make Korean dishes such as Garak Guksu (noodles), Tteok-bokki (rice cakes) and Kimchi Fried Rice. In particular, the inventive way the cast experimented with their ingredients to create fresh variations each day was amazing to watch. Jae-hyun creating Jajang Tteok-bokki (black bean sauce rice cakes) to cater to the palates of children who were unaccustomed to spicy food was a sweet gesture and reflected the amount of effort the cast put into this restaurant. The colourful four-vegetable fries Jae-hyun created (with the guidance of Chef Baek) to top off his tteok-bokki was especially impressive as well.

On the dessert front, Winner‘s Mino worked together with Eun Ji-won from Sechskies to create beautiful treats. From baking cleverly designed cookies each night to spending hours steaming red beans for their bingsu desserts, the immense effort they put in to quietly perfect their menu was admirable. It also showed how talented this whole team is, even in the kitchen. The seriousness with which the cast embarked on this venture got the audience successfully invested in this journey as well. Rather than just being another entertaining variety show, it felt engaging and realistic. The heartwarming moments when the cast got to meet and feed their long-time fans, the satisfaction of watching Ho-dong prepare a perfect bowl of noodles, the second-hand stress felt when the cast ran out of an essential ingredient halfway through the working day – viewers were there for these ups and downs, genuinely rooting for this restaurant’s success. The “behind-the-scenes” footage of the cast preparing their ingredients each night back at the dormitory was valuable in increasing the show’s realism.

The familiar chemistry of the cast contributed greatly to how enjoyable Kang’s Kitchen was. Given how they had already worked together for several years, especially in the case of Ho-dong, Lee Soo Geun and Ji-won, their playful interactions were natural and fun to watch. They were also used to each other’s quirks, and it was sweet to see how patiently accommodating they were to each other. Small conflicts occurred, of course, but they never let it escalate to a point that it would affect their friendship or their work. Of course, the witty inclusions of relaxing scenery shots whenever the cast came close to a fight also helped.

The teamwork not just between the cast members, but also with the production crew, was evident throughout this series. There were points where Na PD had to help out in the kitchen because it was just too busy and even several instances where Ho-dong’s cameraman helpfully reminded him what ingredients to put in his dishes. The documentation of these occasions served to reinforce the genuineness of this endeavour, and the in-depth, personal knowledge the production crew had of the members showed in the witty captions which punctuated each moment.

“Kang Ho-dong Slice of Pizza”: A pizza slice with a 60 cm radius

Just when the cast (and the viewers, by extension) had begun to settle into a routine of things, the genius production crew dropped a bombshell. A new cast member was suddenly introduced towards the middle of the season. Coming straight after his discharge from the military, Super Junior‘s Kyuhyun made a grand return to the show. While he was not able to be part of the first season of this program, he was a regular cast member on New Journey To the West and was much missed by his family. To celebrate his arrival, the production crew renovated the entire restaurant, converting it into an Italian style eatery. With Kyuhyun came the introduction of specialty pizzas, and the beginning of Kang’s Kitchen‘s third season. It was definitely a gamble for the entire crew, especially since the cast members had to quickly pick up dishes that they were not officially trained for. Ho-dong’s guksu evolved into fusion spaghetti, while P.O and Jae-hyun helped Kyuhyun with his pizzas. This high-stakes risk showed how much trust the crew had in the cast members, and they did not disappoint. With their fantastic teamwork and culinary skill, the cast helped each other adapt to the new kitchen and menu, eventually ending off the season successfully.

This twist gave the show a good amount of spice and livened things up for viewers who might have grown bored of the repetitive patterns. The abrupt change in season was also reminiscent of the way Na PD used to end the seasons of New Journey To The West. Once the cast failed at the final game of the season, he would immediately turn off the cameras, leaving just a black screen. These endings were so unconventional that they were hilarious, and it slowly became part of Na PD’s rich, distinctive style.

The success of Kang’s Kitchen, and all the sequels of New Journey To The West prove that Na PD, and tvN have a winning formula on their hands. Thankfully, however, there is little complacency here, and clear efforts were made on the part of everyone involved to keep things innovative and fresh. The familiarity of the past is kept intact, while delicious little surprises are sprinkled to ensure that the viewing experience is always a rewarding one.

(Images via tvN)