About 500 people gathered at a five-star hotel in Seoul on July 22 to test their knowledge and passion in becoming experts in one of Korea’s most beloved menus -- chicken.
Baedal Minjok, a food delivery app run by local startup Woowa Brothers, hosted an event to select “chimmeliers,” a portmanteau for chicken and sommelier. To become a certified chimmelier, participants took written and practical exams for a fee of 5,000 won (US$4.50).
In the written part of the test, questions ranged from the best temperature for frying chicken to business strategies. In the practical exam, participants were asked to distinguish between 12 different types of fried chicken.
“The tests were actually quite difficult,” said Chang Han-gyul, a college student who claims to eat fried chicken at least three times a week. “I couldn’t identify some of the brands.”
Chang In-sung, marketing director of Woowa Brothers, said the firm decided to hold the event to try and raise awareness about professionalism in the chicken industry.
“Fried chicken is one of Korea’s most beloved dishes, but we sensed there is a lack of professional knowledge,” Chang told The Investor. “For coffee, there are baristas, for wine, sommeliers. But for chicken, there was nothing, so we came up with the chimmelier test.”
It’s not a coincidence that Woowa Brothers picked chicken as their theme; chicken orders make up a crucial part of Baedal Minjok’s business. Out of 11 million orders the app receives every month, fried chicken accounts for more than 30 percent, according to data provided by the company.
Chicken has always been a popular menu, but sales have recently jumped. According to the Korea Fair Trade Mediation Agency, there were 24,453 franchise stores in Korea, including just over 10,000 chain stores operated by the top 10 brands. Sales of these brands reached over 1.1 trillion won ($981 million) in 2016. When including independently run chicken stores, the number is estimated to reach at least 30,000.
As sales grew, so did the variety of dishes, which contributed to the range of questions for the chimmelier test.
Chicken used to be either fried or seasoned, but in recent years, restaurants have been inventing their own recipes, such as curry or cheese-flavored chicken to survive among the intensifying competition.
Some figures indicate that the market has reached a saturation point. In Seoul, for instance, the number of chicken restaurants hit a record high of 5,818 in 2015, but decreased to 5,799 in 2016, falling for the first time since 2002 when the Seoul municipal government began compiling data.
Woowa Brothers hopes the chimmelier test will be of some help to chicken restaurant proprietors, and also for those looking for jobs in the industry.
“We plan to try and make this a credible test so that these chimmeliers can use their certificates in more practical ways,” said Chang.
By Park Ga-young (firstname.lastname@example.org