I Was Kim Jong Il's Cook

True stories from the Dear Leader's onetime chef
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The author, who writes under a pseudonym, is a Japanese sushi chef. In 1982, at the invitation of a Japanese-North Korean trading company, he started working in a sushi restaurant in Pyongyang. In 1988 he agreed to serve as Kim Jong Il's personal chefa job he held until 2001. In April of that year, having realized the extent of the paranoid and oppressive surveillance he was under, he escaped to Japan. In 2003, in Japanese, he published Kim Jong Il's Chef (Fuso Publishing, Inc.), from which these excerpts are drawn.

Well known in Japan from TV and tabloid coverage, Kim Jong Il's "Entourage of Delight" is just that—a group of entertainers devoted to providing Kim Jong Il with delight and gaiety.

The women of this entourage were frequently summoned to the "Number 8 Banquet Hall" in Pyongyang to perform elegant dances. The stage of this hall was equipped with an elaborate lighting system that included footlights on the sides and even a disco mirror ball hanging from the middle of the ceiling with strobe lights. The floor was also decked out with lights that flashed from below, and floor-to-ceiling speakers pounded out music.

During a banquet one night a group of five dancers in the entertainment entourage were performing a disco dance. Suddenly Kim Jong Il ordered, "Take off your clothes!" The girls took off their clothes, but then Kim told them to take it all off. They seemed surprised and could not hide their bewilderment, but they could not object to their Dear Leader's orders. In awkward embarrassment they stripped down and continued their performance in the nude.

After a while he turned to his cabinet staff members and instructed them, "You guys dance with them too." And soon enough I, too, was ordered to dance. However, he cautioned us, "You'll dance, but you won't touch. If you touch, you're thieves." In other words, I think Kim Jong Il felt these girls were like his own daughters.

.....

Kim Jong Il has an exceptionally discriminating palate. There is an episode I remember well that demonstrates this. I was preparing sushi in the Number 8 Banquet Hall. All of a sudden Kim Jong Il said, "Fujimoto, today's sushi tastes a little different."

He had had a lot to drink that evening before the meal, and I suggested that maybe that was the reason.

He replied, "Maybe..." He seemed doubtful, but didn't pursue it any further.

However, when I returned to the kitchen, I checked the seasoning used that day and found that the sugar was ten grams less than usual! Kim Jong Il was the only one who had noticed. Even I was astonished at this.

With respect to rice, before cooking it a waiter and a kitchen staff member would inspect it grain by grain. Chipped and defective grains were extracted; only those with perfect form were presented.

.....

Kim Jong Il is an avid equestrian, and has even appeared in a TV movie atop a snow-white horse. (All horses belonging to the Kim family are white.) I often accompanied him on long rides. A group of guides would lead the pack, followed by Kim Jong Il, his wife Ko Young Hee, the children, and me.

One day in 1992, as I was riding behind Kim Jong Il at a right-turning path, I noticed that his horse was standing by itself. Kim had fallen off the horse. It had apparently slipped on a bed of pebbles laid over some asphalt being repaired. Kim Jong Il had hit his head and shoulder quite hard and had fallen unconscious. A doctor was called immediately.

I'm not sure when he regained consciousness, but the next day we all returned to Pyongyang by his private train.

From that day, every evening at 10:00 P.M. for the next month, five or six of his administrative staff members and I would be injected with the same painkiller that Kim Jong Il was taking. He was afraid he would become addicted to it, and didn't want to be the only one.

.....

To procure various foods and ingredients I made many trips abroad. Each time Kim Jong Il ordered me to go buy this or that, flight arrangements would be made and I would go off.

Fish was the most sought-after item from Japan. High-quality tuna and squid, one of Madame Ko's favorite foods, were often requested. Once I bought 1,200 kilos in total; the air-transport fees alone were exorbitant.

The reason the shipment weighed so much was that I had bought a very large Indian tuna whole. I also bought an electric saw to use to fillet the fish. I had once spent six months filleting tuna at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, and I wanted to show Kim Jong Il and his family my technique.

In any event, here are the countries I visited and the foods I frequently bought there:

Urumqi (in northwestern China) for fruit, mainly hamigua melons and grapes
Thailand for fruit, mostly durians, papayas, and mangoes
Malaysia for fruit, mostly durians, papayas, and mangoes
Czechoslovakia for draft beer
Denmark for pork
Iran for caviar
Uzbekistan for caviar
Japan for seafood

.....

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