An interview with Kim Jong Il's former sushi chef reveals wild parties, Beijing Big Mac runs, and an obsession with Iron Chef
In 1982, a man calling himself Kenji Fujimoto flew to North Korea to teach young chefs in Pyongyang how to make sushi. He would eventually become Kim Jong Il's personal sushi chef and close confidante, staying by the Dear Leader's side for 11 years.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson interviewed Fujimoto in Saku, Japan, for a story in this month's GQ. In it, Fujimoto confirms that Kim Jong Il was as eccentric, unpredictable, and dangerous as the world thought he was.
If you have time to spare, it's definitely worth delving into this fascinating 8,040-word article. In the meantime, here are some of the more interesting revelations:
1. Fujimoto would fly to Beijing to buy Big Macs for Kim Jong Il
Seeing as high-quality ingredients were scarce in North Korea, Kim Jong Il would have Fujimoto fly all over the world to bring him foreign delicacies, including Iran for caviar, France for wine and cognac, Denmark for beer and ham, and Beijing for an American specialty: The Big Mac. Mostly, however, he would fly to Japan for fish.
2. Nobody could call Kim Jong Il by his name
Fujimoto had no idea who Kim Jong Il was until he saw his picture on the front page of a newspaper:
The next day, Fujimoto was talking to the mamasan of his hotel. She was holding a newspaper, the official Rodong Sinmun, and on the front page was a photo of the man in the tracksuit. Fujimoto told her this was the man he'd just served dinner.
"She started trembling," Fujimoto said of the moment he realized the man's true identity. "Then I started trembling." [GQ]
The reason Fujimoto didn't know who he was serving? Nobody called Kim Jong Il by his name. The government officials who associated with him called him "Jang-gun-nim," meaning "honored general," or risked disappearing. Fujimoto, who didn't speak Korean, would translate that into Shogun-sama, or "super shogun."
3. Kim Jong Il loved Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and Iron Chef
Kim Jong Il apparently loved watching California's 38th governor in action, watching and discussing Arnold Schwarzenegger movies with Fujimoto while they both drank Bordeaux. The Dear Leader was also a big Iron Chef fan, stockpiling VHS tapes of episodes and asking Fujimoto about ingredients like foie gras, truffles, and Kobe beef.
4. Fujimoto escaped North Korea because Kim Jong Il wanted to try uni
Kim Jong Il became suspicious of Fujimoto after he had been detained by Japanese officials while in Tokyo on a fish run. Despite this fact, Fujimoto was able to convince the North Korean dictator to let him return to Japan to bring back something he had never tried before:
In March 2001, Fujimoto casually mentioned to Kim Jong-il that he had a new Iron Chef video, an episode Kim had never seen. When they watched it together, Kim discovered the episode's "mystery ingredient" was one he'd never tasted before: sea-urchin roe, or uni. When Kim asked about uni, Fujimoto described it as the most exquisite delicacy in the world, one whose creamy texture was both oceany and sweet. It could only come from Rishiri Island, off Hokkaido, and only an experienced sushi chef could discriminate good uni from bad. [GQ]
While at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo to buy uni, Fujimoto stopped to eat a bowl of ramen, then ditched his North Korean minders in the crowd and escaped into the city.
5. Kim Jong Il kept young North Korean girls in his "Joy Division"
Kim Jong Il's "Joy Division" brigade consisted of North Korean girls taken from their homes before the age of 16 to provide entertainment, give massages, and perform sexual acts. Once "recruited," they were trained how to sing and dance and sent abroad to learn how to give massages. Depending on Kim Jong Il's mood, they could be ordered at any moment to "sing sentimental songs, disco dance, strip naked, or hold spontaneous boxing matches."
6. Kim Jong Il ate only perfectly shaped rice
Fujimoto described to GQ's Johnson the institute Kim Jong Il founded to prolong his longevity, which included inspecting his rice:
Its staff of 200 approved every element of Kim's diet. Each grain of Kim's rice was hand-inspected for chips and cracks — only perfectly shaped rice, grown in North Korea, was approved. According to Fujimoto, the rice had to be cooked over wood harvested from Mount Paektu, the sacred mountain where, North Korean propaganda claimed, Kim was born under a double rainbow and a newly born star. [GQ]
7. Kim Jong Il had a motorized boogie board
Kim Jong Il, who apparently wanted the fun of moving through the water without the exercise, had a motorized boogie board he would ride in his underground Olympic-sized swimming pool decorated with gold tiles in his image.
8. Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un liked to drink … a lot
Both father and son would challenge people to drinking contests. Parties, which could go on for as long as four days, would get so wild that they would sometimes lead to "head shaving, drunken pranks, gunplay." Kim Jong Il had a 10,000-bottle wine cellar and reportedly had a cognac habit that cost him $700,000 a year.
9. Kim Jong Il funeral procession might have been inspired by In the Line of Fire
Once while watching the 1993 film In the Line of Fire, one of the 30,000 DVDs in his library, Kim Jong Il told his staff to watch as Clint Eastwood's character and seven of his Secret Service agents walked along the president's limo with their hands on the chassis:
"This is the best scene in the movie!" he announced. He turned to his secretary and pointed at him. "This is how you protect me," he said. Then he shouted at his security team, "You have to protect me as the Secret Police in the movie do!" [GQ]
Fujimoto noticed a similar formation in 2011 — when watching Kim Jong Un and seven others walking alongside a limo in Kim Jong Il's funeral procession.
Read the entire article at GQ.
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