Want Seoul's Spiciest Curry? You'll Have to Sign a Waiver - United Hub

Want Seoul’s spiciest curry? You’ll have to sign a waiver

By The Hub team

South Korea is proud of its spicy food. It is one of very few cold weather countries to embrace the chili pepper. Foreigners are often incredulously asked, “You can eat that?" when tucking into a bowl of kimchi jjigae or a plate of fire chicken.

But the hottest food in South Korea isn't kimchi stew, fire chicken or any of the country's other gastronomical blast furnaces. In a small alleyway in Seoul's theater district, an Iranian restaurant, Persian Palace, serves food so hot it has sent patrons to the hospital.

A hobby takes flight

Shapour Nasrollahi puts the gravy — spice Level 3.5 — on a chicken curry.

Shapour Nasrollahi puts the gravy — Level 3.5 — on a chicken curry. Credit: Copyright 2016 Martyn Thompson

Shapour Nasrollahi, the owner of Persian Palace, is that rare but increasingly common creature, an immigrant to South Korea, a naturalized Korean citizen with no Korean ancestry, only a passion for Korean culture, language and society. Born and raised in Iran, he served as a medic in the Iran-Iraq War, and was wounded in the leg during battle. In 1990 he moved to Japan, in an attempt to emigrate to Canada to attend medical school.

But after visiting a friend in Seoul, he decided to stay and learn the Korean language — he was fascinated with “Hangul," Korea's ultra-scientific writing system, studied in linguistics departments around the world. He learned the language and enrolled in college, obtaining degrees in medicine and psychology. He figured he would eventually go to work at a large South Korean company, but in the meantime, he'd like a break — he figured he'd cook.

“Cooking was my hobby all my life," he says. “I thought just to have a six-month to one-year break, and I'll make one small shop to do what I want, cooking."

Spicy to ultra-spicy curries

Curries ready to burn – from left, a Level 2.5 Veg, 3.0 Dal, and 3.5 Chicken.

Curries ready to burn – from left, a Level 2.5 Veg, 3.0 Dal, and 3.5 Chicken. Credit: Copyright 2016 Martyn Thompson

Shapour's spicy to ultra-spicy curries became legend, and soon his hard-to-find shop became extremely popular. He expanded and bought out the whole building, built a pub downstairs, and hasn't closed for a single day in 10 years. “I wanted to do this business for six months," Shapour says. “Six months became almost 15 years."

So how spicy is it? Shapour has engineered a number system so people can decide how hot they want their food. The lowest level is 2.0, which he says is comparable to kimchi. Two-point-five is like a “Mexican chili" pepper, and from there it gets stronger and stronger. If you want 5.0, he takes your blood pressure first, to decide if it's a good idea or not. After 6.0, a customer has to sign a waiver, promising that “if anything happens to him, he's responsible."

Off-the-scale heat

 A patron wipes her brow from the spicy food.

A patron wipes her brow. Shapour Nasrollahi says his curries are far stronger than any native Korean food. Credit: Copyright 2016 Martyn Thompson

“Look," Shapour says, “Level 5, sometimes they order, but I never, ever saw a person eat all of Level 5 and go out nicely. Do you know what I mean? They fall down."

No one has ever eaten a Level 10, though one patron once ordered one.

“Three years ago, one Korean guy he came here, it was Christmas Eve," Shapour says. “He was almost 100% drunk, he asked me for Level 10. I made Level 7 for him, because he made trouble here. I gave him Level 7. I told him, 'This is Level 10.'" Shapour laughs. “As I remember, two spoons he ate, and he never came back here again. I don't know what's happened to him."

Shapour uses a mix of 24 spices to make his curries, eight of which are spicy. Chief among those is the Sahara pepper, a small, round and wrinkly red pepper, which Shapour says is off the Scoville scale in hotness. He makes a masala out of it, as well as inserting it directly into the curries. “With bare hands, if you touch it, and then you touch your eyes, God [help] you."

A complex mix of flavors

Shapour and his chefs prepare the curries.

Shapour and his chefs prepare the curries. Credit: Copyright 2016 Martyn Thompson

Shapour doesn't practice medicine anymore, but he still sees himself as something of a doctor, using traditional ingredients to heal. For example, he says Iranians view cumin as good for digestion and post-pregnancy, cinnamon as a tonic for headaches and to warm you up, and cardamom as good for brain disease and to control anger.

But is the food really that spicy? Our party ordered four curries at four different heats: a vegetable curry (2.5), dal (3.0), chicken (3.5), and turkey (4.0), all eaten with plain nan.

Shapour's reputation as a cook stands up. A complex mix of flavors — cumin, coriander, curry and more — rise through the heat. But they are extremely hot, the last two painfully so, by far the hottest food we had ever eaten in South Korea. The final two curries were left unfinished.

And when one of us complained of indigestion caused by the fire, Shapour immediately provided a glass of Alka-Seltzer — he keeps a stock of it behind the cash register for situations just like these.

Main photo: Owner Shapour Nasrollahi relaxes at Persian Palace, the spiciest restaurant in Seoul. Credit: Copyright 2016 Martyn Thompson

This article was from Zester Daily and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

United works with partners to send food to USDA food bank

By The Hub team, July 23, 2020

In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), United moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A variety of fresh fruits were transported from Los Angeles (LAX) to Guam (GUM) on United's newly introduced, non-stop cargo-only flight – a route added to meet cargo demand during the COVID-19 crisis. The fresh food was repacked in 10-pound cases in Los Angeles, prepared for departure at CFI's LAX location, and flown to GUM by the United team. Through this beneficial partnership between United and CFI, the perishable goods were kept cool during every step of the process and distributed as part of the food bank program in Guam.

"Everyone on our team has worked relentlessly during the pandemic to get critical goods to where they are needed most. Establishing a comprehensive network of cargo-only flights have allowed us to keep the supply chain moving even while passenger flight capacity has been reduced," said Regional Senior Manager of Cargo Sales, Marco Vezjak. "Knowing that we are able to help during these difficult times – in this case the Guam community – is our biggest reward and greatest motivation to keep moving forward."

United is proud to play a role in maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access the supplies they need. Since March 19, United has operated over 4,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 130 million pounds of cargo.

Jessica Kimbrough named Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

By The Hub team, July 10, 2020

Jessica Kimbrough, currently Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, will take on the new role of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Managing Director.

Jessica assumes this new and expanded position to focus on global inclusion and equity as part of our enhanced commitment to ensure best practices across the business to strengthen our culture.

In this role, Jessica will be responsible for helping United redefine our efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion – ensuring that our programs and approach are strategic, integrated and outcome-oriented, while we continue to build a culture that reflects our core values. She will report to Human Resources and Labor Relations EVP Kate Gebo.

"Jessica's appointment to this role is another critical step our executive team is taking to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion remains a top priority at United," said CEO Scott Kirby. "Given her drive, experience and commitment to champion collaboration and allyship among our employee business resource groups, she is uniquely qualified to take on this position and I look forward to working closely with her."

As Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, Jessica worked closely with senior management to create and maintain positive labor relations among our unionized workforce, providing counsel on labor litigation, negotiations, contract administration, organizing issues and managing attorneys who represent United in labor relations. Previously, she served as Labor and Employment Counsel in our legal department.

Jessica has a passion for creating a pipeline of diverse lawyers and leaders, and was honored as one of Chicago Defender's "Women of Excellence" for excellence in her career and civic engagement in 2017. She currently serves as President of uIMPACT, our women's employee business resource group.

Jessica's new role is effective immediately.

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