Everybody knows you shouldn't do a somersault straight after dinner; but no one ever said you couldn't breakdance while making it. Set in a kitchen where two cooks must battle it out to make the best meal, Chef: Come Dine With Us! is a high-energy mash-up of acrobatics, martial arts and humour that could only have come out of South Korea – where it has been a hit for several years. Expressing the joy of food through physical spectacle and song, its eight multi-talented performers headspin, high-kick and harmonise their way through a series of restaurant orders, before a final showdown in which they must make the daddy of all dishes, a traditional Korean bibimbap.
After a busy matinee at its home theatre in downtown Seoul, the show's director, Chul Ki Choi, lets Fest in on his secret recipe. Chef's appeal, he thinks, is its variety: the pace never lets up, and there's something for everyone as the ensemble tackles different cuisine from around the world (pizza, sushi and Chinese noodles are also on the menu, which has grown as the production has toured internationally). The key ingredient, though, is the audience: members are invited on stage to sample plates and take part in key scenes – and they steer the show by choosing the winning chef. Today's favourite is the mischievous, moustachioed Red Chef; out drinking later in the humid night air, we toast to his victory with ten shots of the popular rice liquor, soju (novelty handlebar now sweatily unpeeled).
If you're thinking this all sounds a bit barmy, you wouldn't be wrong: fans of K-pop will find much to love in Chef's gameshow-style pranks, punky soundtrack and comic-strip speed. But as with any good fusion, there's method in the madness. When the beatboxers' clever vocalisations (mimicking the sticky, lip-smacking sounds of the kitchen) combine with the b-boys' gravity-defying spins—they whip, whisk and stir everything together—then Choi's vision of a show inspired by the sensations of cooking really comes to life.
Fringe 2016 won't be Chef's first time in Edinburgh—an earlier version visited in 2010—but this year it arrives as part of the second annual Korean Season, a programme showcasing the range and artistry of Korean culture from folk song to magic, mask play to theatre. On our last morning in Seoul we awake to the sound of Tago, a group of young drummers who blend stunning percussion with dance; by evening, we've met Fernando, a space elephant (from children's musical Singsing Bathtub) who's grown too big to fly home. In just 72 hours, our appetites have been well and truly whetted; now swap that soju for whisky, and we're ready for seconds.