It was the story that won over the hearts of the nation. Kim Ha-na told of fleeing to South Korea in 2005 after three unsuccessful attempts.
But, the new winner of the Masterchef Korea title is hoping that her newfound stardom will help her find her father, who she last saw as she fled across the North Korean border into China, with North Korean guards hot on her heels.
As a child, Kim’s parents abandoned her in their own attempts to flee North Korea, leaving her to fend for herself. She was forced to drop out of school, sleep on the streets, scavenge and beg for food. She recited times where she had to eat whatever she could find, which in some cases included dragonflies, frogs and even mice.
Kim’s parents, desperate to reunite with their child, kept slipping back over the border into North Korea to try and rescue her.
“One time, I had been starving for five days and ran into my dad by chance and literally gobbled down food,” she recalls. “The next day, we had to run as fast as we could to flee across the border but I just couldn’t because I had too much to eat the night before.”
In the end, she was caught by guards and forced back to the North. While this was the last time Kim saw her father, she was able to escape out of North Korea soon after.
It was with the hope of being reunited with her family again that Kim mustered up the courage to apply for Masterchef Korea.
In the end, her fusion of North and South Korean cuisines saw her crowned the winner of the cooking contest, which is judged by the notoriously fastidious judges’ panel.
“Rumors say he already died but I’m still holding onto hope of hearing from, or about, my dad when my story is aired on TV and spreads to North Korea,” Kim said of her father.
Kim also hopes to use her newfound celebrity to eradicate the prejudice against North Korean defectors in South Korea, and admits to often dreaming of her hometown.