Chefs Feed: Hooni Kim

Chef Hooni Kim shares how he opened his first restaurant and the pride he feels in cooking from his heritage.

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Korean food is Korean bar be que when it comes to the restaurant sense. Korean bar be que is delicious. It's social. It's a very good dining experience but it's not everything. I wanted to cook food that maybe if you visit your friend in Korea that their mom would Cook for you, to sort of elevate the Korean dining experience in New York. [MUSIC] Before I started cooking, I think I was a foodie. My mom didn't cook, so I had to sort of fend for myself for dinner. So I started eating out when I was in junior high, and that continued to high school, where I was introduced to fine dining. The theatrical part of the whole experience, I fell in love with it. I ended up going to the French Culinary Institute, and I started interning at Danielle. Back then, most of the cooks were French. The kitchen, everybody spoke French. You know, I, I felt like I was cooking in France. The one thing that I did notice was as good of a cook that I thought I was. What I had lacked was that pride of cooking the food from your heritage. The only time that I had experienced with Korean food was every summer my mother would send me over to Korea to visit my grandparents, my uncles. And I remember not liking it. When I started cooking, I started to remember all the food and remembering the tastes again. I was longing for it. There weren't any Korean Chefs that I could work under. So what ended up happening was I chose the best Asian restaurant that I could work under, and that was [UNKNOWN] at that time, a Japanese restaurant. We were making three family meals a day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But [UNKNOWN] loved Korean food So I would say half the meals I cooked, they would talk about the balance in the umami, the sweetness, the spiciness and all of that and there are dishes I must have cooked over 50 times to get to that point where I was very confident. And it was great to learn but I wanted to sort of be a little bit more creative and cook my food My parents were not even in their apartment on the weekends. And with those two, three days that I had every weekend, I opened up my private kitchen. You know, it started just with friends, and I didn't even charge them. And then friends of friends wanted to come. People booked it up for parties, so I started charging money, and it started being a little bit profitable. So, that's when I thought, hm, maybe I can turn this into a real restaurant. My wife and I had saved up by that time, about ten years, to buy a house. With that down-payment, we opened up [UNKNOWN]. I should have been more terrified, but I was too busy to be terrified. The first show is just all desperation rolls. There was a day when we had four customers. But we believed in the food, we knew the food was better. We had Korean customers who came in and would tell us that some of the dishes, like the [UNKNOWN], Reminded them of the food that their mother used to cook in Korea. As much money as we were losing, when people tell you that it gives you reason to work harder and keep improving. My mom actually didn't speak to me for an entire year. Even now days during the summer when the kitchen She's hot, she comes to my restaurant and then she sees me sweating, she frowns and says You know I raised a son to be sitting here being served by people like you. [LAUGH] As a son, you have to understand, that's Korean mother syndrome. They don't want to see their children suffer, physically. She's a strong, independent entrepreneur, so ultimately what she taught me which she didn't admit at that time was to find something that would make me happy. Sweating in a kitchen isn't something that's just doing what I love and enjoy doing. [MUSIC]
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Chefs Feed: Hooni Kim