Cooking Time With Hooni Kim
Eli Kulp: [00:00:00] Hey everyone. Eli here. Welcome back to the CHEF Radio Podcast. As always, thanks for listening. Ooh, I’m feeling good right now. I just had these dumplings they call momos in Tibet. So the Tibetan dumplings from this restaurant called White Yak up in Roxborough, a section of Philadelphia up in Northwest Philly.
These things are dynamite. I mean, obviously there’s some Chinese influence on them, but the flavors are very specific to kind of the Tibet and cuisine. I didn’t realize how spicy some of this stuff got. So I just really started to being turned on to this Tibetan food and it’s, it’s really delicious. So the White Yak up in Roxboro, a free plug for them.
So what’s going on in the life of the restaurant world? Well, we have a new economic relief package coming. Hopefully that’s going to hit and make a difference for so many people who need that money. There’s so many people that are teetering on the edge right now, when it comes to their ability to pay their staff, keep the restaurant open [00:01:00] and keep, you know, getting supplies and whatnot.
To keep producing the little bit of inside food, a little bit of outside food and a lot of to-go food right now. So hopefully that’s going to make a huge difference on people. Let’s see what else is going on. So I don’t know if you know about Mama Tees, they are the ones that are putting those community fridges all around town.
There’s a few different groups that are doing it. Mama Tees, you can recognize them because they’re bright yellow. And you know, the work that they’ve done started up in Brooklyn and now in Philadelphia is unbelievable. These are community fridges that anyone who needs food can go and grab some food from them.
They’re open 24 hours a day. People, volunteers, other, you know, donations of, of product, canned goods, perishable food, vegetables, everything can be found in these amazing community fridges that are helping fight hunger around Philadelphia. Well now Mama Tees had blown up because they just partnered with Whole Foods to create this Mama [00:02:00] Tee’s pop-up grocery store up in Northwest Philly.
So, you know, big ups to them. Great to hear what they’re doing. And of course, if you want to find out more about them or give them some sponsorship, maybe help out volunteer, check them out at mamateefridge.com. That’s mama T E E fridge.com. So let’s get to today’s episode today. We have Hooni Kim. Hooni Kim, is this bonkers good chef up in New York.
Um, he’s got two restaurants, DANJI and HANJAN, both in the flat iron district of the city. And first time I ever had his food was a little bit after I had started dabbling in Korean food, getting to, you know, in New York, you got to go to Korea town. Like that’s one of the areas that you find yourself late night, often after work or on the weekend, or, you know, your days off, you know, you’re going to Korea town cause you got to taste those flavors.
And you know, when you, first time you have Korean barbecue where they bring this meat [00:03:00] to your table and you’re grilling it on your T you know, at your table. And you got all these, uh, banchan, the little bites, little, you know, the kimchis, the fermented fish, the, the rice cakes, you know, all these different things that you’re eating and it’s almost like sensory overload.
That was like my first memory of eating Korean food. And from there, you know, you keep exploring and you, and you, you find new things. I remember going to, uh, Flushing, Queens is really where, you know, you have, that’s like, the best Korean food in all of New York. And there’s this one restaurant it’s called Tong Sam Gyup Goo Yi and it’s this pork restaurant and they serve you pork belly, kimchi, all these different things and you cook on upside down dome. And the juices run into this little gutter and everybody sits around this table and they kind of put their food on there and you get rice and you just kind of slap it on this dome and sort of the rice gets crispy sucks up the juice [00:04:00] of the pork belly, the acid from the, from the kimchi.
And it’s just this. Oh, my God. It’s such a remarkable and memorable experience. And if you’re ever in Flushing, Queens, I recommend going. So interviewing with him, brought back all these memories of eating, you know, great Korean food up there. And I definitely want to say if you’re going to eat Korean barbecue in Philly, go to Kim’s Barbecue up in North Philly.
Um, it’s, it’s amazing. You can’t go wrong. And they cook on real charcoal, not like gas. So, um, if I had to recommend a place in Philly, that would be it. One thing I love about Korean food is they rely so much on fermentation. And you’re going to hear about that in the, uh, in this podcast and fermentation for a lot of people, uh, you know, if you’re not familiar with it is it’s really taking, you know, the raw ingredients, let nature do this amazing um, transformation of them, um, just giving the, giving them the right environment to do [00:05:00] so as using natural bacteria that are good for you, and they’re good for your gut and your biodome and everything else.
And, you know, Korean food is really about cooking for your health as much as it is for flavor. And I think the flavor is a by-product of really cooking food that is great for your stomach, whether you’re doing fermented chili paste, whether you’re doing, um, you know, fermented soybeans, you know, all these different things, kimchis, you know, there’s, there’s, all this stuff is great for your gut and your health.
So that’s really the basis of it. And these are flavors that you can’t, you can’t create them just in a pot. You have to let time and you know, the natural bacteria is do their work and it’s, you know, it’s, it’s fun. It’s something you should try at home. It’s easy. It’s not something that’s scary. It shouldn’t be scary.
You’re not going to kill yourself over it or your family. It’s this natural process. There’s a couple of small steps you got to make sure you do. But other than that, it’s a very simple and natural [00:06:00] thing to do. So I highly recommend looking into it. Uh, if you’re, um, If you’re interested, it’s a great way of preserving, you know, fruits or vegetables, you know, leftover from the fall or something like that, too.
So it’s just another arrow in your culinary quiver, so to speak. So I want to talk about like my first experience eating Hooni’s food. And this was probably going back to 2013, something like that when he had opened HANJAN up in New York and one of the things he had on the menu was you could only get it after 10:00 PM.
And it was this uh, sort of spicy pork. Uh ramyeon so it’s kind of like basically ramen in Korean and you know, this noodle dish, and you couldn’t get past 10:00 PM for a reason. It wasn’t just because it was like for industry people. No, it was for uh, so that he could cook this thing, uh, on every day for [00:07:00] 12 hours, it took about 12 hours.
So he’d started about 10:00 AM to develop the right flavors. And you can get at uh, at 10:00 PM. And this thing was spicy when you better, like, my nose was running like crazy. And it’s one of those things you just can’t stop eating. It’s so good. And then the is pajeons, which is a Korean pancake, similar to like a scallion pancake that you might see in, you know, in a Chinese restaurant.
But he has the audacity to do these thin slices, squid with the scallions and other vegetables. And it was like a feat of engineering, keeping these intricate layers of delicate crispy, lacey rice cake together while incorporating, you know, this, the squid and everything else. So, um, I had, you know, doing this interview, like I said, brought back a lot of memories of me exploring early on, you know, Korean food.
So, you know, I hope you guys, uh, really enjoy it. You know, we go pretty deep, you know, he’s so much more than just a chef in New York. He’s [00:08:00] doing things in Korea as well. Uh, really fantastic things. So. I want to get to the episode. So everybody thanks for listening as always and enjoy the show.
Eli Kulp:This is the CHEF Radio podcast. Each week, groundbreaking chef talks. Chef talks, uh, chef. CHEF: cooking, hospitality, environment, food. Is that really what it stands for? I never really knew that. Delivered straight from the minds of the people who shaped the way we eat. It’s hard to believe the possibility of food. And we’re going to discuss sponge cakes. These talks, these ideas and more on the CHEF Radio Podcast.
Eli Kulp: [00:08:47] All right, everybody. Welcome back to the CHEF Radio Podcast. Thanks for joining us today. Um, we’re going outside of Philadelphia or venturing outside to our, uh, to our friends up in New York city. I want to [00:09:00] welcome Hooni Kim, Chef Hooni Kim to the, uh, CHEF Radio Podcast. How are you?
Hooni Kim: [00:09:04] Hi, chef.
Eli Kulp: [00:09:05] Uh, really great to have you, man. Thank you for taking some time and talking with us.
Hooni Kim: [00:09:09] Thank you for having me all the way from Philadelphia.
Eli Kulp: [00:09:12] Yeah. Right, Hooni’s a big fan of Philadelphia? You were telling me that you take your annual annual trips to Philly. So, uh, That’s cool.
Hooni Kim: [00:09:20] At least once a year. I mean, there’s, there’s always new restaurants and there are so many good restaurants that, that have been around for a while. I feel like New York, there’s a lot more turnover, whereas Philadelphia, if you’re good, then you, you are able to stay around for a long
Eli Kulp: [00:09:35] time. It’s a fun city to live in and work in as well for sure. So I’m going to give everybody a little bit of your background here. You know, you’re a Chef up in New York. Uh, you’ve really over the course of your career, you’ve redefined what Korean food is an America. Uh, you’re the proud owner of two restaurants. You got DANJI and HANJAN. Both are open, obviously little pivoting going on up [00:10:00] there. Yeah, you also run this really great charity that trains orphan children into line cooks so that they’re ready to enter the workforce in Seoul, Korea.
That’s called Yori Chunsa, right? That’s correct. Thank you. Also, you are a bit of a big deal in the, uh, celebrity chef world over there. Uh, you are a judge on Master Chef Korea, as well as you’ve got a new show called Hello Plate. And you said that’s sort of akin to a, a top chef. What’s unique about, um, this one, uh, specifically in Korea?
Hooni Kim: [00:10:34] It’s actually not open to Koreans. It’s only for foreign chefs who are residing in Korea. So we are trying to figure out who the best foreign Chef is in Korea. And there are so many, there are so many foreigners cooking their ethnic food, in Korea ethnic food happens to be Italian, American. The foreign dining scene in Seoul, all all over korea has exploded in the [00:11:00] past 10 years, and we want to take advantage and figure out which chefs are cooking the most authentic as well as the best food over there
Eli Kulp: [00:11:08] So you have Western chefs and chefs
Hooni Kim: [00:11:11] and India, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan. Yeah. All of them.
Eli Kulp: [00:11:19] I think we gotta do that over here, man. That’s so cool.
Hooni Kim: [00:11:21] Yeah. Cause I would be a good contestant.
Eli Kulp: [00:11:26] You tell you’d rock that, man. You’d rock that. And I think one of the more exciting things, um, is that you have your cookbook out called, uh, My Korea. So a big congrats on that, man. I know that was a, that was a long process
Hooni Kim: [00:11:42] for you. Eight years since I started writing, you know, what no, eight years writing. And then it took nine years to get it published. You know, it takes that extra one year to get all the pictures and everything, but yeah, finally got it done. You know, I had one, two manuscripts rejected [00:12:00] initially and I am so thankful because the story that I really wanted to tell, I couldn’t tell because, you know, six, seven years ago, I thought I had to write an introduction to Korean food and it took me two manuscripts to realize I wasn’t good at that.
But thankfully since then, you know, with Munchie, with so many other cookbooks coming out, that I felt finally, I didn’t have to do an intro sort of book. I could do a, more of a personal what Korean food means to me with my background. And that fortunately came out very, uh, very much, I don’t know how to describe it, but if I had to write one book, this would be it. And I am not looking forward to writing another one.
Eli Kulp: [00:12:47] I know they’re, they’re they’re they are a lot of work. I mean, they might look at something like, you know, why am I paying 30, $40 or something like, you don’t know the work, I think should be a hundred bucks all the [00:13:00] time and effort that went into it.
Hooni Kim: [00:13:01] And I thought, you know, when we were pricing my cookbook, I thought it was expensive too. And I was telling my editor, I was like, wow, that’s kind of steep. And then she was like, how much do you sell a bottle of a, uh, a bottle of wine at your restaurant? Or how much do you sell a piece of braised short rib at your restaurant? And then it’s like, Yeah. Nine years of work for a buck, sure. That actually sounds pretty fair.
Eli Kulp: [00:13:24] Right. That’s great. When did, when did it come out? Did come out this last fall?
Hooni Kim: [00:13:29] No. Right when the pandemic started April 7th, 2020. That’s when it came out.
Eli Kulp: [00:13:36] My copy is on the way and gonna dig into it. Gonna go to the Korean store and stock up on some, uh, I got to go to John already, but I know that I have some, some chilies fermented, these, um, uh, add the scallions that were growing in my garden all summer.
And they were so slow. And by the end, by the fall, when I had to pull them out, they were like still like probably half size of a scallion. [00:14:00] Normally it’s like really nice and petite, like really beautiful. Uh, they didn’t get Woody so we did a, uh, we kimchi those. I have those in the fridge. You know, I was first exposed to fermentation at Del Posto when Mark Ladner, when I first got there, they were doing a dish. It was, um, it’s a lot of Damari is so seafood kind of dish and it was, um, laid out beautifully on the plate and was really great about it, which I loved and sort of got me kickstart into this idea was the fermented escarole in the style of kimchi.
So it took an Italian ingredient like escarole, um, you know, some that’s hardy and can stand up to it, the process, and then, you know, put that on the plate. And for me, that was really an eye-opening experience that would have been 2006, or seven. Okay. Know that the fermentation trend started happening around 2010, [00:15:00] 2011.
And you know, so I was, I was busy exploring that and. I’ve always had a great respect and fondness for anything that spends time under a await doing its natural trans transformation. I guess you could say though, that being said, Korean food is extremely, extremely, um, important to me and it’s in my rotation for sure all the time. Well,
Hooni Kim: [00:15:26] you know what they say about the most, you know, Italy has truffles, you know, uh, Russia has caviar. They create good it’s about time you know, it takes at least several weeks for kimchi to permit, but our jangs, our fermented sauces. It really doesn’t the flavors don’t peak for three four, five years.
And to be able to cook with something that’s been growing for five years now, it’s special. I talked about how, why it took so long for my book to get published. When I first started [00:16:00] writing it, these natural leaf fermented jangs Korean sauces weren’t available in this country. Um, all you could get were the, you know, the H Mart supermarket jangs where there is no natural fermentation and there aren’t, you know, the, the probiotics that’s beneficial to your body and the flavors aren’t, you know,
Eli Kulp: [00:16:18] so, uh, Jang, Jang is J A N G right?
Hooni Kim: [00:16:23] J A N G.
Eli Kulp: [00:16:24] What does that translate? Is that sauce? Is that, what is it condiment? Like? How would you describe that?
Hooni Kim: [00:16:29] Yeah, it’s a fermented sauce. You know what a Gochujang is, right? Yep. That’s one of the three main pillars. Uh, the other one is Doenjung, which is a fermented soybean paste, similar to a Japanese miso. And then lastly, it’s ganjang, which is soy sauce. Those three jangs make the mother sauces of Korean fermentation. Oh. So
Eli Kulp: [00:16:53] everything starts there and then that’s the pillar.
Hooni Kim: [00:16:58] Go to any Korean [00:17:00] restaurant. Um, my restaurant more than 90% of what’s on the menu will have either one or more than one or if sometimes all three of those jangs, we use those jangs to season and flavor just like you, would you use salt.
Before I go into salt, I will try to use it with one of my jangs and then depending on how much fermentation flavor or jang flavor I want to put in there, I’ll sort of cut back and finish it with salt or sometimes go all the way with these jangs.
Eli Kulp: [00:17:28] Like that. Getting into Korean food, you know, I just scratched the surface. You know, I’ve never worked in, you know, in a level that you are, you mentioned that, you know, you guys have time. And that’s T I M E, not T H Y. And it’s true. You, you rely on that. You rely on that to give you the flavors that are authentic to you, and that’s a beautiful way of putting it. I’ve never, I’ve never heard that can you can’t reproduce it, you know, you can, you can. [00:18:00] Try to speed it up or slow it down. I mean, the reality of it is it’s it’s on its own clock.
Hooni Kim: [00:18:07] And the result you can’t control it, it really is like raising a kid. You can do your best to try to give it a certain direction, but you can’t expect any sort of result except a good, decent human being. And you want a very good flavor, deep down, but you can’t control it. And that’s why it’s very difficult to cook with jangs because as a restaurant owner, you want that consistency. But impossible because even when you, uh, ferment in one jar called the Onggi depending on whether that jang is towards the bottom or closer to the side of the wa it’s, it’s going to be all different.
Eli Kulp: [00:18:54] What percentage do you think, let’s say take Koreatown in New York city. What percentage do you think [00:19:00] use properly aged jangs and?
Hooni Kim: [00:19:05] Zero. It costs, it costs 10 times as much, you know, a lot of most Americans and even a lot of Koreans who live in the city, they’re used to the supermarket jangs flavor. It’s not as intense. Uh, it’s not as salty. It’s, it’s, it’s a little bit more funky than natural jangs. Oh, that’s great.
Eli Kulp: [00:19:25] All right. Well, let’s, let’s do a little background on you. You have, you have a winding path that kind of led you where you are today. How do you, uh, describe your background?
Hooni Kim: [00:19:36] I left Korea when I was three and ended up living in England till I was 10. Uh, and when I was 10, my mom, uh, and my mom was 35, 36, something like that. She suddenly wanted to study fashion, wanted to come to New York and then I’ve been living in New York since then. So almost, almost [00:20:00] well, 39 years I’ve been living in, in New York. You know, being an Asian kid was very good at science and math and ended up going to, uh, uh, college to, to study science and to end up being pre-med, uh, went to medical school.
I realized I hated hospitals and just being in a hospital made me physically sick ill. And I think that was because I still I’m very sensitive to other people’s emotions around me. And I was just getting so much sort of negative energy that, um, I was getting migraines. Um, my digestive system was breaking down, so I took a year off.
And in that year off. I, I went to a FCI French culinary Institute just to learn how to cook a little bit, because I didn’t have money enough money to go out to as many restaurants [00:21:00] as I wanted to. Uh, and that’s when I, um, realized you can really be happy working, uh, hard. And that’s where I realized, um, working 16 hour days when it’s something that you want to do does not make it a hard day’s work.
It’s something that I was even looking forward to the next, the next day. And that was so different from when I was at medical school, doing rounds at the hospital cause as soon as I left, I would dread the next day. Whereas, you know, in restaurants it was, um, yeah, physically it’s grueling, you know, um, more so then than now, but sure. It got me excited.
Eli Kulp: [00:21:51] You got bitten by the bug and I tell all the time, I think, you know, looking back in my career when I was in the kitchen, full [00:22:00] time. You know, there’s a couple of days that I wish I didn’t have to remember. You know, there’s always some really bad ones, but in general, the vast, vast majority of the time I was, I was in my happy place, you know, even with the challenges and the wrenches that would get thrown at you early on.
You know, especially working in New York city as a young line cook, you know, you and I, you know, have similar backgrounds and sort of the level of kitchens we, um, we worked in and, you know, we all know kind of what happened in the early two thousands, nineties kitchens were different. Um, it was a pressure cooker, but I’ve said this before.
I really believe that, you know, that pressure of, you know, Five hours of sleep at night, coming back to work at 10:00 AM in the morning. Uh, you know, and those, those long days really, you know, created, you know, I can, I compare it to, [00:23:00] you know, a diamond under pressure, you know, the pressure and what happens, you know, develop this, this ability to, um, think on a very high level about many things at same time.
And, you know, if you don’t do it, you won’t last very long. Um, but it sounds like you, uh, you don’t have to work in some great restaurants. What are some of the highlights that you, some of the restaurants where you really felt like you were, you grew the most?
Hooni Kim: [00:23:27] Um, Danielle, you know, two years of Danielle, uh, I know I aged a bit, um, and I physically, my calf muscles still have not recovered from my two years of Danielle. You know, it taught me my work ethic, uh, because of Danielle, I can instruct my employees to push hard because as much as I push down or even 10 years ago, it’s nothing compared to how much I was pushed at Danielle. And I, you know, I [00:24:00] remember hating it while I was being pushed.
But at the end of the night, when you’re walking home, there’s just so much pride of every night doing and accomplishing what you thought was impossible and that sort of marathon runners high. I crave it now. I don’t have that experience anymore now, but I remember, and I sort of remember when I’m pushing the cooks that hopefully when they’re going home, that, you know, they don’t hate me as much as they’re hating me at that moment.
And that, that, that, you know, they have appreciation of not to me, but to the work that they did and the sense of accomplishment and that pride that goes in, in, in hard work, um, hard, accurate work, but yeah, it, it, it taught me, it gave me my work ethic and that will live with me for the rest of my life. And hopefully for anybody who [00:25:00] works with me as well. Yeah.
Eli Kulp: [00:25:02] It was important that we pass down those legacies. I think, I think the idea of working hard, fast, clean, you know, I don’t want those things to get lost. And I think, you know, our generation on chefs, you know, we were that crossover generation and people listening might get tired of me saying this because I think it’s really true.
I think we do have a, we do have a responsibility to pass that on because. You know, it’s some of the things that we were normal, it was normal to us, you know, or not allowed anymore, you know, period. And, you know, with that, with all that being said, though, you know, I still think there’s, we, you know, we find different ways to being, you know, great leaders and making sure that, you know, people who are in our kitchens are going to, um, leave.
Like you said, they might not like you then, but. Looking back as soon as they leave, you know, [00:26:00] you know, that they’re appreciative because I was the same way I’d worked for chefs. Sometimes I’d just be like this guy’s a maniac. What am I doing here? You know? And you know, having second thoughts and then, you know, a year down the road being like, damn, I learned a lot, you know, like I’m using all of these different skills that I developed working for that hard-ass and I really think there’s, there’s a need for, we can be more professional, no doubt. We can be, um, more methodical. Um, but it’s, I, I load the, I load really load the day that kitchens lose the edge completely.
Hooni Kim: [00:26:45] Uh, you know, these days there’s a lot of controversy, uh, with, with people in leadership positions. Basically what I see it as losing control. Um, you could get angry when things aren’t done [00:27:00] correctly, but as long as you’re in control, you don’t need to be abusive. Uh, but when, and it’s human nature, when you do lose control, you lose your, you lose a lot of it, of what you have. So you, you do tend to do and say things that later you may regret or, or think otherwise, but it is about being an adult.
It is about keeping a control. It is about sometimes raising your voice to make an impact to, to let your workers know this is not good enough. I expect better. Um, And there’s that fine line. Now I, you know, I don’t have a problem with that because I stopped yelling, um, a while back because that’s not the kitchen that I wanted to sort of come, come into work every day. I got yelled at so many times at Danielle. It was just, but, you know, that’s the French way of cooking, even when they compliment they’re yelling at you.
[00:28:00] Eli Kulp: [00:28:01] Was that, was that a good or a bad yell?. Yeah. You
Hooni Kim: [00:28:02] got to kind of, well, they’re talking in French, so you don’t even understand, you have to look at the eyes.
I remember I was doing at least 80 / 100 hours a week getting paid for 40 cause we didn’t have clock-in systems. And to me, for me, I’m so glad that I did that because what I learned in two years at Danielle, I think now you have to work five years to get the same amount of experience because you’re not spending enough time there.
So for me to sort of let’s say, complete graduate school, because that’s what I considered these top tier colleges, the top tier restaurants. It’s, it’s not culinary school per se, but you’re learning so much more. And the fact that they’re paying you a little, um, thank you very much, you know, cause I would have even paid tuition to have my experience at that some of the restaurants that I worked at. Um, but [00:29:00] unfortunately now these restaurants can’t afford to work somebody a hundred hours a week, uh, 80 hours a week, not even 60, 50 hours a week. I know most restaurants are eliminated all your employees, all their employees at 40 hours, because overtime is, they just can’t afford to.
And I think it hurts the workers the most, you can’t, you don’t can’t understand what hard work is working 40 hours a week, you know, Masa. I ended up wanting to work because I wanted to, I learned how to cook Korean food. Um, but there weren’t any chefs cooking Korean food in New York at that time. Um, you know, the K-Town restaurants, I knew weren’t using the ingredients that I, you know, I wanted to learn how to use and they weren’t using the techniques.
Uh, so the next best thing thing was, you know, trying to find the best Asian restaurant to work at [00:30:00] and, you know, Masa still. I think it’s the most expensive restaurant in the U S but Japan being very close to Korea, geographically, I was able to really experience and learn so much about, uh, Korean ingredients, uh, through Japan.
Um, as well as I never knew, uh, Masa was such, I mean, I know I had no idea he’d like Korean food that much. And as soon as I started working, um, at Masa, we would take turns cooking family meal, uh, three meals a day, breakfast at 11, lunch at three and dinner after service at 11. Um, and. Basically, nobody really had a schedule of family meal.
It was whoever had the time, uh, and it had to be good cause Masa was there for every deal every day. Wow. Yeah. The [00:31:00] pressures, the family meal pressure was intense at, at Masa. And I really embraced it because that’s where I started cooking Korean food. I had no idea what I was doing. So I was looking at Munchie recipes online and using those recipes.
But you know, there, the dishes, like when I first, first opened DANJI, most of the menu at my first restaurant were family meals that I cooked at Masa. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Um, because I made certain stews, I must’ve made it a hundred times. So I was at Masa for about two years as well, and I must have cooked at least 10 family meals a week.
Um, usually lunch and dinner, um, because you know, he would read, he would request certain dishes.
Eli Kulp: [00:31:52] Uh, so when you, when you came from was it, did you go from Danielle to [00:32:00] masa?
Hooni Kim: [00:32:00] Yes
Eli Kulp: [00:32:01] So you came out of, uh, it was kind of similar to me leaving kind of French American restaurants and going to Del Posto, how the vibe in the kitchen is, was completely different.
And when you, you know, for those, for those that don’t know Masa in New York, it is a temple of sushi and seafood and fish. And I think it’s, I think it’s probably somewhere around $450, a person now $500 a person
Hooni Kim: [00:32:30] it’s 550 without any supplements by 50, without any supplements. So usually if you want the truffle ice cream, it’s a hundred dollars. If you want the cooked beef Wagyu beef course, it’s another, another $150. Usually a, you end up spending a lot.
Eli Kulp: [00:32:49] More, not to mention your, your drinks and your wine. So I guess he wears that badge proudly. Maybe it’s a competition, but you know, you must have seen such [00:33:00] incredible ingredients coming through the door every single day. Did you work the sushi line, did you, you know?
Hooni Kim: [00:33:08] I was doing the dinner at Masa. It’s seven courses of cooked or, you know, Uh, appetizer courses, and then you get the 25 pieces of sushi and then dessert, but you could fit five in your mouth. Yeah. Masa sizes are really small. It was completely different in that there was no real yelling except for Masa. Nope. I don’t remember anybody yelling in that kitchen except for Masa.
Eli Kulp: [00:33:41] How much, how much would he be yelling? Is it like a rare thing? Like.
Hooni Kim: [00:33:45] No, no, that was Holy shit. Yeah. It was a lot of the time. Most of the time he would yell at yell in Japanese. Cause most of the employees are Japanese and I would ask what, what did he, what did he say? And the translations [00:34:00] were, it was cruel. We’re talking about, you know, not, not directly cursing the cooks out, but talking about their parents. Oh shit. Oh my God. Roots.
Eli Kulp: [00:34:17] Yeah. Yeah. Ruthless. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s an aggressive art, you know, it can be a stressful art when you have those moments where you’re, you’re putting out your best product and you know, that, that you’re extremely proud of it, you know, there’s. It’s hard to, uh, it’s hard to replace that emotion with something else. No doubt about it.
Hooni Kim: [00:34:41] And the worst thing is for cooks. We have to recreate it every single time, right? It’s not a piece of music where you record it. Once. It’s not a movie where once you’re done, you’re done a painting up on the wall, you’re done. Just enjoy for the rest of your life, but your food you know, every [00:35:00] day you have to mimic 10, 20, 50, and tomorrow starts again. That’s the tough part, but you know, we, we, we enjoy what we do. We, we enjoy making people happy and we know that making people happy is not easy. So that’s what, you know, I guess we, that’s why we get up in the morning knowing that it’s our day, but we were in a position where we can make people happy and not many, not many careers you can say that.
Eli Kulp: [00:35:29] No. And I think that’s why people are realizing, you know, you know, over, over years, you know, taking restaurants and chefs for granted that you know, that there is, there’s more behind the wall than meets the eye and to now be able to emote kind of, you know, what we’re all about and understanding it.
I think, you know, a lot of what we do has been vilified in the media. Um, over the last couple of years [00:36:00] and, you know, yes, there are some characters, you know, there’s always some bad apples and, um, so bad actors, as far as, you know, what’s, what’s happening that can sort of take the pot, but in the grand scheme of things, I really hope that this idea, the craftsmanship behind what we do, doesn’t get taken away.
So. Masa gave you working there and developing these staff meals, gave you the confidence of like striking out on your own. Like, is that really what the impetus for you opening DANJI?
Hooni Kim: [00:36:41] There was something in between, um, after Masa. Um, I did a private kitchen and what that was was when I visited Hong Kong, while I was working at Masa. Just vacation. And at that time, like the best [00:37:00] restaurants in Hong Kong, weren’t commercial first floor restaurants, all the best chefs were renting apartments and having these two table three table restaurants in, in a, in a residential apartment and they were called private kitchen because the commercial real estate was just so expensive.
So we were dining at these amazing Sichuan restaurants, uh, with like 12, 13 courses. Yeah. And some were weird. Some, you know, at the end, the chef’s wife came out and started singing Chinese opera, but the food was so good. That you didn’t mind it. Um, and that sort of got me thinking because my parents were living in Manhattan at that time, but on the weekends they would go away most weekends.
So I use those weekends to do a [00:38:00] private kitchen. Uh, at their home, um, charged, uh, people at first, it was just friends and then friends of friends. And then I did this for almost a year and by the third month I had booked out the whole year. Wow. That’s incredible. Yeah. Yeah. And you know, for a lot of people it’s like, Oh, he cooked it.
You know, I’m getting a little bit of Danielle’s food, you’re getting a little bit of Masa’s food, a little bit of Korean, you know, it was very fusion. He was, I don’t think anything was mine. But it was a lot of things that I learned that I sort of reinterpreted it. Uh, because you, you do that as a line cook you never change anything, but you’re always thinking, Hmm, wouldn’t it be better if you sort of tweak this, but at my private kitchen, I was able to do that and because it was so well-received and I started cooking more Korean food at, at, um, these private kitchen at my private kitchen, I was, um, [00:39:00] that gave me the confidence to, I had a story to tell.
I think for me, you know, working at Danielle, working at Masa, they’re all stories, uh, a specific story, uh, because Danielle having so many restaurants and I, I knew each one was very different. Uh, the style was different, the food was different, the service was different and his demeanor in the kitchen was different, uh, for each restaurant.
So, um, I learned that no writing or opening up a restaurant was, was just like writing a book. Um, it had to have characters, chapters, and everything had to be consistent. Um, and I thought I had a story and that was a Korean American chef trying to, who’s never learned how to cook Korean food. Nobody ever taught me how to cook Korean, but still nobody’s taught me how to cook Korean food, but trying to [00:40:00] find my heritage via my restaurant.
Eli Kulp: [00:40:05] I, you know, that’s, that’s, that’s something that I think also happened with, um, you know, I connecting to your heritage, right? Um, I, I was involved early on with Theresa with Rich and Mario connected to their heritage, right? The Italian American heritage. And they started cooking fancy Italian American, you know, using their they’re working at cafe balloons.
They’re both stone and, and you know, all these, you know, high-end, um, sort of temples of gastronomy in New York and then dumbing it down to this little market kind of style restaurant, um, with one menu a night, but producing. You know, amazing sort of renditions of New York Italian. So it had trying to tell extended, it had, you know, had a little Korean mix, then, you know, we, we took all these liberties and it was just, everything had to go through the lens of an Italian, uh, [00:41:00] grandma, almost like I had to, I had to feel like homey, Italian, not like fancy Italian whatsoever.
So, you know, that sort of reaching back to your heritage, um, is interesting because when I came to Philadelphia, You know, I’m, I’m born and bred American. However, my, my last name cult is a Pennsylvania has been, has been in Pennsylvania for like 400 years in 16 hundreds. My family immigrated with like, you know, the pen Dutch and, you know, from Germany.
And I was able to experience that same thing going back. I didn’t grow up in Pennsylvania. I grew up in Washington state, so I really didn’t have any idea of the food ways, the knowledge, the traditions of Pennsylvania cuisine. And, you know, I was able to go back and rediscover like. You know, certain dishes or ideas or ways of doing things, you know, looking at like, you know, something that, you know, stuffed pig stomach where, you know, how do we recreate this [00:42:00] dish in a fashion, you know, the mushroom capital of the world, how it used to be the bread basket of, of, uh, the United States.
Um, you know, Pennsylvania, you know, all this rich history that sort of lies right in front of us, you know, the meals that, you know, Ben Franklin, he, you know, whatever it was that, um, you know, cause Fork is literally 50 feet from Ben Franklin’s house. So the, the history down here and it’s, it’s amazing, the connection you can tap into your client, your customer when you are you’re cooking from the heart because you’re connecting with something and your food is so much better when you’re doing that. It’s naturally going to be better because, you know, you’re, you’re all in, you know, it’s not cerebral is cooking from the heart and, you know, reaching out and, you know, I think that’s a lot of ways that the chefs can connect with their, with our [00:43:00] guests.
Yeah. You know, you’re, you’re in a, you’re in a flow, you know what I mean? You’re in that flow flow state, a flow state. And it’s you produce the best food you’ll cook your whole career.
Hooni Kim: [00:43:10] Yeah. You know, I, I really think it’s a phase that most, I would say most, but a lot of talented chefs go through and it’s a, it’s a phase of self discovery. And I think this is one instance where ethnic checks, ethnic chefs we have an easier time than American chefs because our heritage, our self-discovery, our ethnic food is so much different that, that we can learn so much more.
And it’s easy to learn going back to, uh, your Homeland, um, that, you know, you just feel like there’s this connecting to self discovery. It doesn’t take a lot of work. You just need to go there or read up on it or watch Korean dramas or listen to [00:44:00] K-pop. Um, Korea town was a big part of that. It initiated my wanting to learn more about my culture. Um, and you know, cooking, like being a line cook at Danielle.
No, we will go to K Town after work, uh, and. You know, that’s, that’s where I started to sort of learn more about Korean culture, um, and you know, cooking at Danielle where I think it’s like 75% where we’re French at that time, the line cooks, but I could see the, the, the immense amount of pride. That these cooks when it came to not just cooking, but cooking French cuisine, like they were, they were Olympic athletes, you know, representing their country and their culture through their food.
And I, and I knew, and I was a pretty good cook. I knew I could not experience what they were, you know, what they were experiencing every night. Um, and that’s what made me want to. Cook [00:45:00] Korean food. I wanted to experience that pride, that immense sort of pressure of representing my culture through food. So for us, that’s a little bit easier.
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You’re also involved in, you know, sort of the, uh, the food media in Korea. And you mentioned that something that has allowed you to kind of have more freedom here because of your, you know, even with COVID right. You’re able to work over there. What has that been like, sort of, you’re kind of an ambassador here in the States and you didn’t really live in Korea much more than a few years early on that you, but you visited often?
Uh, I’d love to go into, you know, visiting your grandmother, um, and all that, but I don’t think we was time, but the. [00:48:00] Um, you know, and then you’re an ambassador of Korean food here. And then you take, now that you’re your sort of major name in New York city now you’re sought after in Korea. What, how do people view you in Korea as a chef? Because like you said, you were never really trained professionally in a Korean kitchen, but you found your way into this, into this amazing position. Like what is, what is, how are people viewing that relationship in korea?
Hooni Kim: [00:48:34] I think most people are just very curious to see what makes a successful Korean chef, uh, A traditional Korean chef, meaning my food um, at HANJAN. DANJI is still my sort of Korean American, uh, because it’s my first restaurant and I was a lot more New Yorker than Korean and my menu [00:49:00] has pretty much stuck. Whereas HANJAN, there was there’s no New York. I wanted to make sure that my second restaurant was its own unique story and it was not about Hooni Kim the New Yorker.
It was about the land of Korea and what I could take from that and bring to New York. Um, and you know, most Koreans, they prefer hands-on because, um, it’s different than. Um, the traditional Korean restaurants you find in K-Town, uh, the menu is the same, but just flavor-wise, ingredient-wise, it’s very different.
Um, and you know, this is, uh, I can explain this in Korean. But unless you’ve tasted it, it’s sort of like, really, I still don’t understand what you do. You’re just cooking what conjuncture, you’re just cooking. I’m like, yeah. But [00:50:00] it’s all for me. And I’m sure it’s for you for many chefs. If my Doenjang Jjigae, you know, Doenjang stew, if I didn’t think it was one of the best or better than anybody else in New York or the United States I would not put it on the menu. I’ll be like, what’s the point.
If I want to go on a taste, a good one, I’ll go or better one, I’ll go to his restaurant, go to their restaurant. But it is that sort of vision that, um, or haven’t seen vision that it’s, it’s that sort of thinking in my head that makes any restaurant successful. Um, I think that idea Korea still doesn’t understand, um, the history of restaurants in Korea not that long. We’ve had so many Wars, um, the the history of chefs, not that long, you know, [00:51:00] Korean food has always been passed on, through generations of mothers and grandmothers and mother-in-law’s passing their recipes on.
And that’s why I still believe the best food in Korea is not at the restaurants. It’s at people’s homes. And I still firmly believe that. Um, so as a chef, I’m still a curiosity. I still don’t cook in Korea. I don’t have a restaurant in Korea because there are opportunities to, but for me, I, you know, my role is I’m a messenger.
If I’m in Korea, who am I an ambassador to? Who am I, you know, I’m not, I don’t want to, there’s no story to tell for me in Korea as of now. Um, whereas in New York I do, you know, I have stories, bunch of stories I bring from Korea all the time, whether it be ingredients, techniques, or even certain plate flavor profiles.
I have stories to tell, but in Korea, it’s sort of like, I’m a student, uh, I’m a [00:52:00] student of Korean cuisine still. So I do TV and I don’t. I do a lot of judging, mostly judging of TV shows where I can teach young, you know, amateur cooks as well as professional cooks, uh, the techniques. And, and my know how, of, of my experience in the restaurant industry, working with some amazingly talented chefs, um, succeeding in New York, which I think you go outside of New York city, especially internationally. I think that’s sort of every, you know, whether it be fashion music, who definitely, if you’ve succeeded in New York city, I think people want to know what your story is.
Eli Kulp: [00:52:45] How did this come around? Is this idea of, you know, teaching and mentoring young, uh, orphans in Seoul? How did that pop up?
Hooni Kim: [00:52:57] I had a lot of time while I was filming, [00:53:00] uh, in Korea, this was about five years ago. And during that time, I was looking for at least little volunteer activities, you know, teaching, cooking, and everything. And I reached out, uh, to somebody who, uh, was working with nonprofit organizations and she didn’t know I was a chef, but she was just telling me how, how. No, these, these orphanages are having a really hard time, um, training and educating their, their children.
So that. Or preparing them to when they leave the orphanage at age of 18, as soon as they graduate high school, they’re sort of forced out or they’re given $4,000, uh, and the training stops there. And, you know, the economy in Korea is, you know, it’s very difficult to find, find a job [00:54:00] where young Koreans, uh, in, in any field, but not even that there is this stigma in Korea, where if you’re an orphan, if you don’t have parents, then you weren’t given the basic, uh, training in, in your values, like, you know, stealing and lying and showing, coming to work on time. Um, it’s not true, but there is this stigmatism and yeah. Fair at all, man. Not fair at all.
And by law, you’re not allowed to ask you know when you’re hiring what your parents do, but in Korean culture, that’s the first question. Any young person it’s so where do you go to school? Where do you live? What do your parents do? And with those three questions, you sort of figured them out. LIke what it’s not like a caste or it’s not a caste system, [00:55:00] but in Korea, long time ago, it was, there were castes.
Uh, you were born into certain castes, you could vary it up, but, um, there are levels of people, uh, and still, you know, want a job at a seven 11. You’re competing with, you know, um, college people who are going to college, even college graduates they’re competing with, uh, it’s difficult for an 18 year old orphan without any parents to even get a job there.
So she was telling me all of that, all of that, while my restaurant, chef friends were telling me how, wow, that’s tough to hire line cooks. Uh, cause kids don’t want to be like us, they all want to be chefs. And it’s not about the money because even now I think most. It takes a lot of money to learn how to cook in Korea.
Um, [00:56:00] restaurants won’t teach you like we do here, you know, just come in and start as a dishwasher. You know, we’ll teach you how to cook if you want to, you know, that’s how it is here, but in Korea, that’s not the case. You have to go to culinary school. If you don’t go to culinary school, it’s tough to get a job.
So, um, I just piece those two together. Like restaurant chefs need line cooks. These kids need uh, a job. So I rounded up all of the restaurant chefs that I knew who were complaining about not having enough line cooks. And we were organized a group called Yori Chunsa , which makes basically means chef angels. Um, and they do all the work.
These chefs, every Tuesday, they go to the orphanage to, to cook for them because we realized it wasn’t about the training in the beginning. Um, these kids didn’t want to learn how to cook because food was food. They were eating the same, same meals every single day cooked by the [00:57:00] same person for their whole, yeah.
So first year we started with seven chefs, uh, taking turns. So each chef had to go to the orphanage seven times that first year. Um, and. Uh, the second year we had 14, third year 20 something right near we’re almost up to 40 chefs. Wow. Uh, so they, you know, they only have to go once or twice a year. Um, and it’s exposing these kids to Spanish food, French food, Indian food, Italian food, all of these different cuisines.
And you know, sooner or later we realized these kids were gonna want to sort of, or at least curious about what we did and where we are and we’re training high school kids to, to be line cooks now. And we train them the French way. Um, we don’t, we send them, we don’t send them to school. Uh, we send them to our restaurants on the weekends [00:58:00] and it’s a apprenticeship.
Um, our organization buys them knives and uniforms and everything, but it’s, it’s up to them. They go into these, uh, but they’ve known the chefs for five years, so they feel a little bit more comfortable. Right, right. But they’re gonna, you know, go and learn. They’re learning how they’re not, how to be a chef now. And they can choose which restaurant that they want to work at when they graduate.
But knowing that they have a job waiting for them, it really there, you know, When you ask a 16 year old orphan, what their biggest stresses is, what they’re going to do when they leave. They don’t have family. They don’t have a family structure, which is the most important thing. But in a kitchen, you know, not only do you have a job, but you have a family structure, you have a father figure, a mother figure, you know, siblings that you consider the line cooks cause they’re all older [00:59:00] than you.
Um, So that structure, that sort of pattern. Um, I think it helps them not have to worry. Oh, I can imagine it should. You should not be worrying about your future at 16. You should not be worried about getting a job, finding an apartment, trying to figure out where you’re going to live at 16. So, you know, in that regards, I think we’re helping them out a little. So,
Eli Kulp: [00:59:27] so let’s talk about your cookbook. It’s important. Um, everybody hears that you released this cookbook and this last year, right, right. When you say April, right. So when you were going to write this book, how did you, how did you. Sort of begin to, um, put it in motion and where you ended up today with this beautiful sort of story about your, your, [01:00:00] your sort of journey into Korean soup and where you are today.
Hooni Kim: [01:00:04] Um, so I was, I wasn’t forced, but this book fell on my lap because one of our customers was a. Was a literary agent and she just kept pushing me into writing a book. And she was like, your menu is the table of contents. It’s going to be so easy. So I was like, sure. Okay. Um, and like I said before, my first two manuscripts where were thrown out were not accepted.
Um, I don’t think. I was good at telling a story about Korean food in general, or introducing people with Korean food, because I do it at my restaurants all the time and it’s something I feel like I do so much better through food. Um, so [01:01:00] writing about it, it was like no energy, no, no positive energy. Um, so I didn’t do a good job with that, but later on, um, When I realized I didn’t have to do that anymore because there have been so many well-written books, introducing Americans to Korean food that I didn’t have to write an intro to Korean food anymore.
They could really be more, uh, what Korean food means to me. Um, and. Also the history of Korean food that I think I haven’t been doing at my restaurant, or it’s very difficult to do at restaurants. Uh, and that’s something that I think Korean cookbooks haven’t done where really talking about the history and, and history.
What I mean is, like I said, before Korean food, we don’t have a chef. Uh, culture, we don’t have, uh, uh, we don’t have famous chefs that with these [01:02:00] encyclopedias about Korean food recipes, it was just all passed down, uh, in homes and at home food, especially in Korea where nourish nutrition is important. Um, It wasn’t about cooking delicious food, because all food is delicious when it’s natural, you know, when you make your own jang’s and it’s five years old, whatever you cook with, it is going to be delicious.
It’s a given, and that’s why most Korean restaurants it’s delicious. But as a mother, That’s not the most important thing, because with the nutrition in the food that you cook, you’re going to have a healthy or go going to raise healthy children. You’re going to have, you know, parents that are living with you with a strong immune system.
And that for me is the foundation of Korean food. Um, The food has to be nutritious. [01:03:00] The food has to make you healthier. I think every meal you can either become healthier or you can become a sicker. I think certain meals that we eat, we eat because it tastes good, but it’s making us sicker everyday eating that food.
Uh, but I think Korean food is something that, um, it should be the ingredients should be natural ingredients. The fermentation should be natural. It should occur naturally. It should be food that makes you healthy after you’ve eaten it. Right. And you know, and that’s what I’ve been doing with them, with my restaurants from the beginning.
And I think for most chefs, uh, using natural ingredients, of course it tastes better, you know, textually it’s better, but it’s also. You’re making people healthier with your food. And that’s very important, right? And healthy is not about diets anymore. It’s not about the ketones. It’s not about men. It’s making sure the meat that you serve doesn’t have the chemicals.
Isn’t, isn’t, you know, it doesn’t have the growth hormones. It’s [01:04:00] not, uh, chemicals that really damage your body. Um, and that to me is a different sort of happiness that I get. Running my restaurants, uh, beyond, you know, customers thanking me because the food was delicious because even though that they don’t even, they might not know, but I know my staff knows that we make them healthier today.
Eli Kulp: [01:04:23] That’s cool.
Hooni Kim: [01:04:24] Well, thank you so much for having me. I found this was a stress reliever for me, cause I, cause you know, I don’t get to discuss these topics in so much depth. Uh, with anybody really, uh, uh, cause cause if we weren’t doing this, we’d just be busy doing what we’re, what we usually do with our lives, but to be in this situation. Thank you. Uh, yeah, it helped me a lot today to get this out, you know?
Eli Kulp: [01:04:53] I think the listeners will well cherish this conversation for sure.
Hooni Kim: [01:04:59] Wow. You know, [01:05:00] I, for that for the hour and a half, I wasn’t even thinking about the listeners. I was just looking at you. It just felt like a one-on-one because. Yeah. I mean, we’re looking at each other while we’re talking, so it just felt like a one-on-one. I hope they found it entertaining.
Eli Kulp: [01:05:16] Before we wrap it up. Can we do the 11 question session real quick? Yeah, I will try to get all the today.
Exactly. Right. All right. Uh, best childhood memory?
Hooni Kim: [01:05:29] Uh, getting on the plane for the first time when I was three years old, two years old, I’m a big flyer. Okay. When I was three.
Yeah, that was that’s the earliest I can remember anything, but it was traumatic, but I was on a plane that was flying. It felt huge. Yeah.
Eli Kulp: [01:05:48] I hope they give you the, uh, the business class now you can stretch me, lay down
Hooni Kim: [01:05:51] in the. Back then in the plane. Yeah,
Eli Kulp: [01:05:56] exactly. Right. Best thing about New York, right? [01:06:00] New York city right now with, with everything going on.
Hooni Kim: [01:06:02] The people, the compassion that we experience to the few customers that I do have contact with, um, they really appreciate what we’re doing. Uh, and they’re, they’re rooting for us. So the ones are, you know, that are still alive, you know, restaurant wise, but they’re rooting for us, yeah.
Eli Kulp: [01:06:25] Um, if there’s a place that you just want to go chill out, um, in New York, where are you going to go?
Hooni Kim: [01:06:32] It would usually be a park somewhere. Right now where I live Gantry state park overlooks the river and the UN. And that’s where I like to walk every day, hour, hour and a half. It’s my only exercise that I get. But
Eli Kulp: [01:06:46] if you have one or maybe more than one, uh, your favorite spot in Korea? Could be a restaurant or place?
Hooni Kim: [01:06:54] Like yeah. I would say, wow, it’s so tough to pick [01:07:00] one of those, but you know what? I think it’s best to leave Seoul for that, because, um, Seoul, you, it’s just like, you get the best of the best, right? It’s not about the best sometimes it’s about the character. Um, it’s the way you eat, you know, not what you eat sometimes. And I feel like um, even me exploring the small villages outside of Seoul. Um, I feel like it’s for Korea then what Seoul can show you. Yeah. So not a specific place, but right, any site out of, anywhere out of Seoul.
Eli Kulp: [01:07:42] Most painful part of writing the book?
Hooni Kim: [01:07:44] I think to drink every night to write, because I was not comfortable talking about myself or my food. Yeah.
Eli Kulp: [01:07:57] Loosened yourself up a little bit.
Hooni Kim: [01:07:58] Yeah. It’s [01:08:00] just embarrassing. Cause you know, you cook, you show who you are with your food, you don’t talk about it. I’ll talk about great food. Um, but yeah, I drank every night for a while, but in those eight years I drank a lot.
Eli Kulp: [01:08:19] Koreatown or Flushing, queens?
Hooni Kim: [01:08:22] Um, Flushing.
Eli Kulp: [01:08:24] Um, number one, uh, tool for you in the kitchen?
Hooni Kim: [01:08:28] Spoon because I taste, I mean, for me right now, running two restaurants, I feel like tasting is the most important thing, more than cooking.
Eli Kulp: [01:08:38] Um, one common misconception about Korean food?
Hooni Kim: [01:08:42] That it has to be very meaty, meaning Korean barbecue. Cause you go to Korea and you go to somebody’s home, majority of the meatloaf is going to be vegetables. Okay. Some fish and very little meat. Yeah. I would say 80% vegetables, [01:09:00] 15% fish and 5% meat. Okay. And that’s, and of course your own bowl of rice, but that’s, that’s a typical Korean meal.
Eli Kulp: [01:09:09] I think it’s food and cooking, running restaurants um, do you have a hobby, a passion that you, that you, uh, you have?
Hooni Kim: [01:09:17] I guess, learning to be a better father yeah. And a husband. It doesn’t come naturally. Um, my father died when I was two, so I grew up not understanding the dynamics between a husband and a wife and a father and a child. Uh, but I have the best teacher in my wife who, you know, been married now for 15 years. Uh, she has patiently taught me how to try to be a good father, better father than a husband. I think so far.
Eli Kulp: [01:09:53] Well, it sounds like she’s patient. Do you have a most memorable meal? Like one that you just like, that you remember, like eating something that’s be like [01:10:00] transported or?
Hooni Kim: [01:10:02] Eight years ago, right after, uh, DANJI, uh, right before HANJAN opened. Uh, so that’s what was nine years ago. I remember going to somebody’s house in K Town, uh, and, um, uh, it wasn’t a house. It was in a farm. They have an organic farm. Uh, they make. They grow all their vegetables, organic and everything. Uh, and I’ve been to those places before. We’ve been to stone barns.
You know, this place, they it’s not a restaurant. Uh it’s where patients would go, terminally ill patients would go try to get fed the probiotics. Every meal was just full of probiotics and their philosophy was this, old people when they have surgery, chemo, they don’t die because of the surgery. They don’t die because of the chemo.
We lose the power, our body moves the loses, the power to heal ourselves. [01:11:00] Uh, because it loses the power to digest and absorb all the nutrition. So it’s not about eating nutritious meals when you’re older, when you survive, trying to survive, it’s about having enough probiotics in your system to be able to absorb all the food and nutrition.
And that’s what this place was about. And I didn’t know that until after the end, I remember thinking, wow, this food is the best tasting in food, but then it was so much deeper than that. And I remember seeing while I was there first day, uh, this old gentleman was only able to eat like three spoonfuls of food.
And by the fourth day he was eating the whole bowl of rice. And I was like, this is where miracles happen and we’re doing it through food because Western medicine did what it could but with nature, we’re making him happy. We’re making him alive. We’re making them healthier.
Eli Kulp: [01:11:53] All right, last but not least. If you could sit down and share your food with anyone, past or present, who would [01:12:00] it be?
Hooni Kim: [01:12:00] My father’s mother, my grandmother, because I was at that grandmother’s house that I had that taste memory, uh, when I was, you know, three, four, four years old, that really made me understand that difference between Korean food from Korea and the Korean food that I was eating in K Town, but that, that, that there is a difference, a significant difference. And that made me want to go back to Korea and learn more about Korean food. And that’s the basis of my, you know, book, you know, cooking nowadays. And I would like to sort of show her what I can do now, because that only came about because she showed me what she could do.
Eli Kulp: [01:12:46] Right. Well, uh, I gotta say this was really great. Uh, thank you again for coming on and sharing your story and, uh, look forward to hear the final product.
[01:13:00] Hooni Kim: [01:12:59] Thank you so much for having me. Um, I look forward to speaking with you outside of this sort of zoom thing soon, I’ll visit you in Philadelphia when, when I’m allowed, uh, when the restaurants open.
Eli Kulp: [01:13:14] All right, brother. Well, good talking.
Hooni Kim: [01:13:17] Thank you, have a good night. Have a good day.
Eli Kulp: [01:13:23]Thanks for listening to The CHEF Radio podcast. If you’d like to support the show, please leave us a review. Wherever you listen to your podcast, it helps others find the show and allows us to continue to make great content. The CHEF Radio podcast is produced by RADIOKISMET. Post production and sound designed by Studio D Podcast Production and I am your host Eli Kulp.