Won Kim does not care that your grandma hates his food. One month into a five-month sabbatical from Bridgeport’s Korean-Polish Kimski, and the chef is feeling fine.
“I think I did a pretty good job trying to respect each culture,” he says. “I was downright fucking paranoid and scared to honor the babcias and the halmeonies out there. But what I’ve come to realize is they don’t give a shit. They just want authenticity. Grandmothers hate me and my food, and I’m OK with it.”
Six and a half years in, Kimski’s evolved far beyond its initial Ko-Po experiment, both in terms of food and its place in the restaurant community. It’s ground zero for Marz’s mutual aid food service, Community Kitchen, and it’s a prolific chef incubator, nurturing talent and launching independent careers for dozens of young chefs.
Kim’s earned some me-time.
And he’s earned this unfamiliar serenity that’s allowed him to take a walkabout in Amsterdam and Brussels without freaking out about whether he’d ordered onions. He’s been painting like mad, free from the worry about whether he left the kitchen with enough buns. And he’s been able to help out the chefs popping up at Kimski until his return without stressing that the restaurant will spiral into chaos.
It has also allowed him to start thinking about the next phase for Kimski’s menu, which you can get a taste of on December 12, when Kim takes over the kitchen at the Kedzie Inn for Monday Night Foodball, the Reader’s weekly chef pop-up in Irving Park.
What’s that look like? It’s a lot more traditionally Korean, a little more upscale, but above all, “I want to just selfishly make food that I want to eat.”
That means your grandma might be weirded out by the way he tosses his chap chae á la minute with a ginger-sesame dressing instead of the standard soy-vinegar-sesame oil trio. She’ll probably serve some side-eye to the Heffer BBQ smoked brisket on his bo ssam platter, wondering where the boiled pork belly is. Her brow will furrow when she tastes his short rib marinade on the kalbi platter, which skews a lot less sweet than most, but still, “That’s the most humble fucking Korean meal. You’ve got your protein, you’ve got your pickled veggies, you got your carbs. That’s my ode to how I grew up eating at restaurants and at people’s homes. In the 80s, that’s what put us on the map. White people were like, ‘OK, we fuck with Korean food now.’”
I’m not sure what grandma can possibly dislike about his kimchi jjigae, stewed with his mom’s home-fermented cabbage, but she will likely be conflicted: “She hates it when I use her food. She makes it specifically so that I eat it. But I think she also loves the idea of it feeding strangers.”
Does change make you nervous? Don’t sweat. There will be some Kimski classics, like the Ko-Po beef sandwich dressed with charred shishitos and smothered in cheddar sauce; and the dduk Bok ski, sweet and spicy rice cakes with muenster cheese and fried egg; and the soy-sesame sour cream-drenched fries with chili oil, nori, and scallions.
Don’t bring granny this Monday beginning at 5 PM at 4100 N. Kedzie. Just walk on in and order. No preorders necessary.
Meanwhile, there’s one more Foodball left in 2022, when MNF veteran Schneider Provisions teams up with Zeitlin’s Delicatessen on December 19, at the beginning of Hanukkah. Keep your eyes open for a brand-new Foodball schedule in January.