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'Kimchi Is In Our Blood', Interview With San Francisco’s Chef Jee Kim

'Kimchi Is In Our Blood', Interview With San Francisco’s Chef Jee Kim
Hosting numerous private classes making authentic Korean food, chef Jee Kim has gained many fans in the Bay Area. The Culture Trip had a chance to join her class of making white kimchi (백김치)), a formal type of Korean kimchi, and was amazed by her warm and caring cooking style. We spoke to chef Jee Kim about her Korean culinary background and San Francisco’s food culture.
Awesome recipe for white kimchi © Phuong Pham

What is the significance of kimchi for you?

I’m a big fan of kimchi, it is the perfect combination of sour, spicy, savory, and it cuts the grease. It also helps that it is low fat, full of probiotics, vitamins A, B, C, and gluten free. I eat it all the time!

Besides kimchi, what is your favorite Korean meal?

Tteokbokki is my favorite. Its sweet and spicy flavors permeate through perfectly chewy rice cakes. It’s the ubiquitous street food in Korea. It reminds me of my childhood in Seoul.

You lived in Maryland before moving to San Francisco. How is the food culture in San Francisco is different? How has this experience shaped your approach to Korean cooking?

The Bay Area feels like “home” like no other city does for me. I’ve lived in Seoul, Maryland, New York, and Texas before I settled in San Francisco 12 years ago. Cooking for me, especially for the sophisticated San Francisco palette, means being authentic to my mother’s original recipes. San Franciscans can decipher between Americanized versions vs. authentic, which makes things easier for me.

Speaking of your mother’s recipes, was she a chef?

My mother has a great palate and owns a deli but she doesn’t have formal training. She cooked for her family, so she cooked with love. Being caring, using fresh ingredients, and paying attention to details are the main ingredients in her cooking.

Before starting your culinary journey, you had a strong background in fashion. How have this experience shaped your cooking style?

I worked in the fashion industry for over 15 years, which lends itself to presentation and attention to detail. I use the same philosophy in cooking; presentation is very important to me.

When you have time to eat out, where is your favorite place to dine in San Francisco?

For Korean BBQ, I like to go to the Wooden Charcoal Barbecue House on Geary.

What is one of the most memorable dishes you have ever had, and where did you have it?

In Incheon Korea, there is a seaport named Wolmido. You pick the fish you want from a big tank and they prepare it sashimi style. Their ban chan (side dishes) fills the entire 8′ table, ranging from squirming squid legs to medicinal root veggies. They then make a wonderful seafood broth stew from the bones with veggies. It’s to die for!

What plans do you have for yourself, your cooking work in the next few years?

I’d like to continue teaching San Franciscans how to make their own kimchi and also host private Korean dinners. Its so awesome to watch folks take so much pleasure in making their own batch of kimchi. I also enjoy sharing snippets of Korean culture with my guests. Did you know that its customary to use both hands when you’re pouring for an elder? You’ll get a tutorial in class!

For more information on Chef Jee Kim, please visit www.jeeskimchi.com. You can sign up for an upcoming class and/or you also can order her delicious homemade kimchi there.