Kimski’s KoPo fusion gets Taste of GFA spotlight
By Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed
FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Accelerator is holding its 1st annual Taste of the GFA fundraiser on October 25, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at 1871 Chicago in the Merchandise Mart. In lead up to the big event, Good Food News is presenting profiles of some of the exciting and innovative chefs — such as Won Kim of Chicago’s Kimski, profiled below — who are creating dishes for the event using ingredients produced by Accelerator graduates. Tickets for Taste of the GFA can be purchased at the event website.
The resumes of many Chicago chefs include years at well-known culinary schools and apprenticeships under icons such as Rick Bayless or the late Charlie Trotter. Won Kim, the chef at Chicago’s Kimski restaurant, took a very different path.
He worked in a variety of front-of-the-house roles and often filled in for friends in the restaurant industry. A noted graffiti artist with an iconoclastic streak, he nonetheless worked as catering coordinator for the American Bar Association. After one year of culinary education as the Chicago affiliate of Le Cordon Bleu — interrupted when the for-profit company failed — he worked as house chef and taught classes at Chicago’s Whole Foods Market flagship store in the Lincoln Park neighborhood (where he had previously created an art installation). He won a competition on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen show.
“I didn’t work in 80 kitchens and go to France,” Kim said.
No surprise, then, that Kim would be at the center of a concept that’s a unique surprise even for a cosmopolitan, next-big-thing-seeking foodie city like Chicago: Korean-Polish cuisine. ‘It’s rare to find something truly original in Chicago, land of all restaurants. But Kim has managed to create a concept that didn’t already exist,’ wrote reviewer Michael Nagrant for the Chicago Tribune in June 2016, shortly after the restaurant opened.
[This originality will be on display when Kim provides samples of a Loaded Sauerkraut and Kimchi Soup at the Taste of the GFA on the evening of October 25 at 1871 Chicago. Participating chefs were challenged to use products made by the entrepreneurs who have graduated from FamilyFarmed’s, six-month intensive Accelerator program, and Kim is using sauerkraut from 2018 graduate Cultured Love.]
The KoPo fusion becomes less unusual if you are aware of its origins. Kimski is a spinoff of Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar, a longtime local institution that became a craft beer haven in the South Side Bridgeport community after brothers Ed and Mike Marszewski took it over from their mother Maria — the Korean half of a Korean-Polish marriage.
Ed Marszewski’s boosterism for the community — a longtime working-class Irish-American enclave best known as home to politics’ Daley family — has earned him the nickname “Mayor of Bridgeport.” He founded Marz Community Brewing, a craft brewery and bar a few blocks south of Kimski/Maria’s, while brother Mike owns and runs Maria’s.
Kim first became aware of the Korean-Polish mashup when Maria’s held “industry nights” for people in the restaurant industry on Mondays and served free Polish sausage with kimchi for beer-buying customers. Kim often dropped in and helped out by artistically slicing and plating the food to keep people from greedily grabbing whole sausages.
The Marszewskis decided to expand Maria’s by creating a Korean-Polish restaurant, seeing Kim as the perfect choice for chef. Kim said it took a while to convince him.
“I said no many times, and then, I have no… idea why, I said yes. I just said yes, one day. Sure, let’s just do it, stop bothering me,” Kim recalled.
Kim recognized that within the varieties of national and ethnic cuisines, there are many common threads, which made it less difficult for him to build Kimski’s menu: “It was just weird enough for me to be interested in it. Once you start doing research you realize, all cultures’ foods are just the same. It’s just different ingredients. It’s dumplings, rice and scraps, and cabbage, and slowly rotting foods. Every culture has fermented foods, every culture has salt, every culture has made use of bones and [crappy] meat cuts to extend the food and whatnot.”
He continued, “It all kind of came to me that, since there are so many similarities, let’s try to make a hybrid pierogi or do something where we use both cultures’ ingredients to come up with dishes, and just highlight the ingredients that are so common in both cultures, just kind of slam them together and see what happens.”
A sampler of Kimski’s menu items created by Kim includes Maria’s Standard, a Polish sausage on a bun served with soju mustard and “kraut-chi;” Kimski Poutine (fries dressed with kimchi gravy, fried Wisconsin cheese curds, topped with pickled onions, scallions and sesame leaves); and Ko-Po Beef, a mostly Koreanized take on Chicago’s famed Italian beef sandwich containing house-marinated bulgogi beef, sautéed shishito peppers and onions, scallions and gochujang butter.
Kim also puts an emphasis on sourcing his ingredients as locally as possible (with concessions for items such as Korean chili powder obtained for him by relatives who live in South Korea). “[It’s] the background that I have, having worked at a lot of places and seen the importance of stuff like lowering your carbon footprint and other environmental things, sourcing local,” Kim said, adding, “It just tastes better.”
Kimski purchases ingredients from local and regional vendors including Mick Klug Farm, Slagel Family Farm, Natural Direct, Testa Produce, Co-op Sauce, and Spoke and Bird Bakehouse in the nearby Pilsen community, that makes Kimski’s rolls and buns. Kimski has a small outdoor garden tended by Planted Chicago and owner Jen Rosenthal, an urban farmer of note (and the member of the Good Food Accelerator Associate Board who asked Kim to participate in the Taste of the GFA event).
“If I wanted to make money, I would just buy everything frozen and hire one cook and six deep fryers, deep fry everything,” Kim said. “It is actually important for digestion and its good food, just better ingredients. That’s why we still make everything from scratch when we can.”
The Taste of the GFA fundraiser, October 25 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at 1871 Chicago, provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Accelerator while tasting delicious samples from graduate Fellows and from some of Chicago’s most innovative restaurants. Tickets are going fast, so buy yours now!