My friend Kimiyo Naka asked if I’d like to interview Bill Kim, a Chicago chef/ restaurateur and James Beard Award nominee who had a new cookbook out on grilling Korean-style who would be doing a demonstration at the Japan Pavilion at this year’s National Restaurant Association. I’ve wanted to learn more about Korean cooking and because I was writing about grilling, the whole thing seemed like a perfect fit. To make it even more interesting, Kim is a fun interview,humorous, friendly and knowledgeable plus he makes Korean cooking sound easy.
It turns out that Kim’s first cooking experience was making instant ramen over seogtan(burning coals) at age six a year before his family moved from Seoul, Korea to Chicago. Fast forward four decades and Kim, who owns several restaurants in Chicago including urbanbelly, a communal-seating restaurant featuring creative noodle, dumpling and rice dishes, Belly Shack featuring menu items blending Asian and Latin flavors and bellyQ, a modern Asian barbecue concept, recently authored Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces (Ten Speed Press 2018; $28).
His career path to culinary heights and James Beard Award nominations began with experiences feeding siblings and cousins while his parents worked and worries about not being able to make it in a traditional college atmosphere when attending a college recruitment event at his high school. That all changed when he saw a giant wedding cake. It was a lure and when he approached the table, a representative from a culinary school asked if was interested in a cooking career.
Attending Kendall College where he studied classic French and worked at several prestigious French restaurants and was also the chef de cuisine at Charlie Trotter’s but when it came time to open his own restaurants, he decided to focus on his own heritage as well as that of his wife who is from Puerto Rico in a style he calls Kori-Can. There were, of course, many remnants from his French culinary background and world travels in the mix as well and his American upbringing. For the latter, check out his recipe for Kimchi Potato Salad. He also wanted to get away from the rarified world of cuisine and open up his food to everyone.
“My parents were very humble people who owned their own dry cleaning business for 35 years,” says Kim. “I wanted them to see their sacrifice pay off by taking all the things that I learned and being able to use it. My parents had only eaten at one restaurant I worked and that made me sad, I saw because I knew how hard they worked. As I got further in my career, I was cooking for fewer people—only those people who had he means to eat in the restaurants I worked in. But those weren’t the people I grew up and I wanted them to have restaurants to eat at.”
“BBQ itself is engrained in the Korean culture says Kim.”
“We didn’t have a lot of things when I was growing up in Chicago, we didn’t have a grill,” he says. “So when we wanted to barbecue, we had to go to park where there were free grills. I remember how the aroma of the foods we were cooking always attracted by people who weren’t part of our family. that someone from a different country could come up to you and ask what it was we were cooking. My mom would give even strangers food. It was pretty powerful watching them when they tried it, the way their eyes opened and they smiled. That’s when I learned food doesn’t speak a certain language.”
Making Korean barbecue accessible was one of the inspirations behind Kim’s decision to write his cookbook.
“I think I had a lot to say,” he says. “I really didn’t think there was a cookbook out there written by a chef, sharing the experience of being born in Korean and growing up here and adapting to a culture that was a very foreign to me.”
He also sees it as a way of giving back and to make Korean food accessible.
“I think we take for granted that food is an entry level to a different culture,” says Kim. “I want people to look at the book and know the history behind it. And I wanted people to be able to cook Korean barbecue at home.”
Indeed, with a wonderful, heartfelt introduction and seven master sauces and three spice rubs that make his dishes easy and simple to recreate at home, Kim takes away the mysteries of Korean food.
“The thing that I want people to understand is that you can cook without borders now more than ever because the borders have crumbled,” he says. “Even though the food is not 100% Korean it’s these flavors that can come out.”
Seoul to Buffalo Shrimp
1½ cups Lemongrass Chili Sauce (see below)
⅓ cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons sambal oelek
3 pounds extra-large peeled and deveined shrimp (16/20 count)
¼ cup Blackening Seasoning (see below)
FEEDS 6 people
Heat the grill for direct heat cooking to medium (350°F to 375°F).
Combine the Lemongrass Chili Sauce, butter, sesame seeds, and sambal oelek in a large bowl and whisk until well mixed. Set aside.
When the grill is ready, season the shrimp with the Blackening Seasoning, coating them evenly. Place the shrimp on the grill grate, close the lid, and cook for 2 minutes. Flip the shrimp over, close the lid, and cook them for another 2 minutes, until they turn an opaque pink color.
Remove the shrimp from the grill, add to the sauce, toss well, and serve.
Lemongrass Chili Sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced, peeled fresh ginger
¼ cup minced lemongrass
1 cup sweet chili sauce
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup sambal oelek
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
PREP TIME 10 minutes
MAKES 2¼ cups
Combine the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chili sauce, fish sauce, sambal oelek, and oil in a bowl and whisk until blended. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 2 months (see note).
¼ cup sweet paprika
¼ cups granulated garlic or garlic powder
¼ cup chili powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Makes ¾ cup
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir to mix. Store in airtight container in a cool, dark cupboard for up to six months
NOTE This sauce won’t fully harden when frozen, so you can spoon out as much as you need whenever you want to use it.
Sesame Hoisin Chicken Wings
½ cup Soy Balsamic Sauce (see below)
¼ cup Magic Paste (see below)
¼ cup hoisin sauce
½ cup thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts
3 pounds chicken wings and drumettes
Korean chili flakes (optional)
FEEDS 6 people
In a large bowl, combine the Soy Balsamic Sauce, Magic Paste, hoisin sauce, and green onions and mix well. Measure out ½ cup of the marinade and reserve for basting the wings on the grill. Place the chicken wings and drumettes in a large, shallow dish, pour the remaining marinade on top, and turn the wings and drumettes to coat evenly. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Heat the grill for indirect heat cooking to medium (350°F to 375°F). (If using a charcoal grill, rake the coals to one side of the charcoal grate; if using a gas grill, turn off half of the burners.)
Place the wings and drumettes on the grill grate away from the heat, close the lid, and cook for 5 minutes. Flip the wings and drumettes over, baste them with some of the reserved marinade, close the lid, and cook for another 5 minutes. Flip the wings and drumettes over two more times, moving them directly over the fire, basting, and cooking for 5 minutes on each side. Sprinkle on some Korean chili flakes, if you like things a little spicier.
Transfer the wings and drumettes to a platter and serve.
Soy Balsamic Sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch, or as needed
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
MAKES 1 cup
In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and water until the cornstarch dissolves and the mixture is the consistency of heavy cream, adding more cornstarch if the mixture is too thin.
Combine the brown sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir the cornstarch mixture briefly to recombine, then stir it into the soy-vinegar mixture and simmer over low heat for about 3 minutes, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from the heat, let cool completely, then refrigerate in an airtight container. This sauce will last for months without going bad.
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
½ cup fish sauce
¼ cup toasted sesame oil
¼ cup Korean chili flakes
MAKES 1 cup
Combine the ginger, garlic, and fennel seeds in a food processor and process until minced, periodically scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the ginger gets chopped. Add the fish sauce, oil, and chili flakes and process for 30 seconds.
Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 2 months. Or freeze in standard ice-cube trays, then transfer the cubes (about 2 tablespoons each) to plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to 2 months.
Reprinted with permission from Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces, copyright © 2018 by Bill Kim with Chandra Ram. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.Photographs copyright © 2018 by Johnny Autry.
Jane Ammesoncan be contacted via email at email@example.com