Ji Hye Kim arrived in New Jersey from South Korea at the age of 13 and found her way to Ann Arbor, Mich., the way many people do, as a student.
She made a home for herself there, but although there were already good Korean restaurants in the college town, she missed her mother’s cooking. So she started to cook her own food and eventually opened a restaurant, which has won local accolades as well as a semifinalist nod from the James Beard Foundation, and Kim herself was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs” in 2021.
Though inspired by her mother’s cooking, Kim soon came to understand that the food she was raised on was mostly limited to Gyeonggi province, which is Seoul and surrounding areas. So she began to study the food of other Korean regions, getting her relatives in South Korea to send cookbooks, some dating back to the 14th Century, exploring Korean food from a medicinal perspective, a farmer’s perspective, from the perspective of the aristocracy and more.
That and the produce of Michigan are her main inspirations at her restaurant, which, although it’s Korean, has adapted to local service styles.
For example banchan, an array of cold or room-temperature side dishes that accompany a traditional Korean meal, must be ordered separately, because Kim despaired to see them wasted when her guests didn’t eat them.
Kim recently discussed her approach to running the restaurant as well as her plans for Chuseok, the mid-autumn harvest festival that is on Sept. 10 this year.
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