The Ten: Ji Hye Kim
Name and job title
Ji Hye Kim, Chef and Managing Partner, Miss Kim, Zingerman’s Community of Businesses
Where were you born, and where do you live now?
I was born and raised in Seoul, Korea, until I moved to New Jersey at the age of 13. Now I live in Ann Arbor, MI.
How you describe what you do / your job
I have a Korean restaurant in the Midwest, and I set the direction for everything we do.
How much did you spend on your last cup of coffee?
$1.29 for a can of supermarket coffee from a Korean grocery store
What is one ingredient that is crucial to your work and/or life?
Perilla. The oil, the seed, the flour, the leaves. This resilient plant gives so much to Korean cuisine. I really do not have a green thumb or time, and I prefer supporting the local farmers, but this one I grow at home. It’s not as easy to find at farmer’s markets, but it grows really well in Michigan without too much care, and it just reseeds itself after the season is done. Delicious, generous, resilient plant.
What does a food and/or drinks system mean to you?
A food system has a massive impact on everything we do. How a society treats its food system gives me clues into the priorities of that society. If the food is appreciated and enjoyed, if the ingredients AND people in the food system are treated with respect, I can assume that it’s a society that values people in it, knows how to have fun and take care of itself. Taking time to either make a nice dinner or go out to a good meal at a local restaurant is very different from just having some processed food delivered. To have the capacity and privilege to enjoy good food, and to have a food system that can sustain that, is a reflection of self care and self respect, how that society treats its citizens. The United States has much to improve on this front, right? What if we prioritized the environment, local businesses, school lunches, organic farming practices, and fair wages over subsidizing mass produced food and corporations and over police and war spendings? Wouldn’t that have so much positive impact?
How does your immediate locale / environment affect your work?
Michigan farmers and foragers are huge inspiration for me and the restaurant. Just like any cuisine with a long history, Korean cuisine is rooted in seasonal ingredients and local supplies. That influences the menu quite a bit, and our food would not look the way it does if we weren’t in Southeast Michigan and so close to many local farmers.
Where do you draw inspiration from, in your work?
Besides Michigan farmers, I draw a lot of inspiration from old Korean cookbooks. Various cookbooks, medicinal journals (for food is medicine), farmer’s almanacs and surveys of everyday life from centuries ago survive in Korea, and there is enough public interest that they are republished and very accessible. I rummage through them, and think about the story of a dish and my ancestors who made and enjoyed that dish. If I have a better understanding of the tradition and people’s stories, I get better inspiration on what the next iteration of that dish might be from the perspective of a Korean immigrant in Michigan.
What impact do you want to have?
There is a lot I want to do and see, from providing a living wage and actual career for my staff to sharing the immigrant experience and its food. But ultimately the impact I want to have is to bring small, everyday joys through food. Whether that’s telling a story of a dish and a people, sharing a recipe, or introducing a Korean plant to a farmer, I want to contribute to a small part of people’s day when they can set aside the day’s hardness and take a moment of joy.
What change do you want to see in the food and/or drinks system?
People in the food industry are intelligent, genuine, hard working people with so much knowledge and skill set, and they ought to be treated like the consummate professionals that they are, both in compensation and in perceptions.
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