Chatting With The Good Fork's Sohui Kim: Red Hook, New Year's Eve, and Wearying of Steak and Eggs

No one ever said it was easy to open a restaurant, but it's even harder to keep a restaurant running, turning out great food every single day. Beloved Red Hook stalwart The Good Fork celebrates its fourth anniversary next month. We caught up with the restaurant's executive chef and owner, Sohui Kim, who has just given birth to her second (or by some counts, third) child, about the challenges and joys of long-term restauranting. Kim was in the midst of making her famous dumplings and planning the first-ever New Year's Eve menu for The Good Fork, which she owns with her husband, Ben Schneider.

Check back here tomorrow for the second half of our interview with Kim, in which the chef reveals her favorite places for pizza, Korean food, and ramen, and what's in her refrigerator.

How is the Good Fork doing? Any news or thoughts about the last year?

Well, this coming month The Good Fork will be four years old.

Congratulations!

Thank you, yes, we're very happy. It's pretty incredibly because our business plan definitely didn't stretch this far. It was more: "We'll just see what happens!" We're extremely happy and proud, not only because we're going into our fourth year, but we just had our staff party, and we looked around the room and realized that we love and adore everyone who is a part of The Good Fork family.

A lot of workers have been very loyal, and have been with us for a while. The front of house crew has been with us from the beginning, and the back of house has a stellar crew. I'm home more now because of the kids, so I hired a chef de cuisine who's been a good friend of mine. She and I have similar vision. I'm still involved in running the kitchen and designing the menu, but I also have great people.

As far as business goes, the economy's been behind the slowdown of the industry, but we're still doing well. Weekends are still very busy; people still come in for parties; we have our loyal customers. So we're okay. In the restaurant business, it's great if you're okay. Has it been difficult for you to be out of the kitchen a bit more?

It has. In the beginning, it was very hard. I'm a hands-on kind of person, and I consider The Good Fork my first baby. When people ask how it's doing, I say: My first born is doing fine on its own. We opened with me in the kitchen and Ben serving, a small mom and pop operation, no joke. But at a certain point, my doctor said: Okay, you're eight months pregnant, you need to get out of the kitchen. It was summer, and very hot.

We have had to trust our instincts when hiring people. And we've been fortunate to have good people come through our doors. Some people say: Oh the chef is not in the kitchen, so I won't go there. I didn't want people to be able to say that about The Good Fork. We have stellar people in there, and people can't tell me we don't. So our quality stays up and everyone's happy.

It's funny, at such a small restaurant, to be the executive chef telling everyone what to do, but it's good because everyone's on the same page. It's still my operation, I'm still in the kitchen and design the menu, but I have a really good chef de cuisine and great workers. The restaurant is actually just two blocks from my house, so my world really is about home and The Good Fork.

One of the reasons we opened the restaurant here is that we absolutely adore this neighborhood. It has a community feel. Like, I'm a city girl, I grew up in the Bronx, and this is really small town USA, like a little seaside town. When I walk to the restaurant, it's literally a block and a half, and I'll run into three people I know. It's really special.

 

Any new menu items you're particularly excited about?

Well, we rotate all our seasonal stuff in and out. It's all based around Added Value farm, and it had a tremendous year this year, so we've been using lots of local greens, really stellar greens, they've had great radishes, tomatoes. So right now we have a really great pork tenderloin, great duck breast, great salads, a great homemade potato gnocchi with oxtail ragout...

But as of last week Added Value stopped delivering because it's not producing anymore. In the wintertime, we're sad just like all the other chefs. Come January, we'll switch things around again.

What are you thinking of for the January menu?

We'll probably do wild boar ragout. We've had that on the menu before, and it's such a nice comforting winter food. We serve it with papardelle.

But actually, my chef de cuisine and I just got out of a meeting about New Year's Eve. We're going to be open for the first time ever, doing a tasting menu. We'll see how many people come out in the cold in Red Hook! I'm sure you'll be full! What's on the tasting menu?

We have oysters and caviar to start, and the second item is seared scallops with red quinoa salad with truffle butter, and the third course will be a take on surf-and-turf: rib-eye with red wine reduction and lobster gratin. Finishing with a chocolate pot de creme with berries and cream. We'll also offer some a la cart stuff, if people don't want to go all out. It's a killer tasting menu. It's not low calorie, but hey, it's New Year's, it's winter. And we'll have a wine pairing to match. I like to think that for a small restaurant we have a really good wine program. We'll be featuring at least one wine from Red Hook Winery.

We have a farm and a winery in Red Hook. It's pretty awesome. I've read Los Angeles chef Suzanne Goin quoted as saying that this particular short rib dish that she's known for and that everyone loves has actually become kind of an annoyance for her, because she can never stop making it. I was wondering about your steak and eggs Korean-style: It's so many people's favorite dish, and it's always on your menu. Do you ever get tired of making it?

Yes! God, yes. I was talking to my manager yesterday, I told him that in January I want to change to the winter menu. And he said: You can't get rid of the steak and eggs! So yes, I can't get rid of the steak and eggs, and I can't get rid of my dumplings. Just two other items, the burger and the crab cake, have also been on the menu since we opened.

The steak and eggs and the dumplings, people love them, and we've gotten so much press for them that people will travel for them. Those items I can't touch, so I know just what chef Goin is saying. You put these dishes on the menu because you love them, and you want other people to love them, but be careful what you wish for, because now I can't take them off the menu, because people will get pissed. I can't touch them!

Has Red Hook changed since you opened four years ago?

It's definitely changed, but not as much as I thought it was going to change. When we first opened, Time Out ran this story about how Red Hook has "arrived." And we thought: Really? We've always been here. And so much hype about the neighborhood sent rents soaring. Interest in this neighborhood is seasonal. You have to want to deal with the bus and train system. It's not an easy place to get to, especially in the wintertime. You have to be committed. It keeps a certain number of people away. It won't overdevelop like some of the other neighborhoods that are quote-unquote hot.


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