“When people talk about Korean food,” Phil Lee says, “it’s about kimchi or Korean barbecue.” In two to three weeks’ time, he hopes people will be buying both at the Kimchi Taco Truck. Lee, a longtime general manager for B.R. Guest, is launching the truck with Youngsun Lee, the chef of the late and lamented Persimmon; the two previously worked together at B.R. Guest.
And, yes, Lee is well-aware that New York just got a Korean taco truck earlier this week. “I think they’re doing a great job,” he says of Korilla. “I’ve not met him [Edward “3D” Song, Korilla’s proprietor] directly, but I guess he got an earlier start than I did. But I think they’ve done a great job, especially in marketing and getting the word out.”
Lee hasn’t tasted Korilla’s food yet, but says that, conceptually, the main difference between the two businesses is the kimchi, which Lee describes as “the bread and butter, the heart and soul of Korean cooking.”
“I like the fact that the Korilla guys are doing different kinds of kimchi,” he says. But the kimchi Lee will serve at the Kimchi Taco Truck will hew more to traditional style: red kimchi, which is consumed in the winter, and white kimchi, which is eaten in the summer. “We’re opening in the winter season, so that’s what we’ll start with, and then go from there,” Lee says. “We’ll try to stay with seasonal kimchi,” using recipes from both his and Lee’s families.
More generally speaking, Lee says his concept is “about introducing Korean food to the mainstream. It’s all about the delivery and concept of the cuisine. Putting Korean barbecued meats in a taco is obviously one way of doing that — you can get introduced to it through various packaging channels, i.e., a taco or burrito or grilled cheese sandwich with kimchi. Kimchi is not the easiest thing for people to get used to, but once people have it, and they have it the right way, I think they’ll really enjoy it and crave it.”
Lee’s hoping that the taco concept will allow him to turn customers on to other, more traditional Korean foods, such as Korean-style ramen, which he’s thinking of adding to the menu sometime during the winter months. The KTT menu will have three to five items, including a taco, a burrito, and a grilled-cheese sandwich. Each will offer options for different (all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free) animal proteins or vegetables, and nothing, Lee says, should exceed the $7-$8 range. “It’s street food at the end of the day, so people’s perceptions of street food should be one of value,” he says. “One of the advantages of a truck versus brick-and-mortar is there’s not a tremendous amount of rent. We want to pass along the savings to our customers.”
That said, if all goes well, Lee envisions a brick-and-mortar version of the truck. In the meantime, he’s not yet sure where the truck will be parked once it hits the streets. “The plan is to be all over the city, but to be very respectful of the vendors out there,” he says. Stay tuned for the truck’s website and Facebook and Twitter pages — and the inevitable Korilla comparisons.
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