Yesterday we spoke with Danji chef Hooni Kim about merging French culinary technique with Korean flavors. Today he shares his wisdom with young chefs who want to own their own restaurants.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
I think the one dish that has gone through the most changes and transformation is the bacon-chorizo kimchi paella. When I first thought conceptually about this dish, kimchi pork fried rice is a common dish and it’s just that. I wanted to make that fried rice in a Chinese way using a wok, but also Koreans have bibimbap, which cooks on a hot stone like paella, which has the soccarat — the crispy bit. I wanted to incorporate those ideas and serve it on a hot plate so I tried all these ingredients. I started with just bacon, then we added some Spam to give it something else, and now it’s kimchi bacon chorizo paella.
And you just started lunch service, right?
Yeah, two weeks ago. It’s much cheaper and we didn’t want to do a shared-plate menu because for lunch, you might be alone or with business partners. We do dorsirak, which translates as “to your lunchbox” — you get your own rice, soup, over-rice dish. We have one that’s vegetarian and two that are meat that change every day and are $12 to $14.
Do you hang out in Koreatown or in Flushing a lot?
No. But when I want Korean I go to Flushing. My favorite restaurant is called Ham Ji Bak.
What’s your advice to chefs who want to own their own places?
I think opening your own restaurant is not about cooking. You learn as a cook growing up that even when you take command of a restaurant, it’s all about cooking. But it’s 30 percent cooking and 70 percent business, so you have to think more like a businessman as opposed to a chef. I couldn’t have done this without a talented sous chef who shared my vision. I do interviews and meet with lawyers during the day, and there needs to be someone in the kitchen making sure everything’s OK. During service, I’m there, but not as much during prep. I’m lucky that I have Dan Rutledge, who’s fortunately half-Korean, so he knows the recipes and has the work ethic. People who work for Daniel [Boulud] have the same work ethic.
You’re clearly quite busy. What do you do when you aren’t working?
I rest. I still go out to eat and drink for fun. I don’t eat Korean because I taste it all day. Last night I went to Blue Ribbon and had bone marrow and a bottle of champagne with one of my chefs. I have no time to play golf, but eating is still one of my favorite things to do.