For many of us, Wednesday is Hump Day. But for Hooni Kim, it’s Kimchi Day. At his Michelin-starred New York City restaurant, Danji, the Korean chef and his staff spin 40 heads of cabbage into the spicy, belovedly funky fermented dish. It’s an event that arrests all senses, which is why, Kim says, “I like scheduling things on Wednesdays” to get some fresh air.
Kim didn’t go cabbage-crazy overnight. Although he was born in Seoul, he was first classically trained at the French Culinary Institute and earned his stripes at Daniel, Daniel Boulud's world-famous French flagship in New York. At around 11:30 PM, after a hectic evening shift, Boulud often ordered a special dining room to be set for a 20-course dinner. His guests were some of the best chefs in the world. “It’s not like that anymore,” Kim says. But Kim can still cook around the clock, a drive that would allow him to become a successful restaurateur in his own right.
While working as a chef at Masa, one of New York’s finest Asian restaurants, Kim was inspired to recreate the flavors of his childhood travels to Korea on his own time. When his parents weren’t using their apartment on the weekends, he’d open up a so-called "private kitchen": free at first, for his friends, until they started booking him for parties and it became profitable. Kim eventually realized he could turn his extracurricular activities into a real restaurant. Using the money he and his wife had saved for 10 years to buy a house, he did just that, and opened Danji. "I should've been more terrified, but I was too busy to be terrified," Kim says.
It was a risk that reaped big rewards. Kim’s classic French treatment of Korean ingredients and flavors, in dishes like kimchi poutine and Korean-BBQ style braised short ribs with pearl onions and pine nuts, was something New York had never seen. In 2012 Danji became the first Korean restaurant to receive a Michelin star; not long after, he opened his second restaurant, Hanjan, further uptown. The Times heralded Kim as "the city's leading interpreter of Korean cuisine."
And now he’s your gateway to the fiery, vibrant, umami-rich cuisine of his birthplace. Kim will teach you how to make many authentic Korean essentials, including spicy pork belly, napa cabbage kimchi (don’t worry, it’s a one-cabbage version), seafood soft tofu stew, and an exquisite pot of short-grain rice—a must-have for nearly every Korean meal. The preparation is simple, the food stunning, and the instructor, ideal.