Chef Sohui Kim thinks truffle oil is overrated. “I firmly believe that salt, a pinch of sugar and/or a splash of rice wine vinegar can always save the day,” she says. And that may very well be true—as long as you know how to wield those ingredients like Kim can. Sweet-salty-spicy flavors perk up cuisine from South Korea, her birthplace, and they now electrify the food at The Good Fork and Insa, the two Brooklyn restaurants she runs with her husband, Ben Schneider.
But gochujang and kimchi aren't the only stars. On The Good Fork menu, fried calamari with fra diavolo and Parmesan are just below her savory, teriyaki-drizzled scallion pancake. It’s eclectic and fresh, but comfortably mom-and-pop cuisine. In The Good Fork Cookbook, Chef Kim describes her food as “traditional dishes heightened by a global pantry; classics, with just enough of a twist to make them new again.” It’s the kind of food that builds a following, so much so that after Hurricane Sandy damaged their restaurant, Kim was able to crowdsource $50K to rebuild.
That kind of tenacity is what put Kim on the culinary track in the first place: after graduating from ICE, she secured an externship at Blue Hill under Chefs Dan Barber and Michael Anthony. They tried to persuade her to move upstate as they opened Blue Hill at Stone Barns, but the buzz of the West Village sounded more appealing, so she moved on to work with Anita Lo at Annisa.
Kim brings her professional chops to Panna, but with a warm, homespun touch that's evident in the loving way she pleats pork dumplings (the ones that beat Bobby Flay's in a throwdown). Watch how she bundles veal shanks with butcher’s twine to make Osso Buco, the dish her husband cooked to woo her while they were dating. Other dishes taste totally familiar, but draw from the “global pantry” that defines Kim's style: pan-seared chicken breasts, bathed in a butter sauce funkified by Chinese fermented black beans, or a lentil salad specked with piquillos, a sweet Spanish chile. So, whether you’ve got flavor wanderlust or need a dose of edible comfort, Kim’s cuisine will satisfy and leave you hungry for more.