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The Dish: Chef Beverly Kim on giving back during pandemic

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She was a James Beard Award winner for her unique take on Korean cuisine.​ But like so many chefs, Beverly Kim's world was up-ended by the pandemic. Michelle Miller shows the inspiring way Kim turned misfortune into an opportunity to give back to her community.

Video Transcript

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- This morning on The Dish, Chef Beverly Kim. The youngest of four girls born to Korean immigrants, Kim has cooked her way to the top of the culinary world. Her unique American spin on Korean classics has earned her recognition from the likes of Top Chef, the Michelin Guide, and the James Beard Foundation. But this year the coronavirus has upended everything in Kim's life. So she's fighting back and giving back with the food that's been her passion.

MICHELLE MILLER: Chef Beverly Kim has spent much of the last year putting out fires instead of lighting them.

BEVERLY KIM: Well, today's a special day. And this is the first time we've lit it up for probably a year.

MICHELLE MILLER: What?

BEVERLY KIM: Yeah.

MICHELLE MILLER: Not even a Michelin star gives a restaurant immunity from the coronavirus.

BEVERLY KIM: I feel very fortunate to still be standing here. Ultimately, we lost a lot of money. I mean, maybe 900,000 less sales than we did last year. I felt that doing business just on takeout was not the answer. We had to look outwards.

MICHELLE MILLER: These days the only meals Kim and her staff have been cooking are for takeout, donations to local charities, and a pay what you can canteen.

BEVERLY KIM: It helped them, but it also helped me to have purpose.

MICHELLE MILLER: In normal times, Kim and her husband Chef Johnny Clark, run both of their restaurants in the Avondale section of Chicago. Parachute, an eatery inspired by Kim's Korean heritage, has earned the couple some of the culinary industry's highest honors.

BEVERLY KIM: We usually start off with some panchan. So panchan is small side dishes just to stimulate your palate.

MICHELLE MILLER: Right next door is WhereWithAll, a modern American spot where we broke bread.

BEVERLY KIM: This is baked potato bean bread. Yours we made vegetarian. Do I say that, is that OK?

MICHELLE MILLER: A yeasted Chinese bean bread stuffed with scallions, Idaho potatoes, and white cheddar.

BEVERLY KIM: And then there's the sour cream butter. You got to get that on there.

MICHELLE MILLER: Kim parlayed an internship at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago into culinary school. Oh, I love this. You're eating a drumstick. And a stable career in the kitchen but eventually realized something was missing.

BEVERLY KIM: So I went to Korea. Loved it. Like fell in love with just my heritage. So my quest was to express myself with the Korean side and then also the training that I learned otherwise, and kind of mix that together to be who I am. And when I met my husband, it became very clear to me that we had to open a restaurant.

MICHELLE MILLER: Clark also a culinary school grad, had just returned from his own four month soul searching food journey to Korea.

BEVERLY KIM: I was like so show me your pictures from Korea. So then what was your favorite dish from Korea. I was kind of testing him.

MICHELLE MILLER: You were checking him out too.

BEVERLY KIM: I was totally checking him.

MICHELLE MILLER: A little bit.

BEVERLY KIM: A little bit, yeah. And then I was like he's cute too, he's cute. And he loves Korean food. I'm like, I don't know. This is too good to be true. We fell in love. We got pregnant within a year, I had a shotgun wedding. I mean, it was just a whirlwind after that. I know I was scandalous. Yeah. It was such a whirlwind. We are like two souls that were meant to be together.

MICHELLE MILLER: Two restaurants and two more children later, the pair seemed to have it all, until the world started to unravel last summer.

BEVERLY KIM: We were working 18 hours a day. The combination of the emotional stress and the financial stress, the health risk.

MICHELLE MILLER: They decided to temporarily shut down the restaurants.

BEVERLY KIM: When we took that time off it helped me to clarify what this time was good for, because there was a lot going on. Black Lives Matter has just sort of ignited and it made me think about how I could transform that negative energy into something positive.

MICHELLE MILLER: But as the year went on, another battle emerged. The wave of hatred being unleashed upon Asian-Americans across the country.

BEVERLY KIM: Every time I heard like on the news Trump say China virus or Kung flu or just those--

MICHELLE MILLER: Triggers.

BEVERLY KIM: Triggers. And I just knew that was going to ignite. When I was a kid it was the same kind of rhetoric.

MICHELLE MILLER: What did you see, what was the worst?

BEVERLY KIM: Well, a car almost ran into me and try to run me over with his truck. This guy actually stuck his head out and said, go home, you Jap. When I was six the kids would say, Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these. And it made me feel very insecure about my looks, about my eyes, and who I was.

JEFF VAUGHN: Fighting back against hate.

MICHELLE MILLER: This is what drove Kim to do something about it.

JEFF VAUGHN: -- to find out who sent a racist and threatening letter to a local family.

MICHELLE MILLER: An incident last month that hit too close to home. Inside her parent's gated California retirement community.

BEVERLY KIM: Someone had written this anonymous hate letter saying--

MICHELLE MILLER: To a widow.

BEVERLY KIM: To a widow. Addressing her hey, you know one less Asian to worry about. Thank God. And it was so cruel. The end of the letter was really scary because just like, watch out. Pack your bags to go back to your country. My mom was like really confused reading this. She's like why is he saying go back to my country. And we're like, no, this is your country.

MICHELLE MILLER: In response Kim and a fellow Chicago chef, have launched DoughSomething. This month and next, participating restaurants nationwide are making something delicious with dough. With proceeds going to the organization Asian-Americans Advancing Justice. This week Kim and Clark unveiled a kimche pizza. Dough topped with gotugun tomato sauce, pepperoni, and cheese.

But whether it's pizza, broccoli salad, or Korean fried chicken, to Kim it's all American.

BEVERLY KIM: But I'm so proud of how far we've come. I was always comparing myself to the French or the European style restaurants, and I feel sort of really glad because that opens a lot of doors for other cultures cuisines.

MICHELLE MILLER: You feel vindicated.

BEVERLY KIM: Yeah. You know it's kind of a lifelong quest just to be myself. Not be put in a box.

MICHELLE MILLER: And you taste pretty good to me.

BEVERLY KIM: I'm glad that you enjoy.

MICHELLE MILLER: So I lunched on the food but I brought the sparkling rose that she served me. So cheers, everybody. DoughSomething, #DoughSomething if you're interested in her mission-oriented organization. But you know she says she treats every customer like her parents. And go figure her parents come to her restaurant every single week. I just loved her family story.