Sohui Kim’s Kimchi

Fifty gallons of fermenting cabbage.

Chef Sohui Kim would be the first to tell you that the Good Fork—the two-year-old restaurant she owns with her husband, Ben Schneider—is more New American than Korean-American, despite her Korean heritage. Yet while her burger and pastas reap raves, it’s her housemade kimchi—the quintessential chili-spiked, fermented cabbage Korean condiment—that stars in her signature dish.

Called Steak and Eggs, it’s a skirt steak marinated Korean-style in honey, garlic, soy sauce, grated apple and chili, then sliced thin, topped with a quivering fried egg and served over a bed of kimchi-speckled sushi rice—a twist on a common homestyle Korean breakfast in which leftover rice is fried with bacon and mixed with the pickled cabbage.

“What makes the dish,” acknowledges Sohui, “is the kimchi.”

Kimchi—nearly Korea’s national food—was just as critical when Sohui was growing up: she moved to the states at age 11 as part of a family that made it from scratch. These days decent kimchi is available at most of Gotham’s Korean markets, but Sohui makes it by hand just for that one dish, using her mother Hwiok’s recipe—in fact, Hwiok even helps make it. Several times a year she flies in from Los Angeles for a daylong stint preparing a stash of around 50 gallons for the coming months.

Working together—“it’s sort of a bonding thing for both of us,” says Sohui—mother and daughter follow a two-person-version of the ancient farmstead tradition. Late each October, Korean villagers have long pooled their harvests and gathered to form a kimchi assembly line. Each person was assigned a specific job, she says; the most important person, in this case her mother, was the keeper of “the secret recipe of the blend.”

And while the Good Fork doesn’t grow its own cabbage, it does procure it from the local village, at least in warmer months: the 60 heads of Napa cabbage in Sohui’s last batch were grown at Added Value, a tiny not-for-profit farm on an old city playground a few blocks from the restaurant.

Every community’s recipe is different, but the basic process has remain unchanged over centuries: Sohui and Hwiok start by quartering the fresh lacy leaves of cabbage and sprinkling them with salt so they wilt and give up their moisture. After at least six hours, they rinse the leaves, then fold in a seasoning paste they’ve spent much of the morning preparing; it’s a fiery mash of julienned daikon radish, shredded green onions, slivered garlic, ginger and bell peppers, plenty of Korean red chili flakes and vinegar and some Asian fish sauce or shrimp paste, which Sohui says helps boost the fermentation process. Unlike many modern vinegar “pickles,” kimchi gains its briny tongue-tingling tang from lactic acid bacteria created by true fermentation. There’s also a healthy dose of the Kim family signature: grated Granny Smiths.

Like their ancestors, Sohui and Hwiok Kim make enough to last several months, but rather than bury crocks of the condiment to cure underground, they pack their blend (minus a few jars for Sohui’s siblings) into plastic containers that sit in the Good Fork’s commercial walk-in refrigerators.

Nature does the rest: those tasty bacteria multiply over the next six months, increasing the peasant pickle’s pungency. (You can adjust the tang and flavor by tweaking the fermentation time and temperature. sohui, who likes her kimchi “extra stinky,” keeps a personal stash out of the fridge a little while longer.)

Kimchi is the Good Fork’s most time-consuming condiment, but it’s just one of many things they make from scratch. Sohui, an Institute of Culinary Education–trained chef who cooked at Manhattan’s Savoy and Blue Hill, strives to make every element of her menu in-house, and to source her seasonal ingredients as sustainably as possible.

It’s that small-but-savvy neighborhood vibe—the chef lives around the corner and makes every element of your dish—that the Good Fork cultivates over any particular country’s cuisine.

“We wanted one foot in fine dining, the other in comfort,” says Sohui. “My menu hops all over the globe. It has Korean accents, of course, but it has accents of Italy and France.” That means a great beer list and a $12 burger, a roast chicken with braised leeks and potato-parsnip mash, a seared duck breast with French lentils and red wine reduction…and some of the city’s most authentic kimchi.

Kimchi Rice with Bacon and Eggs

Serves 2
From Chef Schui Kim of the Good Fork

Whether you make your own kimchi or use store-bought, this simple recipe transforms leftover rice into a great breakfast, lunch or dinner.

3 thick slices bacon cut into 1-inch pieces
1 c. kimchi thinly sliced
2–3 c. leftover rice, preferably steamed sushi rice
1 t. sugar
2 T. rice wine vinegar
2 eggs

Brown the bacon in a large sauté pan. Remove cooked bacon and set aside, leaving about one tablespoon of fat in the pan. Over medium heat, cook the kimchi in the bacon fat for five minutes, then sprinkle in sugar and vinegar. Fold in rice and cooked bacon until evenly mixed and heated through; set aside and keep warm. Fry the eggs sunny-side up, and place atop the rice mixture. Serve hot.

A long-fermented tradition: Sohui Kim and her mother Hwiok transform local cabbage into 50 gallons of kimchi.

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.