Kate Kook and WooJae Chung, the mother-and-son duo behind Kimchi Kooks, radiate warmth and generosity when asked about their journey of becoming Brooklyn-based kimchi producers. Pouring glasses of sweet Sujeonggwa tea, they talk nostalgia of Korean cuisine with charm and laughter, as well as how kimchi’s on the rise as New Yorkers get a taste for fermented foods.
“A fundamental of the Korean kitchen with an almost mythical following, Koreans attribute all kinds of healing powers to the dish, and recipes are passed down through generations.” Chung points out, “For us it’s a part of life. The Korean soul has gotta have kimchi.”
When Kook, originally a textile artist in Seoul, first came to New York in the nineties with her young son, she wasn’t able to find the quality kimchi she knew. The Korean supermarkets stocked only mass-produced stuff in bulk. Used to something unique, and yearning for the seasoned and fermented cabbage of her memory, she started making her own using the family recipe.
Those early days in the city had inspired a dream of bringing quality kimchi to the New York masses with what’s now Kimchi Kooks. Recalling the recipe learned from her mother and ingrained in her memory, Kook and her now grown son, Chung, set about carefully sourcing ingredients from local suppliers (including a Korean church where the women buy in bulk to make kimchi for their congregation).
The two work through the twilight hours in their Brooklyn-based kitchen to ferment, batch, pack, label—they produce 350 jars at a time, 1,200 to 1,400 in a month—and distribute far and wide throughout the New York metro area (see a full list here).
“Now it’s becoming a trendy thing and people appreciate the flavor,” Kook says, a twinkle in her eye, “Before then kimchi had a reputation as difficult to understand, but people are curious and we love being able to introduce it.”
Kimchi can be fiery in flavor but Kook adds a little extra sugar for a sweetness to the heat. Alongside the classic and white kimchi, she specializes in an experimental range using alternative ingredients, or the local vegetables she found here in America: Kimchi’d Kale and Kimchi’d Cabbage and Beets offer a twist on the tradition.
Undeniably delicious, Kimchi Kooks’ goods are as satisfying a side dish as they are a great midnight snack. Their jars are a true taste of Korean food in Brooklyn, and we can’t get enough.