→ Buy now: $30, Korean American: cuisine that tastes like home
Any day on Eric Kim‘s Instagram account, its 150,000 loyal followers can watch the popular New York Times food writer and recipe developer at work: slicing, sautéing and fermenting on his stainless steel counter in the kitchen of his Manhattan apartment. He meticulously and artfully documents all of his cooking processes for his viewers, such as how to prepare white kimchi with kale and beets or recreate the perfect bowl of pomodoro pasta he had on vacation at Lake Como. There’s a common thread that runs through her recipes: they’re deliciously simple.
“I once got a message from someone saying, ‘I wish your recipes were more difficult,'” he jokes in his Easy Cookies and Cream Pavlova video. “I was like, ‘things nobody says.'”
When Kim calls on a Monday afternoon, he takes a break between meetings at New York Times where he creates recipes and writes a monthly column. Due to her role at the nation’s most prominent daily newspaper, Kim is arguably one of the most visible Asian Americans working in food media. Kim has been working there full-time for almost a year now after writing his first article for the newspaper in 2020. Prior to that, he was digital manager at the Food Network and editor at Food 52; his work has also appeared in enjoy your food, Food & Wineand the Washington Post. During his brief but busy year at the New York Timeshe took out a korean essential recipe collection (Kim says if he “could only have 10 Korean dishes for the rest of my life, these would be these”) and his first book Korean American: cuisine that tastes like home.
Although he posts recipes from American favorites like spinach lasagna casserole and chicken souphe is probably best known for his interest in Korean dishes, whether exploring the legacy of the Korean War and its effect on county cuisine through budae jjigae (military stew) or demystify the process of making kimchi. Through her work, Kim creates a body of work that is distinctly her own and very Korean American. Kim was born and raised in Atlanta, which he says gave him a unique perspective on what Korean American cuisine is.
“It’s its own special thing,” Kim says. “That’s sort of the thesis of my book, to prove that there are so many different ways to cook Korean food, and you can’t deny that one of those ways is historically accurate. There are certain foods and food traditions that come from [diasporic] experiences.”
Kim now has his dream job, he says, but it wasn’t exactly what he originally intended to do – he actually spent years in academia studying to become a teacher. After failing a thesis defense at Columbia in 2015 – English Literature, in case you were curious – he decided it was time to try something different. “I was so depressed because I wanted to be a teacher since 10th grade,” Kim says. “But I gave up and started at the Food Network in 2015, where I had an entry-level job entering data for recipes. I had no idea there were all these people. where people wrote award-winning food journalism.
In 2018, Kim landed her first stint as a food writer at Food52, owner of the “Table for One” column, which celebrated the joy of meals prepared for one person, of everything. Easter during confinement to the intricacies of dining solo. “I consider this column to be my food writing practice,” he says. “I think writing is always a practice. I feel like I’m getting better with every song and it’s really exciting.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to return to his parents’ home in Atlanta to write his cookbook (which was published in March 2022). Being home with his family while testing recipes helped him develop a deeper appreciation for his unique upbringing. “I realized how much I had taken for granted where I had lived. My essential Korean package that Korean is actually the third most spoken language in Georgia.
In her book, readers can find homey Korean recipes like Doenjang Jjiggae with silken tofu and raw zucchini (Kim notes that her version of this classic Korean dish, made with fermented soybean paste, isn’t exactly traditional but is rich and hearty), as well as “TV dinner” recipes (quick dishes made to eat on a couch) like maple confit spam, which involves cooking the beloved pork product with syrup maple until crispy and caramelized.
One of Kim’s personal favorites in his book is his curry rice of the week with eggplant, spinach and lotus root, which he tossed on a whim in his New York kitchen when he wanted something easy and quick to eat. Later, he cooked the dish for his family – it was a big hit, and they insisted he put it in his book, even though he had no intention of doing so. “It’s just a really comforting, filling meal and it reminds me of my family,” he says.
After korean american was published, Kim received criticism from Korean readers who said her recipes were not “authentic” enough. However, he is quick to push back against the idea of an “authentic” Korean recipe for any dish. “There is a huge responsibility to write about Korean cuisine for the New York Times,” he says. “But when you call something inauthentic, what you’re really saying is that that person’s existence sucks and doesn’t matter. For me, the more Koreans write about Korean cuisine, the more we can expand our definition of what cuisine is.
That’s what Kim hopes to accomplish with her recipes and writing: introduce people to new perspectives in an ultimately delicious (and hopefully non-intimidating) way. “I always thought writing had so much power beyond just being pretty,” Kim says. “It can be very political and change mentalities. Then when there’s a recipe at the end, that’s how you can really invite someone into your experience.