A fireside chat with an unconventional foodie

Posted by on Nov 11, 2013

Today was the first snow fall in Milwaukee, medicine but the Pfister Lobby Bar’s fireplace has been ablaze on and off for weeks already. It also suggested to me the ideal time to share a conversation I recently had with Young Kim, the executive director of the Fondy Food Market, Milwaukee’s oldest and largest year-round farmer’s market.

During our fireside chat with Lobby Bar beers we covered a lot of ground, from the merits of winter to Korean barbecue to grown-ups using words like “potty.”

Young told me he was born in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He later lived in New Orleans, Chapel Hill and Dallas.

“I’m a Southern boy, and if I’m pissed or surprised the Southern accent comes out. If you’ve ever seen a Korean with a Southern accent you never forget it,” he says.

To this day, Young says he often says “ink pen” (pronounced “pin”) when referring to the writing device Midwesterners just call a pen. Otherwise, he sounds like most of us Midwesterners.

But despite the many years Young lived South of the border, numerous aspects of the culture and environment just didn’t work for him.

“I can’t stand hot weather. I have always loved snow,” he says. “I didn’t get to see it until I was nine and we had a freak snow storm in New Orleans.”

It’s fascinating to meet someone born and raised in a warmer climate who still loves winter weather, especially considering how many people I know who lived in Wisconsin their entire lives and still cannot accept the ice or snow.

One of the things Young likes to do on cold days is drive to Chicago and go to his favorite Korean restaurant, San Soo Gab San, for barbecued meat.

“A lot of Korean restaurants have tables with a big hole in the middle and a guy comes over with an asbestos glove up to his shoulder, carrying a bucket of coal, which he dumps in the hole, slaps a grate over it and before you know it has grilled your meat,” says Young.

Korean restaurants often offer small-plate dishes called banchan. It is customary for a meal to feature five or six banchan, but at San Soo, diners will have 25 or 30 different plates to sample.

“Only in the Midwest will they give you a scoop of potato salad and a scoop of coleslaw along with other traditional Korean dishes,” says Young. “The first time I saw this I was like, ‘what the heck is this?’”

But to Young, this is what it means to be a foodie.

“It’s a loaded term, but to me, ‘foodie’ means who you are in terms of food and where you came from,” says Young. “It’s not necessarily something that’s made with truffle oil or berries picked by vegan children.”

When he was 28, Young went to Korea in an attempt to connect with his culture. Although he had been living in the United States his entire life, he had a sense of not being “from here.”

“People were always getting my name reversed and saying what an unusual name when in Korean it’s as common as ‘Joe Smith,’” he says.

Young had some great food in Korea, but more than anything, the trip reinforced that he really is an American. Hence, he returned with a sense of self and some great stories.

“Because I refused to speak Korean to my parents after the age of 2, once I realized most of the people around me were speaking English, my Korean froze at the toddler level,” says Young. “I forgot this until I was asking someone where the restroom was and my mother informed me I was actually telling them I needed to go potty.”


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