Read this cookbook: “Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces” by Bill Kim with Chandra Ram (Ten Speed Press, $29.99)
By Wendell Brock
Bill Kim had his eureka moment while working as chef de cuisine for Charlie Trotter in Chicago, circa 2005.
A cheeky female chef from New York took one look at him and said, “What are you doing working here?”
He married her the next year, and in 2008, Kim and his wife, Yvonne Cadiz, opened their first restaurant, Urbanbelly, a move that let the Korean-born Kim explore the food of his homeland.
A second restaurant, Belly Shack, allowed them to add Cadiz’s Puerto Rican heritage to the mix. And with bellyQ, Kim focused on modern Korean barbecue.
All those influences, including Kim’s time in Atlanta, come together in “Korean BBQ,” in which the chef describes how a scared 7-year-old from Seoul came to find meaning in Chicago hot dogs, American-style barbecue, fancy French, and, ultimately, his native victuals.
If you’ve been following the AJC food team’s coverage of the mash-up of global cooking that’s transforming Atlanta, or if the recent AJC story on cookbook author Seung Hee Lee’s Korean-American barbecue leaves you hungry for more, you may enjoy this book.
I had to laugh when I spied Kim’s recipe for Seoulthern Pimento Cheese—blame it on his early 1990s stint in Atlanta, when he cooked at the late great Ciboulette and discovered Fat Matt’s, Chick-fil-A, sweet tea and Georgia peaches.
His titular seven sauces are an avenue for describing his journey in food: Korean BBQ, Lemongrass Chili, Soy Balsamic, Ko-Rican, Nuoc Cham, Magic Paste and Korean Pesto. Each one, plus his three dry rubs, comes with a handy list of recipes for using them.
While some of these recipes you might expect – Korean BBQ Skirt Steak, Gochujang Sticky Chicken Drumsticks, Korean BBQ Salmon – others are a real scramble of global flavors: Korean Baba Ghanoush, Korean Al Pastor, Lemongrass Chicken Egg Salad, Smoky Catfish with Soy-Chipotle Sauce, Korean Chicken Saltimbocca.
If you like shrimp and grits but don’t do dairy, consider Kim’s Coconut Grits, cooked with coconut milk. Vegetable lovers may find inspiration in the chapter on BBQ Vegetables and Tofu (Blackened BBQ Tofu, Tofu Joe Sandwiches, Cauliflower Steaks with Korean Pesto).
Kim, who espouses a jokey kung fu philosophy, or how to work your way out of tricky and challenging situations in the kitchen, also provides a sprinkling of playful “matrixes” on mixing and matching ingredients for pestos, salads and sandwiches.
If you are looking for classic Korean barbecue, the cover of this book may be deceiving. Borrowing from other cultures has been his modus operandi since age 7. That’s the key to Kim’s success, and that’s what he describes here.
While some of the recipes are so all over the place as to be comical, I find Kim’s tale of change and self-discovery rather upbeat and moving. Asian Sangria Floats? Why not?
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock) .