Though she had worked her way up from busing tables to managing a restaurant in Philadelphia, Kayti Williams left that career behind to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the floods. She recently left her job at the St. Roch Community Church to focus on Koreole (www.koreole.com), a business she started as a pop-up restaurant. Williams is opening a stall in the St. Roch Market and launching a catering business under the same name. She spoke with Gambit about her cooking and the business, which takes its name from a word she and her husband coined to describe their 7-month-old daughter Elyse Williams.
How did you get started cooking in New Orleans?
Williams: I had the idea five years ago and started selling plates at birthday parties and neighborhood parties to see if people would like Korean food. Asian food here is mostly Chinese-American. But my husband is Creole and we started trying recipes from his father. Gumbo with kimchi (on the side) is really good.
How did you settle on the Koreole concept?
W: In the beginning it was going to be about traditional Korean foods, like Korean-style barbecue, which people liked.
Then we came up with japchalaya. Japcha is Korean sweet potato vermicelli with vegetables and meat mixed with sesame sauce. One of my favorite meats is andouille sausage, so we mix that in with green peppers, onions and sesame dressing.
We served things like that and Korean fried rice and fried chicken at the food truck park (on St. Claude Avenue at Feliciana Street) in October. I told people one dish was like yakamein. but lots of people weren't from here and didn't know what that was.
The food is Korean-meets-Creole. There's some familiarity there.
How will the food stall work?
W: We'll be open seven days for lunch and dinner. We have counter service, and there's a shared kitchen. We'll serve Korean-style fried chicken (lightly battered and double fried) with Creole seasonings. There are fried rice dishes, noodle bowls and plates like chicken with dumplings. We'll also have jarred kimchis that we make. My mom is coming down from Philadelphia to help us open, and she has won awards in Korea for her kimchis. And we'll serve bubble teas, but they're tea-based drinks — not like the smoothies many people serve as bubble teas.
I live in the neighborhood and we're hiring seven people from the neighborhood for the market and two people for catering. We live here and want this to be part of the neighborhood.