Author, food columnist and recipe tester Kim Sunee was born in South Korea but adopted at a young age and grew up in New Orleans. Her love for food and writing was spawned during her childhood and blossomed after she moved to France. Her recently released Everyday Korean: Fresh, Modern Recipes for Home Cooks delves deeper into her Korean heritage. Sunee will be at Ancora Pizzeria & Salumeria (4508 Freret St.) 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 2 for a book signing with cocktails and small bites. She spoke with Gambit about her culinary influences.
How did you develop your passion for food and writing?
Sunee: Growing up in New Orleans gives you a foundation for loving food because of our culture and our obsession with eating and cooking. I went to university in France and stayed there for 10 years, which definitely influenced me. But more than anything, food for me is about nurturing. My friends call me a "food pusher." In another life I was probably an Italian mamma and I've always loved cooking and eating with friends. I learned most of that from my grandfather, who was German and grew up in the Upper 9th Ward.
I grew up with a lot of German influence and conviviality, and my grandfather was really the driving force. He would always pick up strangers and invite people in. We'd come back from church and whoever was hungry would show up, and we'd have like 15-20 people at the table on Sundays. That idea of eating and bringing people together was the base for me.
I came back from France to New Orleans for a little bit and then went to work at Southern Living magazine as a food editor. For me it was always about food, words and writing.
How were you introduced to Korean food?
S: Growing up in New Orleans, I think we had one Korean restaurant, but I can't really even remember. I was never exposed to Korean food growing up, and I didn't really start eating it until I was in my early 20s. I learned how to make kimchi ... and I fell in love with all the flavors. I've always been drawn to the food in the sense that it's so aesthetically beautiful. They take so much care and there's a balance and a harmony in consideration of the body. There are very healthy components to it, but it's also rustic and hearty at the same time. I love that combination. I think the flavors are bold, but we also tend to think of Korean food as being spicy and stinky. But it's very varied and there are a lot of dishes that are quite mild.
How do you incorporate your own upbringing and experiences into the book?
S: Everyday Korean is written with my co-author Seung Hee Lee, who was actually my interpreter in Seoul for (my first book) Trail of Crumbs. I went back to Korea on book tour for the Korean-language edition and I met her and she was just so passionate about food. She had studied royal Korean cuisine, and she was just about to go to Johns Hopkins (University). We'd kept in touch over the years and came up with the idea for Everyday Korean. It's sort of an homage to her grandmother and the food she knew growing up with a true Korean heritage. For me, I'm more like the average Western reader, where it's about recipes. A lot of the recipes are taken from my experiences and travels. For example, there's a fritto misto with kimchi tartar sauce, which you would never find (in Korea), but it just paired really well. There's also a fried chicken liver po-boy with an Asian pear slaw, so a little bit of Western (influence) and traditional Korean. We've got her grandmother's pumpkin soup, and all of the kimchi recipes are very traditional.