When we first began our On the Line series more than two years ago, Amar Santana was one of our first interviews. How times have changed. As Santana puts the finishing touches on his Broadway baby, we spend some time with his hand-picked successor, chef Sea Kyeong Kim. Originally lassoed from Charlie Palmer At the Joule in Dallas, Kim's transition to executive chef has been smooth sailing for the most part (more on that in Part Two). Enough introduction; let's get started.
What are six words to describe your food?
Contemporary American cuisine based on seasonal fresh ingredients.
What are eight words to describe you?
I describe myself as hard-working, ambitious; I'm a perfectionist in the kitchen. Passionate, intuitive, and I like to have fun.
Your best recent food find:
Smoked trout at Red Medicine restaurant in Los Angeles.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Rules of conduct in your kitchen:
Organization and cleanliness.
One food you detest.
Nothing. I need to try everything!
One food you can't live without.
Korean food. I grew up with it, and I think Japanese and Korean cuisine are getting bigger in New York City. I have a favorite place in Garden Grove, Hang Chon.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Vietnamese food, like at Brodard in Westminster.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
Any Mexican taquería. When I opened Charlie Palmer in Dallas, we would spend late nights at this taco place by the gas station. It also depends on what city I'm in. In New York, I was always eating yakitori.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Use fresh ingredients, and make sure they are well-seasoned.
Mesa and Pho 54–Amar and I meet up here sometimes.
Favorite celebrity chef.
Thomas Keller is the best innovative chef, hands down. Also, Mario Batali and Morimoto.
Celebrity chef who should shut up.
No one comes to mind at the moment.
Favorite music to cook by:
Opera. My father was a music teacher, and I grew up with classical music.
Best food city in America:
New York City because they have the best culinary chefs.
What you'd like to see more of in Orange County, from a culinary standpoint:
More risk and interesting cuisines.
What you'd like to see less of in Orange County, from a culinary standpoint:
Under Pressure by Thomas Keller.
When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?
Trying new foods.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Beer. I love wine, too, but when I go home, I can't finish a whole bottle. I think there's good nutrition in beer, and it makes me feel full. People say don't trust a skinny chef, but I can't really eat all the time. The sous chefs call me camel.
Weirdest customer request:
I have two. One time, I had to serve someone with 20 different food allergies. Imagine that! They handed a doctor's note to the server. That was my biggest challenge. I remember making a fruit salad.
When I was at Aureole in New York, a model came in at 1:30 p.m. and asked for 12 different foie gras tastings. She was so skinny. In addition to the foie gras, she also ate a pound and a half of butter. She left at 5.