Koreatown might be a mainstay in New York City dining (and we’re happy to have it). But even while we get our fill of rice, noodle, and barbecue staples, chefs like Hooni Kim are quietly leading a revolution, bringing Korean food to a higher plane on American culinary shores with bold flavors and an emphasis on the quality of ingredients. It’s quite possible that Kim can transcend the bounds of traditional Korean cuisine because his own upbringing spanned continents, and hemispheres.
Born in Seoul, Korea, Kim lived briefly in London before settling in New York City when he was 10 years old. Kim grew up in New York, but when it came time to attend college, he headed west to the University of California at Berkeley, studying for a medical degree before a nagging passion for food had him drastically changing gears. Inspired to cook for a living, Kim returned to the East Coast to attend the French Culinary Institute.
Kim might have proven a capable doctor, but he was certainly a natural chef. He followed up his formal training with post-grad postings at not one, but two Michelin three-star restaurants, Daniel and Masa. With such sure footing in the culinary world, Kim was in the prime position to open Danji, a 36-seat restaurant in the culinary hinterlands of Hell’s Kitchen that brings the small plates’ mentality of the Japanese izakaya or Spanish tapas bar to modern, sophisticated Korean food. (Kim even consigned mixologist Vincent Favella, formerly of The Counting Room, to create a modern Korean-influenced drinks list.) With a four-star rating from New York Magazine and coverage from New York and Korean media, Kim is clearly succeeding for his homeland and hometown, one innovative dish at a time.