Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Jiho Kim: I’ve loved to cook since I was little. I started to cook my own meals and I liked playing with the ideas. Eating is always fun. I tried to make my food different. Finally I went to culinary school and started my career. I never expected that I would be a chef, but now it’s happened.
AB: What advice would you offer young pastry chefs just getting started?
JK: The first thing is to work really hard. Restaurants are really difficult places. People watch you working in the kitchen to see if you are a hard worker. You have to be a workaholic. Also it’s not important to try to save money for your career. Eat a lot of nice food at nice restaurants, get new books, nice books, study, and go to nice restaurants to see what other chefs are doing so you can learn flavors and techniques.
AB: How do you develop a dessert?
JK: I just think about what I can make. Normally I try to create something. Like these days I make a German chocolate cake, but I make the cake, the crème anglaise and the chocolate all different. I start with a concept. First I break it down into ideas and see what I can do with that.
AB: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
JK: I like fruit and chocolate, like mango, pineapple, or banana with chocolate. I'm a big fan of chocolate. I worked with a chocolatier for 5 years now, so I love chocolate. I'm from Korea so it’s a really unusual food. Every time I have chocolate, it tastes like something different.
AB: At StarChefs we publish a technique features for chefs to learn new things. Is there a culinary technique you use in an unusual or different way?
JK: A lot of the chefs are doing things with chemistry. I use a lot of chemicals to make something more fun. Also I'm good at manipulating sugar and chocolate for things like a sugar garnish. I did a sugar centerpiece here that involved pulling the sugar into the shape of a flower. Restaurants don't do that much, but hotels do that and I've worked at a hotel before. We also use liquid nitrogen for service. We play a lot here and I do a lot of the modern stuff.
AB: What is your philosophy on pastry?
JK: In restaurants it’s going to be hard work and that’s why I chose to come to America for my career. New York and other cities are really a melting pot—everything you need is here. I like to combine foods, as part of a new generation of chefs.
AB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
JK: I practiced a month for a international food competition in Seoul. It’s mostly chefs from luxury hotels. That was one of the biggest things I've done. I had to practice a lot.
AB: If you had one thing that you could do again, what would it be?
JK: I really love my job but I left it for a while and came back. I opened a small sandwich shop that my friend had sold to me. There was a lot of traffic and it was really good. I did it for a year, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be a pastry chef again, so I came back to the kitchen. Cooking is an addiction.
AB: What are your three tips for pastry success?
JK: People need to be good with their fingers. I'm really good at writing with my fingertips. I have talent with my fingers. I'm a really good listener, too. If someone tells me something's not good, I will change it. I'm not really an insistent person. I try to study hard.
AB: Who are your pastry heroes?
JK: I love Albert Adrià. I like Bo Friberg. He was a CIA instructor and then he published The Professional Pastry Chef. I started with that book from the beginning.
AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
JK: I have some people who work with me or stage with me, but I don't have many outside connections. We take stages. I have three right now. Our stage program is long, like three months, but it doesn’t have to be that long. I know a lot of people who just graduated who come stage here and they still come by when they're done to see what I'm doing.
AB: If you weren’t a pastry chef what do you think you’d be doing?
JK: I’d be in foodservice, being with people, serving food, working front of the house. I might be doing something with wine or something like that.
AB: What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
JK: Right now when StarChefs.com came here to interview me! What else is there? I’ve loved the website ever since I knew it existed. I check every single day to see if there is something new there and now I have the chance to do an interview with you!
AB: What does success mean for you? What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
JK: I think maybe in the next five years I will be in Seoul. I'd like to have a small restaurant if I can. Not just a dessert restaurant, but one with a tasting menu. Just a small restaurant. We’d book by reservation only. Here things cost too much money. But if I can do it here, I would love to do it here. It doesn't matter where it is—I just want to have a small restaurant so I can develop my flavors.