Family Style is a new fundraising series that hosts dinner in the Bunker gallery by guest chefs sharing their own family favorites. Each bi-monthly dinner is aimed to inspire conversations and connections with our resident artists, guests and beyond! The series coordinator and chef of Family Style #1, Phyllis Kim will be preparing a Korean dinner for 15 guests. See the menu here! Read more about her background and philosophy on food below!
What's Family Style?
Family Style is my efforts to bring good food to Pittsburgh people and create a platform for others to do the same. My favorite food to eat is my mom's and there just isn't anything quite like it in this fine city. I love having an excuse to gather with friends old and new and cook for them the things I love. I want to find like-minded people who want to share foods they loved to eat growing up and create a meaningful experience through dinner where we can share and talk about food and art.
Koreanify ME/ Based FOB
My parents have tried my whole life to mold me into a respectable Korean lady. Every Saturday was spent at Korean school, every winter I was at Korean ski camp in upstate New York, and winters I was off to Korea to be with my family. Fortunately, their many dollars spent trying to koreanify me only did so much... My penmanship is that of a 6 year old and I get so flustered interacting at Korean restaurants that I often pretend I’m Chinese.
My folks worked long hours operating a restaurant in Jersey, but they always made it a point to have dinner together every night no matter how late it was. Korean food was surely the only menu option. After having established themselves a bit by opening up a restaurant on a main strip in New Jersey, they could finally afford to cook the food they ate growing up. Even if it meant weekly trips to HanaReum an hour away so that my mom could pick up the right radishes to make kimchi and get the right cuts of meat to make bone stew. My sister and I were even allowed to buy all the delicious Korean crackers we wanted which inevitably wouldn’t last the car ride back home.
Men aren’t allowed in the kitchen in the Korea my parents left behind. That’s how things were under the roof of the mini-Korea that was a house in the suburbs of New Jersey. That worked out for me because I got to hang out with my mom and complain dramatically about how torturous high school was. She fried up fish, cooked stews, and made the most delicious white rice that has ever been made, all at the same time. No sweat. To this day, I'm convinced my mother is a sorceress. She’d work from sun up to sun down at the restaurant then come home and cook something fabulous every night. I really felt the love in her cooking. When your mom pours you a bowl of soup and makes sure you get all the delicious tendons the bowl allows- you feel the love. When she delicately places a morsel of fish on your rice bowl before you can even pick up your spoon- you feel the love. Now, whenever I go back home the first question I get asked is what I want to eat and that is the most loving expression to me.
Food as Love
Communicating with my parents has always been a struggle, not only because they’re my parents, but because of the language barrier. No matter how many years of Saturday morning classes I’ve taken or vacant korean dramas I’ve watched, I know I won’t ever be able to express myself in the same way with the same nuances that my parents can with one another. Like most immigrant families, ours uses our own language of mushed up vocabulary that in either language, doesn’t surpass 2nd grade reading level. However, food needs no language. Sharing plates brings about it’s own bond. The Kim fam likes to eat adventurously so eating out is a constant source of dialogue. “This is tasty. This is too salty. This reminds me of grandma’s soup”. The visceral act of sharing food is it’s own form of communication.
This is what I retained from my Korean upbringing. Not the past participles or propositions, but the pickled garlic and red bean soup. My identity is most imbedded in the bento boxes of smelly treats I bring to work for lunch. I’m excited to have a platform to assault people with food the way my mom did to me. I know my experience with food as something more than just sustenance is not unique. Everyone has a dish that they ate growing up that transports them to another place. I want to travel to that place with people and bring them to my mom’s kitchen in Jersey.
Let me feed you.
(Sunday March 29th)