The Twin Cities are blessed when it comes to talent in the kitchen. The culinary minds at the helm of our favorite restaurants receive critical acclaim and top honors from food enthusiasts and reviewers, alike. But who are the people behind the chef’s coat? Our Chef’s Profile aims to find out.
Thomas Kim, also known as The Left-Handed Cook, said he always finds it amusing how often he fields the question, “You lived in Los Angeles and you moved to Minnesota? Why?”
For Kim, it was simple — a great food scene, plus plenty of awesome music venues made the decision a no-brainer. It also didn’t hurt that the love of his life made the initial suggestion.
In the short time that Kim has called Minneapolis home, he’s certainly made a name for himself. As we learned in Part 1 of his Chef’s Profile, he’s bringing giant flavors to a quaint space inside Midtown Global Market while impressing some of the biggest critics in town.
Kim’s mentioned before that he’d like to expand his reach in the Twin Cities and it seems that will be a reality sooner than later. The couple announced Tuesday they are in the planning stages of their new digs, The Rabbit Hole.
But don’t worry, their newest venture won’t be far from home. The Rabbit Hole will also be located inside Midtown’s Global Market, but unlike The Left Handed Cook, it’ll be an enclosed restaurant space.
The Rabbit Hole will feature creative cocktails, the burgers they perfected in Los Angeles and the fusion food that we’ve come to know and love.
While there’s no date set in stone to open yet, it sounds like we can hold our breath for sometime this fall.
But back to the chef at hand.
In Part 2 of our chat, we discuss Kim’s biggest guilty pleasures, his most memorable meal he’s served and the good and bad of cooking shows.
Over your career, you’ve served plenty of notable people. What’s been your most memorable meal to serve? Who was it for?
That’s a difficult one. Having worked in a lot of high-end restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco, you end up serving a lot of famous people. I think one of my more memorable ones was probably cooking for José Andrés, whose a chef out of Washington, D.C. He was, at the time, just opening his restaurant in Beverly Hills called The Bazaar. He kind of randomly came in, I think by mistake if anything, but we had the opportunity to cook for him and we had also just opened. So nobody really knew we were there. It was just me, the executive chef and José Andrés. It was like a four-hour meal. We just sent him out small plates and we just talked food the whole time. It was pretty cool. I think that was probably one of the cooler moments in my career. I’ve had some funny ones and some really terrible ones – it’s the cost of work but that’s probably the most memorable.
Since you went to school for film and television, would you ever consider combining your two passions – cooking and television?
You know, to be completely honest, I’m pretty camera shy. I don’t like to be in front of the camera, which is why I went into production but for me, I think there’ll always be a love for moving pictures. I love movies, I love television, just the process that goes into it, it’s definitely something that’s awesome but it probably doesn’t fit my personality anymore. I’m more of an immediacy kind of person. If I think something, I want it done whereas films can take years.
On the short end, I’ve worked on projects that take 20 or 30 days but some of them, when they get green-lit all the way to a finished product, they can take five or six years. I don’t think I could work with that because I’d be too anxious to see what we’ve done. I think cooking is where my new passion derives. I think that my love for film is more as a consumer, rather than a producer. For food, I think I straddle both sides of it – I love food enough where I want to eat it all the time but also I love the idea of bringing in something new that someone else can try. That’s definitely where my heart lies.
Do you watch much food television?
I do turn them on in the background just so I can stay current, but for the most part, I try to avoid them. I mean, I’ll watch them but it’s not something that I seek out. There’s been a few things that are really cool. Like, “Mind of a Chef” on PBS is one thing I think is really cool. I like Anthony Bourdain’s stuff, things like that.
With full networks and cooking shows on just about every channel, how do you think it’s changed the way chefs are perceived today?
I think the initial Food Network craze that started it all was really good for cooking. It was actually great for cooking because it opened up a whole new window to what can be done in the kitchen. I think on the forefront it really helped domestically, all the people that were cooking in their home kitchens. And that translated into trying foods that were outside their comfort zone in restaurant kitchens. That was really great. I think once they started focusing on the “Top Chefs” or the celebrity chef profiles, it created a new buzz to try more whimsical food – the molecular thing and all of that, even the nose-to-tail movement. It opened up people to the possibility of all that but I think food television is starting to slingshot back now where we’re seeing some of the negative effects of it.
People are starting to focus on what’s trending. There’s a lot of buzz words that get thrown around. People, I think, focus on the wrong thing sometimes. It’s definitely created a subculture of cooks that, they don’t want to cook for the true purpose of food, they want to cook to become a star. So that’s, weirdly enough, become a career path – you can cook to become a famous TV star, which was completely bizarre to me even when I started 13 years ago. That wasn’t even an option. I think we’re hitting that weird bell curve where we’re starting to see some of the negative effects of it but overall, I think it’s been a very positive thing for the industry in general. I think it’s created a subculture of foodies – I know that’s a term that not a lot of people like to use but – it’s created this whole subculture of foodies that will seek out things and items and chefs, solely based on what they’ve heard, which is awesome when you’ve never heard that before. People are starting to embrace chefs as artists.
When you came to Minnesota, what was it that you were hoping to bring to the food scene?
You know, for me, I really would like to introduce people to flavors that they may not be accustomed to. And it may not be new flavors – people have had curry, they’ve had kimchee but the possibility of combining the two and putting it on, for example, our French fries. So I think it’s less about new flavors but more different flavor profiles and introducing them to think outside the box, working with ingredients that you may not normally work with and pairing flavors that you normally wouldn’t. So that’s really my main goal is to just kind of have people look at food from a different angle a little bit.
What is your biggest guilty pleasure food?
Ooh, that’s a tough one. I would say anything to do with wheat, because I’m actually allergic to wheat so I’m not supposed to eat it. There’s really no way to gauge how much will send me into anaphylactic shock so I’m not sure if it’s a guilty pleasure but it’s definitely one of the ones that’s hard for me not to eat but I shouldn’t be. So it kind of skates the line of guilty and dangerous. So pastas and breads.
What do you like to cook at home, for family or friends?
To be honest, a lot of pasta – like noodles and pastas, ramen, things like that, salads, we try to make it as simple as possible. To be honest, Kat and I – Kat more than I – can consist on just plain rice and kimchee so that is actually a meal right there. We keep it super simple.
Beyond being in a kitchen, what’s your favorite pastime?
Music. Music is definitely one of my enduring hobbies and I definitely have a strong affinity for it. I used to actually be in a band when I was younger so it’s always been parallel to everything I’ve done. That’s something that I will always continue to do. And art – I love painting and drawing. Whenever I have time, I try to do that. That’s not too often. (Laughs)
What was your band name?
Ah, let’s see. The first band was Jenny Swollen Blue, which the name when we put it together sounded awful. People were like, “What is that? A dead body or something?” We actually couldn’t think of a name so everybody threw in – we basically did Mad Libs. We put in one person’s name, we put in a color and then … it was the stupidest idea but we threw it into a hat and those were the three that came out. I was just like, “Oh my god, this is the worst name ever.” We couldn’t think of a right way to put the three words together but it ended up just that way. That was the longest band I was in. I had another band called Trouble Complex but you know, it was back in the time when pop-punk was really popular so we were kind of in the vein of that so names didn’t really matter. You could have the weirdest name and people would be like, “It’s alright.” It was good times.
What’s one ingredient you’d prefer never to work with?
Ooh, that’s a tough call but if I had to say one, I would say tuna, particularly the non-sustainable variety, any type of wild-caught Bluefin. Any non-sustainable seafood, I think. It has been the main driving reason that I don’t do sushi anymore because of that. I give so much respect to people who are able to run a sustainable seafood program, you know, there are sushi bars kind of dotting the country that have sustainable sushi on their menu but for the most part, it’s definitely a hard business model. You definitely pay a much higher premium for the quality. For me, I lost my faith in the whole idea of it and just didn’t want to serve it. For the most part, we don’t even eat it anymore.
Is there an ingredient that you’re constantly drawn to?
I don’t even know why but usually garlic and gochugaru, which is Korean chili flakes. Those are the two that I’m always working with, even when I try not to. They just somehow sneak their way in everything that I’m doing. I’d say those two, for sure.
If you had to choose a “last meal,” what would it be?
Ooh, that one is super tough. I used to joke that it would be something like a fried Bald Eagle or something. If I’m going to die, I’m going to eat something crazy. (Laughs) But I’d say probably, realistically, half a fried chicken and half a roast chicken and some potatoes but they’d have to be done perfectly. That would be my one requirement.
What are some of your favorite places to dine in the Twin Cities?
There’s so many that we go to and fortunately enough we have enough friends in the industry so we try to go and support them as much as we can. We go to Piccolo and Sandcastle now, probably Sandcastle more than Piccolo because it indulges some of my cravings a little bit more. Corner Table, Butcher and the Boar, there’s a little, small, hole-in-the-wall place called Dong Yang, off of Central and 45th. We’re still currently on the search for like a really good Chinese restaurant – we’ve tried ‘em all, Grand Szechuan, Little Szechuan, those are good. I love Zen Box. If we’re feeling indulgent, La Belle Vie. Icehouse, Hola Arepa. Everything else, we just kind of mix it up. I love the United Deli a lot, too. We also go to El Taco Riendo – Kat loves their taco salad.
What do you hope to be known for in the culinary world?
Industry-wise, I would love to be remembered for just trying to adhere to the true ideals that I’ve been taught with. Food-wise, from the consumer-side of it, I would love to be able to be remembered for just somebody. Somebody out there saying that was one of their more memorable meals. I think that would be cool.